By Osman Benk Sankoh
The ‘Afere,’ a powerful wind instrument blown during the outings of the hunting devil, a masquerade associated with a society of hunters in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown and its environs. Many Sierra Leoneans love the sound of the ‘Afere’ and they even dance to it during wedding and family parties and on other special occasions such as at the once-in-a-year East End Paddle parade.
However, for 24- year-old Morrison Jusu, a Final Year Civil Engineering student at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, his sense of the ‘Afere’ is reflected in the paintings that he sketches on social happenings, politics, and initially; portraits of his friends’ girlfriends as birthday presents.
Morrison’s says his first creative platform was through a group of like-minded friends. In 2016, ten of them came together to form a group called Afere. A friend, Mario Mackay, had seen his drawings and called for a meeting with mutual friends. “We chose the name because it draws people’s attention to our talents. We are blowing the Afere on our talents and others likewise,” he told Hidden Voices.
The Renaissance Artists such as Michael Angelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Pablo Picasso are his role models. In Africa, he idolises South African Nelson Makamo. At home in Sierra Leone, his role models are; the late King Dus and Angelo Scott. “As a student at The Sierra Leone Grammar School, I used to see Scott’s paintings whenever I am returning home from school. His work inspired me.”
The young artist, who made his first significant break at an arts exhibition in December 2016 at O-Casseys in Freetown realized at an early age that he had a passion for painting. “I was expressing myself more with drawing than words. It was my means of communication, including sketching directions to places whenever someone wanted me to show them the way to such places, he told Hidden Voices.
Like most kids, Morrison’s parents, especially his dad, a mechanical engineer, wanted their son to get a university education and follow in the footsteps of daddy. He said they did not encourage him to draw initially as they thought it was not considered as anything marketable.
However, Morrison says his passion for painting ignited during holiday at his uncle’s house in Kabala, northern Sierra Leone. “I became bored sitting at home doing nothing, and with no one to play or have regular conversations with after my uncle had gone to work. I would take some of his A4 -size papers and begin to sketch some drawings. After the holidays, I returned to school with my sketches, but they were stolen in the class by some of my friends,” he said. That incident caused him to stop drawing for a while.
To prevent his paintings from being stolen and to reduce the stress of college work, Morrison says he started drawing on the wall of his bedroom. Morrison eventually sketched a drawing of Kanye West, the American rapper which he posted on his Facebook page. “It got a lot of likes, comments and shares, and it was a good feeling,” he said.
From the Kanye West painting, people began taking notice of Morrison as “this artistic person.” Through the group ‘Afere,’ Morrison met with one of his mentors, Millicent Lewis-Ojumu, at a place called the ‘Shukubly’, Hill Station in Freetown. “A programme we held at the venue demanded that I do a live painting while people watch. I was nervous because it was my first time to paint in front of people, and it took me longer than usual to complete my drawing, the face of a woman,” he explained.
The painting named Modu way de shumu (probably referring to a woman named Modu gesturing her mouth as if saying ‘take that, or probably showing off arrogantly like a peacock) generated a lot of debate while Morrison was sketching it. Though it was kept at the conference room of Shukubly to continue inviting a conversation, it later led him to meet with another mentor, Herbert McLeod. Mr McLeod bought him some of his artistic materials from overseas since they were not available in Sierra Leone town even with money to pay for them.
The artist, who had also displayed some of his works at the Balmaya Arts Gallery on Wilkinson Road in Freetown, later joined another group of artists called ‘The Barray,’ in 2016. “It was here that I met with Hawa Jane, anther mentor who helped me to do professional pieces, including the ones I did for my first exhibition,” said Morrison
Morrison who graduates from college this year gets his inspiration from events and situations around him, acknowledges that his artistic career is on an upward trend. To date, he says one of the most significant pieces of art that he has produced was a two-piece series called ‘Time to speak.’ In one of the series, he used the painting of a lady pasted with newspaper clipping around her to call attention to violence against women, including rape. The other piece depicts daily challenges the youth go through in Sierra Leone.
To aspiring artists, Morrison’s message is: “Don’t allow anyone to restrict you from your passion. Give yourself time to improve, to grow and don’t follow the money.”
Indeed, Morrison Jusu has blown the ‘Afere’ to his artistic talents, and the proudly and hardworking Sierra Leonean deserves our attention and support. For those interested in his paintings, he uses his name, Morrison Jusu on Facebook and Kontri Artist on Twitter.