"I was determined to make it and also be able to take care of my siblings. This inspired me to bear all these risks."
"I am a friendly but quiet person and, when I was a boy, I used to follow some friends back home after school. Their... parents had a workshop where carvers, designers, and finishers were always busy working, and I loved watching what they did and how they did it. Noticing my interest, I was given the opportunity to try my hands at sandpapering the carved items by observing the older people. As I improved, I began learning how to design and finish a product. I think that because I admired this work so much I was a fast learner.
"I had to drop out of school due to financial difficulties – mother was alone looking after us six children. I wanted to be able to help her, and so I decided to join the workshop full time. My younger brother also joined me and, together, we decided to work very hard so we could send the rest of our siblings to school.
"The master at the workshop knew of our situation and allowed us to sell some of the works we were able to finish by ourselves. That way we could make some money and take it home to add it to the little money mother was able to make.
"Our situation began to change gradually as I improved designing and finishing carved items. I was also taught how to carve masks, but I prefer designing and painting. I see myself more as a designer and a finisher. After serving a while under master Abdul Karim Star, another featured artist, I started to work on my own in 1996.
"Starting on my own was not easy at all, but what helped me was that, while working for my master, I used the little money I made to buy the basic tools I needed. I used to travel by road to Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso to sell my work at fairs.
"I was determined to make it and also be able to take care of my siblings. The long travel paid off, my works were selling well, and I was able to put my siblings through school. This inspired me to bear all these risks of traveling.
"However one day, on route with a friend to an artisan fair in Dakar, we were in a serious accident. We were traveling by bus and we had quite a few carvings we intended to sell. But the bus was fully packed and could not climb the hill on the border between Burkina Faso and Mali. The driver decided to reverse down and we ended up somersaulting into a ditch.
"It was 2 am when it happened, and all was very dark. My friend and I weren't as seriously injured as others so we walked to the nearest village with two other men to try to get some help. We told our story to the police, who drove us back to the accident. The most injured people had already been taken to the hospital so the police just left us there! We picked our belongings, rescued the carvings that hadn't been damaged and we hitched a ride into Dakar.
"Fortunately our client there helped us – we had spent the money we had in medical expenses. Our client got in touch with other people and they bought all the remaining pieces, and that was just about enough for us to be able to get back home.
"Once home it all sort of hit me and I got into a bad state – I didn't leave home or work for a year. Eventually, I realized our family finances were in danger and my brother needed help at the workshop. I went there and, after seeing everyone work so hard, I wanted to carve again. At first, it was tough to stop thinking about the accident but, through carving, I know I have overcome it.
"I have exhibited my work in Ghana's Trade Fair (in 2010 and 2011), and now I also train people as designers and finishers. Now three of these apprentices work with me while others have started their own workshops.
"My dream for the future is to further my education and expand my workshop to be able to train more people."