By Hassoum Ceesay
The demise in Banjul on 13 November 2019 of Salieu Ebun Haruna John has robbed our country of its pioneer arts and craft teacher, a brilliant illustrator, author and a fearless doyen of the Oku Marabout Community. Mr. John was also an ardent campaigner of healthy living through The Gambia Diabetes Association where he served as Secretary General.
Until a week before his death last week, he was on the phone requesting permission to use the forecourt of the Banjul Arch to hold the Association’s 2019 World Diabetes Day Celebrations.
In other ways, Mr. John celebrated the vibrancy of life through art. He was a rare talent in the field: he studied it at university in the UK, taught it for five decades at all levels in our educational system, wrote extensively on art and practiced it. In 2015, I assisted Nana Grey Johnson to launch two of Mr. John’s books on art and craft including the aptly titled ‘Teaching Primary Art and Craft’, at the hall of the St. Joseph’s High School in Banjul, where he last taught.
Mr. John wrote on more than art. He was a strident social commentator. In the early 2000s, when many Gambians intellectuals had broken the nibs of their pens and threw them into the River Gambia, so to say, Mr. John refused to be cowed by the harsh repression of the Jammeh era and contributed incisive op-ed on sundry issues. His regular columns in the Daily Observer were required reading for many. As the Features Editor at the Daily Observer, I admired the thoroughness in his thought and expressions. He used a typewriter to do his scripts, and would then meticulously use biro to insert or delete his last minute corrections. Like an artists, he paid much attention to detail and accuracy.
It was for his panache for accuracy that he combined art education and art practice. Aside from teaching at The Gambia College, he painted, illustrated books collage of exceptional quality. From 1970 until his retirement in 2017, Mr. John taught art and craft. He has trained many of the best designers, painters and graphic artists in practice today.
Born in Bathurst in 1944, Mr. John trained at The Gambia College from 1967 to 1970. From 1976 to 1978, he studied art at University of Newscastle Upon Tyne, UK. From 1980 onwards, he worked as Curriculum Officer for Art and Craft in the Ministry of Education. In this capacity, he helped to develop, test and roll out the art and craft syllabus in Gambian schools.
Mr. John was a good friend of mine. He was dutiful, reliable and always primed for action. He was punctual, never arrived late to meetings. He was a fine gentleman.
To his friend, family and students, I convey my condolences, and pray that his soul rest in perfect peace.
(S.E.H John, Gambian art teacher, illustrator and author, born in Bathurst c.1944, died in Banjul, 13 November 2019).