21 January 2021 Partnerships for development

Atelier M, an art school in São Tomé

The renowned plastic artist Kwame de Sousa has created an informal art school, the only artistic educational project in the whole country.

Atelier M © DR
Atelier M © DR

Kwame de Sousa did part of his studies in Lisbon, at Ar.Co – Centro de arte e comunicação visual – and this model inspired him to start Atelier M. His intention was to create a centre that could be seen as an example and contribute to the development of the sector of the arts.

The artist idealized the whole project: he had the building made and conceived the educational programme using only his resources. “I got this project started by selling my works. I had the idea when I was living and working in Amsterdam, with the gallery that used to represent me. Many friends bought my works so I could have more money to start the construction and get the project going” says Kwame de Sousa.

“There is a curriculum to fulfil”

The students who apply to study at Atelier M should have completed 9th grade and continue their studies at a secondary school. The artistic curriculum of the Atelier lasts for three years and covers the fields of painting, sculpture and drawing (and currently there is also a student of photography). The last year is devoted to the preparation of each student’s individual project.

Although this is a pilot project and it is still in its first stages, the artist from São Tomé wants his students to work with dedication. “This is not about occupying free time, there is a curriculum to fulfil. Besides the practical classes there is also a theoretical component, History of Art, English and Portuguese classes, for example. The classes are made up of 9 students which are separated into two groups during practical lessons. We cannot have more than 9 students per class because the courses are very expensive. The Atelier pays for everything, the students pay no fee at all”.

Besides the training it offers, Atelier M receives artists from the USA, Holland, Cape Verde and Portugal for artistic residencies in São Tomé. They provide an important support for these students and allow them to get in touch with other realities and artistic expressions. “Next to the Atelier, I built a space for the residencies and for teachers from abroad. They are mostly artists I know and with whom I have already worked. They think the project is interesting and they decide to collaborate.”

For Kwame de Sousa, the challenges for the future are the construction of a new space, outside the city of São Tomé, to develop his own work as an artist and for students who do not live in the city and have trouble getting there; this space could also be important for the students after their last year. “I am currently looking for partnerships so those who do best can follow their artistic journeys in Portugal. This is something I can’t do by myself”. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has already supported the school by allowing two teachers from Ar.Co to teach two courses at Atelier M and offered a table for serigraph printing so this technique can be taught.

Kwame de Sousa believes Atelier M is already “a model that works” and hopes to give his contribute so that São Tomé can have a group of young artists interested in working in their country.