Surfing & Painting in Liberia

They went looking for surf but left a legacy with one great idea....

By: John Mahon

Surfing & Painting in Liberia

They went looking for surf but left a legacy with one great idea.

2nd November 2016


Apartial is a Dublin based creativity platform that we’re quite fond of. Set up and ran by two brothers, they profile the work of Irish and international artists. In the summer of 2016 they visited Liberia to undertake a project that would help create some positive news and goodwill in a region deeply affected by war and the Ebola virus. 

After a couple of false starts, they landed on an idea they thought might work. 

The impact was immediate.

We sat down with Mark Leonard from Apartial to find out more. Watch the full video about the project from Motherland below and check out




Mark and Stephen Leonard from Apartial 


The Liberia Project all started when I first visited in the summer of 2014. I was going over to explore the surf that rolls in every summer but unfortunately Ebola was spreading throughout the region at the time. So, I was forced to cut the trip short but I experienced the potential in the area and knew I'd be back. The WHO declared the country free from Ebola at the start of the year so we immediately started putting together some plans. 



We couldn't get any sponsors to get on board so we had to reshuffle our original idea and fund the entire project ourselves. We talked to the team at Kwepunha Retreat to make sure our plans were possible, beneficial to the community and sustainable in the long-term. Once we landed, we also went through the entire project with the local Mayor and the Irish Ambassador to Sierra Leone and Liberia. 

It was vital that there was a purpose behind the project because we wanted it to be a lot more than just murals.



We originally wanted to try reduce some of the stigma surrounding Liberia after the Ebola crisis and civil war. So we came up with the concept of documenting their story to give them an opportunity to show a different side of Liberia. 

After running through the plans with locals, we realized that this was not going to have the sort of impact we were after. We pivoted the project and came up with the idea of teaching the local surfers some creative skills so they could develop a career. 



The team learned a variety of techniques by recreating the work of some of the world’s best artists. Conor Harrington, Maser, Faile, Ted Pim, Mark Jenkins and Martin Whatson donated designs to allow locals to learn while transforming their town. Our local team attempted to revive some of the buildings destroyed during the war and the impact was immediate. The whole community just came together in support of the project.



As we were painting and installing the artwork we got the feeling that this was going to be a lot deeper than we expected. You could easily see that everyone began to really appreciate the artwork. The community saw their surroundings in a different light as they realized that artists from around the world were working together to help this small town in West Africa. The local surfers pride grew as they gained respect from the rest of the community. We could clearly see this when they got commissioned to paint their first piece in the centre of town, earning $50 in a place where the average wage is $5 per day. But, the amount of money wasn’t important, it was the fact that they could earn their own money and people wanted them to paint. 

At this point, we knew we were on to something bigger than we planned.

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