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Washington Artist Finds Inspiration in Senegal

An African-American tourist had a life-changing experience in her journey to Senegal.

What she discovered there gave her a new perspective on the country. Washington artist Jacqueline Lee creates collages from fabric depicting African life and culture. She says she started producing art with African themes after visiting the former slave trade center on Goree Island, "We were sort of immersed in the music, culture, the people. There was just so much to see, and we wanted to take all of it home."

Goree Island's market place has town squares and historical sites. Lee says many of her colleagues view Africa as one huge jungle. But she says it's much more than that, and uses her art as a way to show a broader version of the continent, especially to African-Americans, "Africa to us is the Motherland, you see people who look just like your family. They are telling their story, we are telling our story and we are learning about one another through each person's story."

Stories of everyday life on Goree Island reveal flowing gowns and adornments. However, the island's horrific past is encompassed in the House of Slaves -- the last stop before lifelong bondage. "As you walked around the structure you actually felt a presence. At first we didn't talk about it, we just kind of experienced it. Suddenly people would start crying and it was just amazing," she says.

Lee says much about Africa is amazing. And she wishes more Americans knew more about the continent: "I think there is too much information out there for people to really believe that things are the way they were years ago. There are just too many images in the newspaper, on the Internet, too many stories are coming out of Africa. If you pay attention, you will understand what is happening. So there is just no way for people to be uninformed about Africa."

Lee says her customers include people of diverse racial backgrounds, attracted to her technique and use of bright colors, "It makes me feel I have accomplished exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted people to experience what I saw. I knew most people would not be able to take the trip and I didn't know if I'd ever make it back there but I wanted people to experience what I saw and I think they do when they look at the work."

Lee says she has much to say about Africa and its people. Both inspire her. And she hopes to inspire others through her art, "I am sort of encouraged to do yet another piece simply because there is another image that comes to mind. And that's the whole thing about Africa. You can take pictures, you can walk through the city and you can come up with different pieces. It is always with you. There is always another image that you want to do that represents the country."