Wyman Contemporary

Contemporary American and European photography, paintings, drawings, prints, and ceramics.

“He who feels it, knows it”

The Gambia, West Africa, is a popular winter-sun holiday destination, but many tourists are not aware of the recent dark history of ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’ – as it is fondly known. From 1994 -2017 President Yahya Jammeh ruled The Gambia as his fiefdom, crushing dissent, and opposition with brutality. His hit squad, the ‘Junglers’ and National Intelligence Agency carried out tortures, assassinations, and acts of sexual violence with impunity – journalists were gunned down and disappeared, students shot in cold blood, and even his cousins were murdered on his order.

In fear of retribution under Jammeh’s autocratic rule Gambians were denied free speech, but upon Jammeh’s exile in 2017, the country started on a path of transitional justice. The photographs and testimonies are part of the ongoing journey to give face, and a voice, for the first time in 22 years, to those who survived horrific human rights abuses, to the families who lost loved ones and to those who resisted.

Many die-hard Jammeh supporters are still in denial of the litany of crimes he and his cadre are now being accused of, and a number of the perpetrators walk freely among the populace. Collaborating closely with the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, and The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), the ongoing project, now four years in the making has become a travelling exhibition used as part of their outreach work around the country as a tool for dialogue around human rights, transitional justice, and national healing, as well as becoming a historical record for the future generations.

Born in London, Jason Florio is an award-winning photographer currently based in Malta. For the past 15 years, he has worked as a freelance photojournalist around the globe for publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Newsweek among others. Over his career, Jason has primarily documented under-reported stories about people living on the margins of society and human rights, which earned him a number of awards, including The Magnum Photography Award 2017 for his work on migration. His work is held in many public and private collections and has been showed in solo and group exhibitions around the globe.

Image Captions

  1. 17 year old Amie Lowe photographed in her father’s room, left unchanged since he was killed in 2006. Amie’s father, Lt Ebou Lowe was disappeared and executed by members of the former president Yahya Jammeh’s hit squad, the ‘Junglers’, after he was accused of being part of a coup attempt in 2006 to overthrow the dictatorial Jammeh regime. “I grew up not knowing the love of a father. I was only three years old when he disappeared, so I don’t remember him. I only know him through what people have told me, that he was a good man, and some say he was a hero.”
  2. Fatou Jammeh, sister of Lieutenant. Lamin ‘LF’ Jammeh, Gambia Armed Forces. ‘LF’ was accused of being part of an attempted coup on November 11th, 1994, but escaped to Senegal. In 1997, he returned to The Gambia to attack Kartong Military Barracks in the hope of bringing down Jammeh and the junta but he was captured, tortured, and sentenced to life in Mile 2 Prison. In August 2012, Yahya Jammeh ordered the execution of nine inmates, including ‘LF’. “We didn't get the body back, we weren't even informed or contacted by anybody from the government or the army... none of the families were contacted. The bodies were taken to Kanilai and put in a well.”
  3. Ballo Kanteh shows the burns he suffered after melted plastic was dripped onto his skin by Jammeh's notorious henchmen, the Junglers at Mile 2 prison during his 18 year detention. For the first two years he was held in a pitch dark cell, permanently damaging his eyesight.
  4. Fatoumatta Sandeng, daughter of political activist and UDP (United Democratic Party) leader, Solo Sandeng, who was killed whilst in detention, April 14th 2016, shortly after he was arrested by Gambian state security agents whilst leading a peaceful protest for political reform. “My dad's body was taken away and never returned to us. When they killed him, they buried him somewhere unknown to us and we didn't find out until 11 months later”. Sandeng’s body was found in the fishing village of Tanji, and his remains were exhumed in May 2017.
  5. Baba Leigh, an influential imam, spoke out publicly against President Yahya Jammeh’s proposed execution of thirty prisoners at Mile 2 prison. Due to this, Leigh was abducted on Jammeh's instruction by members of the National Intelligence Agency and members of Jammeh’s hit-squad, the Junglers. He was disappeared for five months and tortured - including being buried up to his neck. He was finally released without charge after an international campaign was mounted to find him.
  6. May 9th, 2016, Bintou was arrested and detained for five days, after attending a rally to demand the release of illegally detained protesters from previous rallies held on April 15th/16th, 2016. During her detention, Bintou said that she was beaten, tortured, and raped by two masked security officers at the Gambia Police Intervention Unit (PIU) HQ. When asked if she would prefer that we keep her identity anonymous, her adamant reply was “No, this was done to me, and I want justice...these men should be punished”.
  7. Dodou Sanyang in the room of Jonyi, his recently deceased mother. Jonyi was one of over a thousand elderly people abducted on the orders of President Jammeh in 2009 by paramilitary troops and ‘magicians’ from Guinea, who went from village to village as part of a nationwide hunt for witches. The alleged witches were held in secret locations and made to drink ‘kubehjaro’, a hallucinogenic substance, and then forced to confess to witchcraft. Some died at the detention sites, and others like Sanyang’s mother suffered years of illness before dying.
  8. Bintu Tunkara, daughter of Lamin Tunkara, who she never got a chance to meet, looks at a picture of him on her phone. Her mother Adama Conteh was seven months pregnant with her when Lamin was murdered. He was the only Gambian among a group of over 50 Ghanaians and other West African migrants bound for Europe in 2005 by the sea. The groups who were detained, and then systematically massacred by Gambian security forces, on the orders of President Jammeh, who feared that the migrants were coup plotters. Adama said “I searched everywhere - Mile 2 prison, all the prisons, and police stations. He loved me and he took care of me”. Adama searched for over a year, she would not accept that he was dead. One Ghanaian, Martin Kyere, who was with Lamin, escaped and is the sole survivor.
  9. Pa Ousman Njie, a taxi driver, was innocently caught up in protests in 2016 by opponents of former President Jammeh. Njie was arrested, tortured, imprisoned for three months. His taxi was impounded at the National Intelligence Agency headquarters, where he was tortured. When he was finally released without charge, he found his taxi had been used during his detention by the NIA. It was returned to him in an unrepairable condition, wrecking his livelihood. “I was taken downstairs. They covered my eyes and I felt an injection in my back, like a big staple gun, and then I felt something enter my system...burning me inside. I was screaming, shouting, calling to Allah for help. They started to beat me with a piece of hard rubber, kicked me, punched me and I thought...now I am going to be dead”.
  10. Mariam Sandeng was tortured by NIA agents on April 16th 2016 after protesting for the release of political prisoners including her uncle, the activist Solo Sandeng. She was held down, and hot plastic was poured onto her chest, leaving a large scar. After her release, and it became public that Solo had been tortured to death, an anonymous caller told her she too would be killed. She hid in Senegal for a few months, but returned clandestinely to join further protests. “I was bleeding from my nose and my mouth because the torture was very serious...at one point, I believe that I was about to be raped and there was a guy (one of the Police Intervention Unit officers) there who told the other officers ‘don’t rape her, just leave her. It will bring more problems. Something bad might happen to her, she might die’. I don't know who it was because they all had masks on” But, she believes he saved her because he may have known her and her family.
  11. Abdou Karim Jammeh known locally as AKJ, was shot through the back of his knee by President Yahya Jammeh’s security forces during nationwide student protests, April 10 and 11, 2000. The students came out to protest peacefully after a young male student was tortured by firefighters, and tragically died soon afterwards. And, a young female student was raped by two paramilitary officers. Sixteen unarmed people, including fourteen young students, were shot and killed during two days of protests and many, like AKJ, sustained life-changing injuries. He was told later, when he applied for jobs, that a ‘BIG Red X’ was against his name, because he had taken part in the protests, so people were afraid to hire him.
  12. Fatou 'Toufa' Jallow, a former Gambian beauty-queen testified at the Gambia's Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission in 2019 about how she was groomed by President Jammeh when she was only 18 years old. She said at first the former president acted as a father figure when they met, but when she rejected his advances and marriage proposal in 2015, she said he pinned her to a bed at his palace and raped her. 'Toufa' fled to Senegal the next day without informing her family, in fear they would be targeted by Jammeh. She was given asylum in Canada and is now a vocal activist for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. 'Toufa' was photographed at her family home on a sofa that was a present to her family from Jammeh. The house now has 24hr security, because of fears of retribution by Jammeh loyalists.
  13. Lamin Moko Ceesay was one of a number of HIV/AIDS patients coerced by former President Jammeh to stop taking antiretroviral drugs and be treated by him personally with his herbal ‘AIDS cure’ as part of the Presidential Alternative Treatment Program (PATP).Jammeh’s AIDS treatment proved to be a dangerous hoax, none were cured, and a number of patients died, including Lamin’s wife.
  14. Mbye Babou Chune's son Modou Lamin Chune age 14 years was shot dead by Gambian security forces during a student protest on April 10th 2000. In total 16 people were killed, fourteen of them students, a journalist and a three-year-old child. “My fourteen-year-old son, Modou Lamin was amongst the children massacred by President Yahya Jammeh’s security forces on April 10th, 2000. He was trying to escape, running with the other students, and he was shot dead at the school gates. He was a brilliant student. We, the parents, lost our dear ones. We feel this pain more than anybody else. It was the saddest day of my life, innocent children killed by paramilitary officers and State Guards using AK47’s and live bullets. There was no mistake, it was their intention to kill”. Soon after the incident Jammeh passed a law to indemnify the soldiers and paramilitary forces.
  15. In 2006, Lamin Fatty was a news reporter who was battling a politically-charged court case against the former Gambian regime, under the presidency of Yahya Jammeh, when he was arrested and tortured by the feared National Intelligence Agency. “I went through hell. It was horrible. I was electrocuted. They took me out of my cell to the backyard where they had dug a hole, they then buried me halfway, and shoved a gun in my mouth and threatened to kill me”. Lamin eventually fled into exile to Senegal for 9 years.