Old Boats Become New Furniture in Senegal

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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Every country has its fair share of waste and the remnants of past economic activity. Old cars nobody wants, discarded tins of food, old plastic bags, spare copper wire, cast-off clothing – all can have a new life in the right hands.

An intriguing twist on recycling is happening in the West African nation of Senegal. The country has a strong fishing tradition, and plenty of boats are used to haul in the catch every day. These boats are elaborately decorated and dazzle the eye when lined up on the beach awaiting the next journey to sea. But what to do with the boats when they have completed their service?

One ingenious social enterprise is turning the weatherbeaten but colorful boats into highly prized pieces of furniture that sell in the boutiques of Europe. The enterprise Artlantique (slogan “Made in Africa”) (http://artlantique.com) gathered together local craft folk, both masters and young apprentices, to tackle the challenge of re-shaping old fishing boats into furniture.

Artlantique’s founder, Spanish designer Ramon Llonch, then sends the furniture back to his shop in Barcelona, Spain where it is in turn distributed to shops around the world. Llonch ploughs Artlantique’s profits back in to expanding the business and hopes to hire more skilled craft folk in Senegal.

The idea is to create a “contemporary, modern design, which is above all 100 per cent African, as much in the material as in the making.”

Each unique piece of furniture is a riot of color, with planks of wood harvested from the boats creating an original and eye-pleasing pattern. The furniture has the weathered look expected of wood battered by years of exposure to salty sea water, and is streaked and branded with colorful patterns from its previous life as a fishing boat. The furniture items include cabinets, tables, benches, work tables, chairs, picture frames, coffee tables and even a fusball game table for lovers of soccer (football).

The catalogue that accompanies the website shows the families of the fisher folk, their boats, the workshop where the furniture is made, and the finished product. As the catalogue says, the boats “are stylish and elegant, their sides covered by many layers of paint, faded, and affected by rust from the salt and sea air, giving the wood a rich texture of different tones. Attracted by their beauty, and their history, we wondered whether after all the sea faring they had undergone, the wood would still be in good enough condition to begin a new life, to be ‘reincarnated’ into furniture.”

Negotiations are made with the fisher folk to acquire boats when they look like they have reached the end of their work life. The purchased boat is taken to a beach-side workshop and the craft folk discuss what to do with it. Young apprentices work alongside skilled craft folk, gaining the skills to make a high-quality wooden product capable of being exported.

The craft folk draw on their years of experience to add value to the final product. “Their contribution is essential as they suggest which type of furniture would be the most suitable to make,” Artlantique’s website explains. “They discuss their past and that of their forefathers: their cultural heritage, how to take full advantage of the wood, according to the size of the boat, and its color combinations.”

The furniture made from the boat wood has a high value because each piece is unique and can not be replicated. The raw “Samba” wood comes from an African tropical tree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triplochiton_scleroxylon) and remains untreated by chemicals. It is seasoned naturally by the sea from its years of service as a fishing boat.

“This wood … has certain limitations, not only because it has a shape but also because it’s very damaged by the salt, the sea, the sun and the lime. But these artisans are very talented,” Llonch told CNN.

“Their creativity is not academic, they are like this by nature because [for them] recycling and reusing is not a fashion, it’s not a trend.”

Artlantique-branded furniture is now on sale in boutiques in Barcelona, Spain, Paris, France and Rome, Italy.

In Brazil, artist Sérgio Dido (http://www.artinsurf.com/art-dido.php), who lives in the dynamic beach resort town of Buzios (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/brazil/the-southeast/buzios), also salvages wood from fishing boats to create art with a surfing theme. The work is featured in the Art in Surf shop (http://www.artinsurf.com/index.php).


1) Jack Bell Gallery: The focus of the gallery is to exhibit, represent and champion contemporary artists, many from Africa. Website: jackbellgallery.com

2) Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute: The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, a non-profit organization, administers the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Product Standard. It was created to bring about  a new industrial revolution that turns the making of things into a positive force for society, economy, and the planet. Website: c2ccertified.org

3) Southern Innovator Issue 5: Waste and Recycling: The fifth issue explores how innovation can tackle the challenges of improving human development on a planet with finite resources. Website: http://www.scribd.com/doc/207579744/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-5-Waste-and-Recycling

4) Senegal Tourist Office: Connect on the Facebook page to find out more about Senegal. Website: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Senegal-Tourist-Office/211140248926509

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