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A Patch of Land in Benin Becomes a Canvas for Unity

On a small island surrounded by hundreds of wooden huts on stilts, in the middle of Lake Nokoue in southeast Benin, a giant painting is taking shape. For three hours, in 41 degrees Celsius heat, French artist Saype transformed a playground in the floating village of Ganvie. The 33-year-old says he’s seen paintings before in a local gallery, “but painting on the grass? That’s a first.” It’s not just the art attracting curious residents — the artist himself intrigues many. The strokes of paint have formed into two giant interlaced hands. The interlaced hands are “a symbol of kindness and goodwill between people,” he says, “to try and build bridges.” For Saype, whose real name is Guillaume Legros, this painting is part of “the largest human chain in the world.” The “Beyond Walls” project started in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower and has over several years travelled around the world, reaching Andorra, Berlin, Geneva, Ouagadougou, Yamoussoukro, Turin, Istanbul and Cape Town before coming to Benin’s floating village of Ganvie.