Former courthouse in Dakar, Senegal

Dakar, I’m gonna miss you! Some of my favourite artworks from Dak’Art 2022

The Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art had its fourteenth edition in 2022, from 19 May to 21 June, having had to suspend the edition in 2020 due to the pandemic. It is often referred to as Dak’Art Biennale.

About the Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art

This year’s Biennale theme was Forger / Out of the Fire. Create, Imagine and Invent is the triptych that was the central direction provided to artists. The official selection consists of the works of 59 visual artists and artists’ collectives from Africa and its diaspora. It is spread across 8 locations in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and one in Thiès, a city 70kms outside of Dakar.

Founder Favourites

Dakar is one of Capital Art Founder Karabo Morule’s favourite destinations. Here are some of her favourite artworks from a few official selection exhibition locations, in no particular order.

Ngozi-Omeje Ezema (Nigeria)

Think Tea Think Cup III (2020)
Installation: Clay, plastic, metal
510 x 420 x 210 cm
Location: Former courthouse in Cap Manuel

Nigerian artist Ezema has already been featured in one of the Capital Art Instagram posts, so you can read more about her there. The artwork featured in that post was part of the OFF programme.

Mo Laudi (South Africa)

Rest-itution (2022) by Mo Laudi

South African artist Mo Laudi (Ntshepe Tsekere Bopape) had two really touching works because they reminded me of art as a form of protest or activism. After visiting the Bongi Dhlomo Collection as part of the exhibition Yakhal’inkomo at the University of Pretoria not long ago, I realised that art as a form of activism is part of the contemporary South African art canon; and that’s what made these artworks stand out for me.

1) Motho ke motho ka batho (A tribute to Mancoba) (2019)
Sound installation
10′ 10″
Location: Former courthouse in Cap Manuel

“Motho ke motho ka batho” means “A person is a person because of other people”. It is the extended version of a South African expression that explains Botho (in the Sesotho language group) or uBuntu (in the Nguni language groups). Ubuntu is something South African art Ernest Mancoba (1904-2002) often made reference to. The sound work is a mix of Mo Laudi’s original compositions and samples of: Xhosa songs and drums; Solomon Linda’s song “Mbube”, which was first released in 1939; the voices of Marikana massacre survivors at the first anniversary of the event; and, from the funeral of icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at her home in Soweto in 2018.

2) Rest-itution (Series “the rest painting”) (2022)
Clay, Senegalese soil, coffee, charcoal, steel, acrylic on canvas
Various dimensions
Location: Former courthouse in Cap Manuel

The Rest Painting series take the sound installation as a departure point and references music notation, the note “rest”, which is an interval of silence in pieces of music marked by symbols indicating the length of a pause. The paintings evoke the notion of rest in the context of the archives’ silence and as an act of rebellion against the commodification of black bodies and resources. Thus, it is a critique of the invisibility of Ernest Mancoba in the canon of art.

Omar Ba (Senegal)

 Man and Superman III (Dangerous Games 2) (2021) by Omar Ba

 Man and Superman III (Dangerous Games 2) (2021)
Acrylic, pencil, oil, indian ink and BIC pen on canvas
200 x 150 cm
Location: Former courthouse in Cap Manuel

I enjoyed these works by Omar Ba because they were a commentary on global geopolitics. They weave a thread between African and European cultures while hinting toward the roles of superpowers like Russia and China, and their role in the changing power dynamic. Fascinating works from this Senegalese artist.

Roberto Diago Durruty (Cuba)

Permanent History II (2020) by Roberto Diago Durruty

Permanent History II (2020)
Wood, Nylon, Metal, Plastic
Various dimensions
Location: Former courthouse in Cap Manuel

If you have ever been to Rio de Janeiro or seen pictures of it and the favelas in movies, then what you see of this artwork is instantly recognisable. The installation makes you feel some of the closeness or claustrophobia induced by the living conditions in favelas. It can also symbolise how difficult it is to escape, highlighting the systemic impacts of colonialism and racism.

Fally Sene Sow (Senegal)

Rusty World (2022) by Fally Sene Sow

Rusty World (2022)
Paper mache, synthetic herbs, cotton, mud, meta, feathers and others
Various dimensions
Location: Former courthouse in Cap Manuel

This work is like a horrible, dystopian future that one wouldn’t want to come to pass. It shows a city which has been affected by climate change, has become neglected and discarded, lacks few signs of vitality and hope and is a war zone. The intricate details of each block of this cityscape were mesmerising and made this work memorable. The sounds of some sort of wild cat howling with the singing of birds, juxtaposed with the lighting from the clouds in the sky, made it a multi-sensory experience, which I loved! Remarkable work by Sow.

Beya Gille Gacha (France)

L’Autre Royaume (2022)
Wax, resin, beads, soil, metal, wood, charcoal, plants and water
Various dimensions
Location: Former courthouse in Cap Manuel

Gacha is an artist of Cameroonian descent. Following a trip to Cameroon, where her mother is from, in the Grassland region, she learned about the Bamileke beadwork. She started producing beaded sculptures inspired by this technique while mixing references to African classicism and Western art. In the Bamileke tradition from Cameroon, beading furniture or artwork is a way to show material wealth and value, just like covering it in gold or ivory. Similarly, Gacha covers her sculptures in beads to demonstrate the value of each human being. I love beautiful, empowering artworks, and I felt like that is what this artwork represents.

Delali Ayivor (United States)

DM from a White Boy as an Entry from a Colonial Explorer’s Journal (2022) by Delali Ayivor

DM from a White Boy as an Entry from a Colonial Explorer’s Journal (2022)
Animated Film
Length: 32 seconds
Location: House of Culture Douta Seck

Ayivor writes poetry and things moving towards poetry. It’s a short clip but eye-catching. It reminded me of one of the neighbourhood stores (much like a NY bodega) that one finds on many Dakar streets. They are typically full of groceries, but this one is remarkable because of the chandelier in the centre. And sections of the goods move to display the text that is this DM. I think the poetry in how the messages are written made me chuckle on the first take of this film. She was selected in 2021 for a residency at Black Rock Senegal, a residency programme founded by Kehinde Wiley.

Philippe Sene (Senegal)

Karabo Morule admiring the artwork Documenta 1 (Year not provided) by Philippe Sene

Documenta 1
Photo on tarpaulin
Dimensions unknown
Location: Museum of Black Civilisations

This artwork was at the Senegal Pavillion, so I did not have the benefit of a guided tour and explanations of this work. Given that I am a big fan of the colour blue, I was drawn to this triptych because of the different materials used in each section. Philippe Sène is a Senegalese art master and is inspired by traditions from his ethnic group – the Sérères. Protective spirits, pangools, are the dominant element of his paintings and tapestry cartoons. Perhaps these artworks contain those, and why not be drawn to such. According to the bio provided by the Biennale, “his works are rare and difficult to find and often appear in the collections of informed amateurs”.

Special exhibition: Tribute to Abdoulaye Konate (Mali)

Interestingly, Abdoulaye Konate was the winner of the Grand Prix in 1996 at the third Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art. Undoubtedly a Master, the Malian artist’s works are collectables across small and large, individual and institutional collections. The tribute exhibition included around 10 works, one of which is a tribute to art critic and author Joëlle Busca to works of appreciation of cultural practices from the Dogon or Ashanti empires or the Touaregs.

Closing Comments

The scale of the Dakar Biennale shows just how seriously Senegal takes the contemporary African art and its appreciation. From artworks at the airport as an OFF location to driving from Ngor or Les Almadies, past Mermoz and seeing sculptures all along the Corniche in West Dakar, artworks are everywhere and can be appreciated by everyone. The OFF programme has over 400 locations across fourteen neighbourhoods in Dakar and extends to cities like Saint Louis and Saly, and has been running for over 20 years; this is a testament that the Biennale is a foremost destination for celebrating African contemporary art. Visiting the Biennale does require one to be reasonably well-versed in French to have some freedom of movement. Still, no doubt, more innovations in ways to broaden the audience to more English-speaking visitors will be forthcoming.

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