Art installations look as if we’ve always been living in them without really paying any attention up to the day when this style came and added up to our conceptual, aesthetic and environmental preoccupations.
Installation is an artistic trend that appeared on the Senegalese art scene officially more than a decade ago with the advent of the Biennal of African contemporary art. Just like what is done elsewhere in the world in the wake of globalisation, it hasn’t taken long for the wind of change and the trends’influence to reach the Senegalese artists’works, but the environment remains perplexed before this way of making art that may look both trivial and complex. A starting point for the » installation » movement in Senegal might be the Dak’art Biennal of 1996 when Malian Abdoulaye Konaté won the Big Prize with his work in mixed techniques and installations (175 x 312 x 50 cm) entitled » Homage to the Mandé hunters « . At the same Biennal, the works of a young Cameroonian artist Pascal Marthine Tayou and his delirious installations » Folie tripale » (30 x 20 x 20cm) and » Emotions fécales » were discovered. Inaugurating what was called exhibitions of individual artists, Tayou was then introduced by Kawaguchi Yukiya, the curator of Setagaya Museum in Tokyo, as » the artist who rejects futile art « . He sees in the » headings that link the most ordinarily vulgar things to a transcendental dimension » a Tayou whose aim is to « denounce the West which doesn’t shrink from appropriating one after the other the various forms of contemporary African art in the name of art by forsaking them after using them unscrupulously ». There is the justification of a work that has shocked more than a visitor. Or would you say works ? Some will say that it is possible to do better in the field, but the truth is that it was the warning shot that heralded the era of » installationism « .
It is obvious that the artistic effervescence enhanced by the Biennial of Dakar, especially the mingling between artists from Africa, the Diaspora, the world, but principally the selections performed by international juries have, helped to influence the work of Senegalese artists. To what extent ? Some artists, at least, liked the new techniques or methods that they were discovering. In relation to the » installationistic » trend in the Senegalese artistic circles, one can notice at a first glance that there isn’t a group of leaders. Those who ventured into the genre could be considered as daredevils, but they appeared to express themselves more freely, away from all artistic classical conventions. The installation, through its spatial spreading out, is indeed proof that it can host in one space a whole set of expression and amorphous objects or not.
Some Senegalese artists like Moussa Tine think that the installation is a contemporary form of expression from the West that we have assimilated to our « sanctuaries » and that if one has to engage into it, one should do it truly. Painter Mamadou Wade breaks in on this installation issue : » I don’t accept to follow anybody slavishly, I like what I do. Installation for me is a trend that the Europeans have brought us; some followed suit, for other artists it is one way of securing a window of opportunity. For the time being, I am engrossed in my painting « , says Mamadou Wade echoing painter Iba Ndiaye’s worries who was warning against the invasion of the installations which risk to trigger the disappearance of painting in Senegal. For him, the juries give the tuning by selecting many installations.
The discussion about installations arouses interest. Senegalese artist Fatou Kandé thinks that the » odds and ends » of installations, that’s us, we’ve always lived with it in Africa. Painter Ismaïla Manga agrees when an asserts : » Installations have always existed in Africa. In my work, they become something I am aware of, something thought of. It’s no follow-the-herd attitude , it’s ownership « . On narrating how he would watch his grandfather tell fortune on the sand and later, on reproducing installations at ground level using esoteric signs and symbols, Manga is convinced that it was his being that he had tried to represent. And he has done it by using materials like earth, wood and salt which are carriers of humanity, of the profound marks and reminiscences of beings.
Sculptors are often pointed to as the approach’s catalyst. Some Senegalese artists’works have, however, caught the attention of the world of culture, especially during Dak’Art Biennal. One only has to remember the works of the late sculptor Moustapha Dimé who had begun to bring together characters in his work » The friends » (a 1996 wood, iron and stone carving, 296 cm) or else in » Contemporary dance » (a 1995, wood, iron and stone carving, 246 cm). In the catalogue of the 1996 Biennal, Daniel Sotiaux, former Representative in Senegal of the French-speaking community in Belgium, while introducing Moustapha Dimé’s work, described him as an » artist with a fully-mature art, a green artist who intervenes on the material in a logic related to a definite environment. We are not far from installation-art… »
The sculptures of the Senegalese master Ousmane Sow, with his big pieces in groups representing life scenes or narratives such as » The Noubas » or else » The battle of little Big Horn « , may have somehow encouraged » the spacing » painter El Hadj Sy talks about. » The installation is not even an artistic expression, it is one way of posing, it is rather about placing in an environment, spacing, presenting, and there is nothing new about that », he contends. There is » a plurality of expression and support modes but the artists, in this part of the continent that concerns us, are trapped by what happens in the selection committees. It is as if the enemy was the classical art object, painting, sculpture, and that the supports are other things I don’t reject installations, I have done a few myself, but we must have a concept which corresponds to our needs, our environment, our culture. »
Another sculptor, Ndary Lô, is one of the Senegalese artists who best and most frequently expressed himself through installations. His characters moulded from welded metal, united in a uniform movement, find maximum expression with his work « The long march of change « , the 2002 Biennal of Dakar’s Big Prize. Soly Cissé, originally a painter, quickly joined » the installation art » by notably presenting » Pain witnesses » (voile, cotton 5 x 210 x 50 cm) in 2000. Instead of his works in painting, it is again an installation by Cissé, namely » Dead nature II » (fruit and fabric, 200 x 100 cm) that was retained for the international exhibition of Dak’Art 2002. A reason to persevere in this direction. That is at any rate what Mansour Ciss, a Senegalese painter who has been living in Berlin for over a decade, did. He showed up at the international exhibition of the 1998 Biennal of Dakar with a surprising work : the » Fishermen’s cemetary » is as much an attempt at denouncing poverty and licentiousness as it refers to the traditional sanctuary of men earn their livelihood from the sea. In another series of photographs placed side by side, Ciss travels back in time in » The Memory of time « , actually an album of artists’portraits and various activities, and the work said to be an » installation » is introduced as such at the international exhibition. One can note the interesting work of Cheikh Niass, another Senegalese artist who presents » Migration « . You have to look up to see on transparent strings (glass fibre) many-coloured pieces cut out like birds with spread out wings, fly past. One then accepts the correlation between the artist’s idea and the originality of his design. This work presented at Dak’Art 2004 with Fatou Kandé Senghor’s » On a quest for a modern Africa » (video, performance, installation) heralds a revisited approach of the installation, a visual effect and the use of technology to create interactivity and transmutation.
The artistic world cast a perplexed glance at the unfolding of the installation, especially with the explosive advent of digital art. Is there a future for this manner of doing art which is reputedly known as being transient ? As an artistic trend, a way of expressing oneself and of presenting a conceptual whole, the installation covers a wide range of possibilities which today leave a door open, as much to the fertile and clever imagination, to surrealism and to the maddest extravagance. We usually discover how complex a work is through its visual discourse which sometimes calls for a certain degree of interactivity , and always for a free reflection on a talking point to determine, if one dares to take the trouble. That is to say that not everybody can understand this way of doing art that the installation constitutes, even in a country like Senegal where people are fortunately aware of the necessary ownership of contemporary plastic arts and of the diversity of their expression. Let’s face the facts, let us listen to the new masters of space, but let’s also learn to seize the dynamic idea lying underneath the other aesthetics they are proposing us with insistence.
///Article N° : 4402