The Dak’art fringe -> a guided tour

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The Dakar Biennale fringe show presented over a hundred exhibitions this year. A small guide published by the Biennale secretariat helped to grapple with so many exhibitions of such a differing quality. Those that really stood out mainly presented confirmed artists, some of whom had already participated in the official Biennale. But they also gave talents who had not been officially selected legitimate visibility. Several associations’ initiatives that prolonged the spirit of the Biennale also deserve to be praised in the passing.

Galleries and professionals
The Atiss gallery’s exhibitions in the Dakar Cathedral crypt and Kadjinol Station stood out for their homogeneity and their layout.
Atiss gallery (Dakar) and Mam gallery (Douala) collaborated together for this Biennale, presenting a range of young Senegalese and Cameroonian artists. The Atiss gallery’s main selection revolved around highly graphic works whose outlines were often marked with black shadows and coloured in off-beige, brown, grey and white tones. Amongst them, Soly Cissé exhibited charcoal sketches with very definite lines. Cissé’s work, like that of Joël Mpah Doo, features an entire specific vocabulary of small animals, series of numbers, and short sentences. The ensemble proved to be particularly well suited to the Atiss gallery’s small space, which appeared to have been transformed into a kind of chamber of graphics. Camara Gueye’s works with their big round characters in intimate or day-to-day scenes continued in the vein of his work exhibited at the last Biennale. The plastic treatment, the dynamism of his lines, his use of charcoal and shading gave this ensemble great unity. Worth noting too was Diadji Diop’s sculpture of a life-size woman, hanging by her arms in the void, whose contours and ochre colour translated this selection’s pictorial sensibility into three-dimension.
In the Dakar Cathedral crypt, the Atelier Graphoui set up an original exhibition entitled « 7 plasticiens en mouvement » (« 7 artists in movement »). Here too Ndary Lo, Kan Si, and Soly Cissé’s work could be seen, all of whom graduated from the Dakar Beaux-Arts School in the Nineties. They were the omnipresent figures of this Biennale, both in the official and fringe selections. Yet this exhibition offered visitors a new perspective, that of a work « in movement », as each artist presented a film alongside his work that dramatised it (see
My God offers a video illustration of Ndary Lo’s work. Small characters migrate across the sand to climb a wall and invade a cross (the piece exhibited in the Ebéris Studio). Next to the video stands a large sculpted figure before which two smaller figures prostrate. In front of them, some even smaller figures are shut in a cage.
Facing this ensemble was Kan Si’s work. Three paintings covered in little characters observing the three positions of Muslim prayer were hung behind the crypt’s alter. Above them, the film was projected. In it, the artist’s brush dialogues with the canvas, applying genuflexions in a style that borders on calligraphy. A man then appears praying behind a curtain…
The crypt’s main axis – a site already impregnated with such religiousness – was also the one along which the visitor symbolically to-ed and fro-ed between Ndary Lo and Kan Si’s pieces, between an alluded-to Christianity and practiced Islam. The other artists exhibited around this central axis also set up a dialogue between their fixed pieces and their moving images. The exhibition thus truly stood out for its overall approach more than for the choice of its artists who were also exhibited elsewhere.
Kan Si was also invited by six Italian artists who exhibited at Canal Horizon, whilst the Ebéris Studio housed a very fine exhibition devoted mainly to Ndary Lo’s work. This recently renovated space turned out to be idyllic for housing art exhibitions.
Yacouba Konaté, the curator of the Kadjinol Station exhibition, proposed an elegant panel of Ivoirian artists, designers, photographers, and fashion designers. This open setting’s well-handled scenography successfully enhanced the work of artists such as Valérie Oka and Issa Diabaté. Both are regulars at the Biennale, but their confirmed style ought perhaps manage to surprise us more.
The Mam gallery exhibition (Cameroon) at the IFAN also stood out from the rest of the Fringe and demonstrated a good use of space. Joël Mpah Doo and Salifou Lindou’s works were the most noteworthy in this ensemble. They both presented a series of paintings and sculptures made mainly out of sheet metal.
S. Lindou’s work (c.f. Africultures n°47, « Douala: le squatt des plasticiens ») comprises large format compositions, 28cm-square assemblages, or smaller homogeneous compositions that often go in pairs. He also exhibited three-dimensional sphere and column compositions, again in pairs. The artist modulates different aspects of the metal. Its appearance is either smooth, shiny, porous, rough, dark or light. He staples, nails, and assembles all of these pieces of metal. He puts them together in such a way that they either play a figurative role, representing doors or other architectural elements, or a plastic role, as texture and colour. Architecture is thus present in both representational terms and in the formal structure of the work. The artist’s approach is all the more concrete as Lindou is also interested in the social aspect of the material. In the building world, sheet metal is used to cover and to encase structures, just as it is used industrially for making basic accessories, such as coal ovens.
His compatriot Joël Mpha Doo exhibited a more diversified oeuvre that included drawings, paintings, collages and sheet metal works. His treatment of mounted pieces of sheet metal is very different to that of S. Lindou. Here the artist worked with a single piece of metal that he dyes with ink. He adds newspaper cuttings and inserts electric light bulbs where he has punctured or ripped the sheet metal. The graphic elements that characterise the artist’s work, such as series of numbers, and encircled hands or faces, are also visible… However, unlike his canvases, this series of sheet metal pieces depicts a more urban universe ridden with roads and vehicles.
On a completely different register, Ibrahima Niang exhibited paintings of refugees and madmen at the Arte gallery as a complement to his work exhibited at the international show. He aims plastically to re-transcribe disorder and deconstruction. As for Samba Fall, he presented brightly coloured canvases divided into cells and fragments of coloured surfaces. The only pity was that the exhibition as a whole was overshadowed by the presence of diverse crafts objects on sale in the same gallery.
Elsewhere, a group of artists from Guinea and Central Africa chose a same site to house their exhibitions. One, which was a bit rough and ready, was organised by the Compans Art association (Conakry), and the other featured Central African artists selected by Doual’art. The latter showed Malam’s installation 110901 (cf. Africultures 46, March 2002). Several other works alongside it also drew favourable attention, such as Bill Kouelany’s paintings (cf. Africultures 45, February 2002), and Armindo Lopès Bon Jesus’ sculptures. In a very different style, Jean Galbert Nze’s sculptures also deserved particular attention.
All in all, all these highly professional exhibitions enabled the Fringe to assert itself. Forthcoming editions of the Fringe now need to aim to offer a slightly more mixed panel of artist so that the easily understandable predominance of the work by the Dakar Art School’s young generation does not mar the diversity of the event.
Certain artists managed to create an attraction out in the streets. Dominique Zinkpè’s taxis, which are real travelling vehicles full of caricatural sculpted figures, drew a wide audience. Accompanied by a theatre troupe, Viyé Diba dramatised daily Dakar life, also taking inspiration from the famous buses, a performance that was highly popular amongst local audiences.
The Dakar-based Russian artist Olga Kisseleva and five students from the Dakar Beaux-Arts School put on a street performance in the Médina district. A series of portraits were projected on a big screen, starting with a self-portrait of the artist which then transforms into someone else’s portrait. All these successive portraits were done in the neighbourhood, but the eyes always remained the same in the montage, thereby maintaining the initial gaze of the artist’s self-portrait. The local residents were captivated by this strange screening in which they recognised the faces of members of their families, friends and neighbours over the course of an amusing evening.
Several other isolated exhibitions also deserve to be mentioned, notably Abdoulaye Ndoye’s exhibition at the Relais de l’Espadon on Gorée Island, and Moussa Mbaye’s exhibition at Hang’art, which contrasted with the rest of the Senegalese trend seen at this Fringe.
Each weekend, A. Ndoye received his visitors in a setting that perfectly suited his work. His exhibition, Ecriture (« Writing »), was based on an invented and non-signifying form of writing that combines the memory of African symbols and Arabic calligraphy, or in other words, Africa’s written memories. The site chosen was an old, abandoned colonial building that is also charged with a historic dimension. The artist presented his works – books full of calligrammes and calligraphy – in the darkest room. The archive-atmosphere considerably reinforced the aged texture of the paper that he makes himself. The essence of A. Ndoye’s project lies in the elaboration of a form of writing. This is at first timid, then progressively asserts itself until it finally fills all the pages, structuring the spaces and itself becoming image.
At the Hang’art exhibition, a sign hanging above M. Mbaye’s photographs read, « Toucher, regarder, incliner » (« Touch, look, incline « ), in guise of an invitation to the visitor. The artist questions himself about the movement and modifications of the image, making the visitor’s participation indispensable. He furrows the coloured film, creating white and matt areas that shatter, destructure or double the original image with another. The dimensions are superimposed on the photographic space. Here light – the element at the origin of photography – becomes the different pictorial levels’ motor of discovery because it is precisely what makes the previously invisible engraved image emerge. These built-up images thus become poetic, almost surrealist layerings. M. Mbaye thus strives to inject new life into his first photos taken in Mali at the beginning of the Nineties. He reaffirms the raw quality of the photograph, its reproducibility, to subvert it all the better in a plastic approach that offers infinite possibilities. Truly raw material, his pictures of architecture and women and his portraits of artists are stereotyped images of Africa that he enjoys destructuring. He thereby manipulates personal and collective memory to make them the icons of his own (his)story.
We can at last celebrate the emergence of new sites. The joint initiative of the ASAO (l’Association du Sénégal et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) and Man-keeneen-ki associations (founded by Jean-Michel Bruyère, a French theatre director whose show, Enfants de nuit (Night Children) was presented at the Avignon Festival, c.f. this issue), has led to the re-opening of the Empire cinema which, conserving its vocation as a cultural centre, has become a rehabilitation centre for street children. An exhibition by the young photographer Sada Tangara was put on there. His approach illustrates the associations’ social objective. A former faxxman (Dakar street child), taken in by Man-keneen-ki, he documents their day-to-day life (his series Le Grand sommeil (The big sleep) was presented during Enfants de nuit). In this open-air cinema, the public was also able to discover furniture, paintings on glass, and other design objects which people will be able to see on show at the CSAO, their Parisian branch on rue Elzévir in the Marais district. The Empire intends to continue to raise art-awareness by putting on plays, films and exhibitions.
In addition to this, Amadou Yacine Thiam, a confirmed gallery owner, is due to inaugurate a new space in Dakar this winter, the Yacine Art Center. This astonishing complex comprises two buildings, one of which is pyramidal, the other lion-shaped. During the Biennale, the American artist Lorenzo Pace set up an installation there and held a workshop based on the traditional Senegalese game known as « the fake lion ». On this occasion, artists donated several paintings to the State. Moreover, the Yacine and Besseiche Galleries will present a selection of artists who participated in the Dakar 2002 Biennale Fringe in Paris until the 18th September 2002. We are of course delighted by this kind of initiative and hope that they will multiply and diversify the opportunities for showing contemporary African artists’ work after the Dak’art.

///Article N° : 5619


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