Category Archives: Senegal

Day 9 – Aissa Dione, textile designer

Our next appointment is with Aissa Dione at her textile factory. The search for her place takes our bus to an hour of wandering through the streets of Rufusque, once a town of its own, now a suburb of the expanding Dakar. The ride shows us Senegal that is much less painted by its colonial past than Dakar, and much more mad and hectic in the autonomous world of its own. In a way, it reminds us of Bamako with its disorganised architectural and social shapes, but still with the aggressive Senegalese dynamism of the street that is right the opposite of the serene atmosphere of the Malian capital.

Aissa Dione

When we get to the factory, the location suddenly makes sense – it would obviously be very difficult to have that amount of space in Dakar. The factory is very large, it appears that it could have around 3000 m2, with the looms positioned all around the hall, most of which, surprisingly, without an operator in that particular moment. The building is massive and very impressive, and Aissa tells us that it once used to be a French military barracks, then a peanuts storage, then a Lebanese ice-cream factory, and now she has been extensively investing in its renovation for the last 2 years.

We met Aissa the night before, during the introduction dinner at Le Kadjinol. From the first encounter it was obvious that she was a professional, competent and firm, very much experienced in international communication. Beside the plan to visit her the day after, Aissa kindly, but authoritatively, suggests interventions in our programme, advising whom should we meet from the Senegalese art scene, that she has been part of as a painter and gallerist for 15 years.

So only a day later we are at her space and she guides us through it, interrupting the history of her work with occasional explanations of the origin and purposes of certain machines.  Continue reading

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Day 9 – l’ Ecole des Sables / Jant-Bi (Toubab Dialaw)

After some detours and thus somewhat later than planned we arrived at L’Ecole des Sables. Notwithstanding previous agreements we seem to arrive unannounced and to take the grounds by surprise. Anne Mbaye who is responsible for the administration very kindly shows us around and informs us on the history and the policy of L’Ecole des Sables / Jant-Bi foundation.

Ecole des Sables / Jant-Bi

The school was initiated in 1998 by well-known dancer and choreographer Germaine Acogny and her husband Helmut Voigt. The first years it was located in the village of Toubab Dialaw, but after a few years they started constructing an infrastructure and buildings on an idyllic site overviewing the sea. There is a theatre, rehearsal spaces, residencies and even a restaurant.

Two remarkable things were mentioned: The first is that in the 1960s the notion of ‘contemporary dance’ (‘art dance’, academic dance) was totally unknown and underappreciated in Africa, where dance was being considered as a social event. As such it was / is mainly practised by women, whereas the ‘African contemporary dance’ is mainly done by men. Germaine Acogny has developed her own dance idiom and more or less invented African dance.

Dancers following a class at Ecole des Sables

The second relevant remark was that this could only have happened through the stimulating support of president Senghor (1906 – 2001). Senghor in the 1960s and 1970s has been en pivotal figure in the development in Senegal of the contemporary arts at large.

If we consider the information we’ve received until now it’s hard to perceive and appreciate how the cultural climate and infrastructure would have been without him. Nevertheless under subsequent president the situation hasn’t improved. Hence the remark of Anne Mbaye: “In Senegal we don’t wait for the government anymore”.  Continue reading

Day 8 – Architecture School, Black Music Worldwide, diner at Le Kadjinol

On our 8th day we visited the Maison des Esclave at Goree island. We will soon put more information and images about this visit on our blog.

Maison des Esclave - view on the ocean

After our visit to the beautiful island of Goree and the impressive Maison des Esclave we drove to Point E to visit the architectural school of Jean-Charles Tall who’ve we met on our first evening in Dakar, and gave us an introduction to Dakar together with Koyo Kouoh.

Jean-Charles Tall started the Architecture College together with a group of architects in 1990 when the Senegalese government closed the only official architectural school in the country.

More then 90 students are studying 2 till 3 years at the school and get a certificate which is validated by the Senegalese Ministry of Education. After 3 years they are official ”technical engineers”. If they want to become an architect they have to study an additional 4 years.

Jean-Charles Tall

The school is a private school and is not receiving any financial support by the Senegalese government and was initially financed by the architects who erected the school. The Architecture College is also offering education to students form outside Senegal (Comoros, DR Congo, Mauritania etc.).

Architecture College

The Architecture College wants to be a space for reflexion and feed the cultural climate in Senegal. This is why the school not only focusses on architecture but also on cultural heritage, urbanism and environment. For Jean-Charles Tall it’s very important that students get confronted with both theory and reality. Last year he let students visit shanty areas in Dakar to confront them with everyday realities.

After the visit of the architecture school we had a gap in our programme and Jean-Charles Tall advised us to go to the Maison de la Culture Douta Seck, to visit the Les Musiques Noires dans le Monde. When we arrived at the centre we were told that the centre was officially closed due to unpaid bills in the last couple of months (which seems a common problem for cultural organisations in Senegal).

We asked kindly if it they could re-open for our group for just one hour, which seemed to be possible after some negotiations (and bargaining!).

Sacred figures of Black Music, the start of the exhibition

The exhibition was an interactive introduction to the story of black music. The route through the exhibition was thematic and started with a room with 21 translucent columns which presented the 21 ‘sacred figures of black music’. These ”monuments sacres” were Senegalese artist Youssou N’dour, B.B. King, James Brown, Oum Kalthoum, Bob Marley, Ali Farka Touré and even Elvis Presley! We all got a audio tour with touchscreen so everyone of us could listen to his or her own favourite black music.  Continue reading

Day 7 – La Manège, Ker Thiossane and Les Ateliers Leydi

Abou is the first Senegalese artist I meet. He starts to talk to me as soon as I step outside the hotel compound. I try to hold off like he is one of the many vendors swarming around but he insists and a conversation develops. Crossing the city on foot and back, we discuss the quality of the Dakar Biennal, what he perceived as a lack of local art and artists in the 3rd Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres; the importance of international connections, his current project called ‘What future for Africa?’ (Abou plans to travel to Libya and Cote d’Ivoire to photograph the revolution, Inshallah) and the trouble with government subsidies. Of course he will be at the opening at La Manège later tonight.

Metropole meets countryside in the Medina district

The impressive presentations by Koyo Kouoh and Jean-Charles Tall yesterday evening gave us a taste of the arts climate and the cultural situation in Dakar. Here it is ‘different’ from Mali, it seems. The program of today will put this impression to the test.

Morning brought us to Le Manège, just around the corner of our hotel in the Plateau district. Le Manège is the gallery space of the Institut Français. Director Delphine Calmettes is unable to meet us but luckily Christine Eyene took time to meet us and answer our questions. She is the curator of Kaddou Diggen (Women speak out) a group show with work by 8 female artists living and working in Africa or in the diaspora. Amidst the activities of a typically day-before-the-opening situation, Christine informed us on some of the exhibited pieces and of the theme of the exhibition, which is female identity in the arts as constructed by women.
Christine Eyene is a curator who studied in Paris and currently lives and works in London (parallel to “Kaddou Diggen” she is preparing an exhibition in the Southbank Centre). She considers herself part of a new generation of cultural professionals that emphasizes collaboration and exchange, and aims at breaking with the current notion of ‘African Arts’. One of her objectives is to bring African artists to the western world.

A slightly confused and (thus) interesting discussion occurred upon two questions. Jogi memorised that historically there used to be no difference between arts and artisanship; in the western world the two have become separated. How about Africa? Does she think this notion is relevant to the conceptual perspective and practice of her curatorial work? No!! Christine is engaged with the visual arts and its history.
Amila offered another angle: does the art from Africa imply new visions on the dominant linear pattern in which art historically emerged from visual culture and developed into a new discipline, detached from religion or crafts e.g.? In response Christine referred to an essay Okwui Enwezor wrote in Authentic/Ex-Centric: Conceptualism in Contemporary African Art (2001).

This visit brought about that there might be different paradigms at work in Mali and here in Dakar. Whereas in Mali the visual arts generally seem to be embedded in cultural and social practices, the scene in Dakar is clearly positioning itself within a western paradigm that supplies us with the language, codes and statements that are connected with ‘classical’ history of arts, even by adjusting or adding to it.

After Le Manège the bus delivered us in one of the so-called SICAP settlements, their streets lined with late modernist and comfortable urban villas built by the SICAP real estate company that has been active in Dakar since the 1950’s

Kër Thiossiane is a space for “multimedia and citizenship” and we met with coordinator Marion Legrand in a sunny but windy courtyard. She introduced us to various projects they have initiated since the start of the initiative in 2002 and toured us around their modest but spacious building. Activities are locally situated and often developed in collaboration with international partners. Ker Thiossane runs also an interdisciplinary and international residency program which draws in artists and musicians for productions, research or collaborations.

View from the roof

Meeting Marion Legrand

Their scope is interdisciplinary and ranges from dance to music to video art. With the lack of a new media department at the Dakar academy of art, this space seems to fill a gap and continues to contribute to the practice of and reflection on approaches to new technologies that are specific for the African continent. Marion stressed the importance of collaboration between institutions and cultural centers, which in Dakar cannot happen without effort.
With the help of a subsidy from the EU fund ACP Cultures, Ker Thiossane currently develops a two year project Rose de Vent Numerique (‘Digital Compass Rose’). Pairing medialabs in Mali, South Africa, Martinique, France and Finland, knowledge about electronic culture is being exchanged between continents. It has amongst others resulted in a first edition of the excellent Afropixel festival in Bamako and Dakar. Continue reading