Day 9 – Dutch interlude with Erik Pol in Rufisque

Time for lunch. And yet another occasion to revise some of our stereotypical preconceptions about nationality and customs. This continuous process of self-critical re-evaluation is one of the most valuable rewards of travelling in our large, heterogeneous international group. Oddly, I find it easier to listen to other people now that I’ve come to appreciate, respect and even admire them on this long and sometimes very tiring journey.  (Frankly, it would have made more sense to be fed up with everyone by now, no?) To my own surprise, I happily readjust some of my previous assumptions, opinions and expectations every day. I must say I like it. It feels good to broaden your views, raise your mind, improve your thoughts, really travel…

Erik Pol & Veerle Wenes

Okay, this lofty digression may sound a bit out of place here but I’m serious. Even if I was actually going to comment on a very light & slight cultural question. I mean, the Dutch notion of lunch is a popular joke amongst us Belgians.  (We think of buttermilk and sticky industrial bread). Having lunch with Erik Pol induces me to adjust even this general notion. We enjoy a great meal on the terrace roof of his beautiful house in Rufisque. The view is grand. The food is outstanding : fresh home-grown  products (oh, that coriander!), local cuisine… Is Erik really Dutch? Anyway, his excellent cook is Senegalese. As Veerle, with her typical gracious style, reminds us of. She starts a well deserved round of applause for Erik’s Senegalese cook. Yes, we’re grateful. Continue reading

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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 8 – Loosing time / The beauty of hell

Loosing time…

a list of famous people who visited the Maison des Esclaves

There is a lot of waiting, here at the West Coast of Africa. We wait for people and in busses and taxis in the huge traffic jams of Dakar. But better forget the idea that waiting means “loosing time”. The Western concept of time efficiency does not work here and that is the first thing to learn while working and traveling here. Better “use the time” that you are sitting and hanging around to talk to each other and to the “locals” who came to Dakar from all over Africa.
Especially women are in for a chat and are curious. So go and sit next to a beautifully dressed African lady and enjoy waiting!

Waiting for the boat to Île de Gorée.

The beauty of hell

guide at Maison des Esclaves & Veerle Wenes

Île de Gorée is a tiny island of only 2,7 km2 but it has a huge history.
It is a Unesco World Heritage site also due to its slave-trading history.
Gorée has been in the hands of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and then of course of the French during centuries. Like every where here in West Africa women are powerful, or shall I say the “working class heroes”… In Gorée white colonists and slave women had the power in this matriarchal slave trading society of a 1000 habitants.

balcony of Maison des Esclaves

We visit the “maison des esclaves”, the only building that remains of the slavery trade to the “new World”. Strange to see that the “traders” lived above the warehouse with rather peaceful balconies and an amazing seaside view!

Veerle Wenes

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

Day 7 – YouTube video of Kër Thiossane

Please click here to see the short YouTube report on our visit of Kër Thiossane (Villa for Art and Media) in Dakar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W63QzXh4bg

Day 6 – Farewell Bamako – Hello Dakar!

Early morning awakening immersed in intense daily activity of a Monday morning and  having a walk in the area of Missira to say goodbye to Bamako and to Mali, perhaps trying to keep in mind all the feelings and emotions experienced in these 4 days in Mali. A country that comes to its 50 years with many gaps and poverty where a group of very young people with projects are trying to build a solid foundation of Mali with courage, hope and a lot of passion.

Our Malian Tour Bus

We left to the airport around 10.30 am as planned with the feeling of leaving something or someone very dear behind. We said goodbye to our athletic driver in Mali and proceeded to the check-in and customs. Then we learned that we should leave behind one of the members of this “sudden” family; our sister Abir who could not get a visa for Senegal.

Bamako Airport is very small with 3 or 4 perfumes-, wallets- and liquor shops after passing through customs but there is not a single bar or restaurant where you can buy food or even water, forcing passengers to go back through the police control only to buy food or water. The outside temperature reaches 38 C or so.  Continue reading

Day 5 – Ségou, Ndomo, Niger and Kalabougou

Turning away from the common ways of the Orientation Trip, today’s programme turned out to be absolutely fascinating and inspiring for the entire group. Unlike previous days, which were based on exchange with Malian cultural workers and artists, today was all about learning and receiving.

Boubalar Doumbia guided us trough the entire creation process

We started with the visit to the educational complex Ndomo. The centre was created in 1988 and has been developing since, as a traditional enterprise devoted to natural textile dyeing techniques in Mali. It was envisaged as a social initiative created to address the unemployment problem of the young Malian people who have not had the opportunity to go to school, so Ndomo assists them in life by training with local knowledge. It also tries to experiment with a new form of business by changing the traditional system of employer and employee and functioning more as an African family in which all the members act individually and collectively. This concept of Ndomo will be extended to other fields, such as agriculture, and more information about this can be found on their website www.ndomo.net.

The name of the programme Ndomo is actually a Bambara word for “fishing for knowledge” (“la peche du savoir”) and it is symbolised by a masque, which is traditionally inherited through the generations of the centre. The masque has five horns representing five fingers of a hand but also masculine and feminine sex. Continue reading