This month we traveled as a group of students and faculty from the Dutch Art Institute (DAI) ArtEZ, Masters Fine Art to Dakar, Senegal. Although the short-term residency in the roaring capital of Senegal lasted only 14 days, we had the chance to explore the city during an intense working period. Our urban investigations were presented as research in ‘Work in Progress/Learning Pieces’ on May 14, 2012 at the Raw Material Company, center for art, knowledge, and society that works to foster appreciation and growth of African artistic and intellectual creativity.
During our sojourn were also able to get in touch with the contemporary art production in Africa. There is probably no better opportunity to see what is happening in the African arts than during the Dak'Art. The only African art biennial south of the Sahara holds its 10th edition from May 11th to June 9th and has established itself as the place to be and to meet for artists from all over the continent. This year, the Biennale took place in a special context: Senegal has just witnessed a period of political upheaval that could have easily turned into a civil war but instead led to the democratic election of a new president, Macky Sall and to the appointment of Youssou N’Dour as Minister of Tourism and Culture. According to those recent developments the chosen theme for this year’s edition is ‘Contemporary creation and social dynamics’. The official main exhibition hosts 42 artists from 21 African countries.
There is one particularity about the Dak'Art that possibly distinguishes the event from any other biennale in the world. While the official show is quite smallish, the event is all about the unofficial program - the so-called OFF - which is spread in over 180 venues all over the city and even into other parts of the country. This is where the real art exploration begins and where, among many more conventional galleries who rather show polished handicraft, some very exciting art initiatives can be discovered while cutting one's way through the vital chaos of Dakar. The new media space Kër Thiossane is surely one of them. Dedicated to new media practices and offering numerous workshops also for non-artists, the initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with their programme Afro Pixel.
Probably the biggest venue of the off-program is located in the former factory building called La Bisquiterie. There, Ndary Lô's installation Windows catches attention. The Senegalese artist transforms one of the big halls of the factory into a colorful overall installation made of plastic bottles and taps. Some halls further along, Koyo Kouoh, founder of the Dakar based independent art space Raw Material Company, makes one of the few strong curatorial statements in this year's event. She dedicates the show to the very recent protests, which resulted in the death of ten protesters but also brought along a notable political change and new hope for the people of Senegal. Kouoh simply covers the walls of the space with numerous photographs. The different authors are not explicitly named. ‘A good photograph is a good photograph, I am interested in the pictures and not in who made them.’ The images show the events around the protests and the exhibition setting refers to the aesthetics of the election campaign with graffiti on the walls and teargas capsules as souvenirs. Obviously, the show has some effect on the visitors who have lively discussions, search for friends and sometimes pose proudly in front of their own pictures.
Biennale de l'Art Africain Contemporain
11 May - 10 June