Brilliant, white and misty. Those are the words I would use to describe the atmospheric colors of Dakar, Senegal. The weather was not as hot as I anticipated. Winter had slowly encroached upon the streets of Harare for a couple of weeks before I arrived in West Africa, so happily I welcomed the humid oceanic breeze that engulfed Dakar. In my first morning there, I left my apartment and walked around trying to locate the nearest bureau de change and the supermarche. As I walked along Rue Dix and Rue Bourgdiba, I was greeted by the aroma of goat kebabs, the scent of fresh baguettes and the whiff of sour horse manure at various intervals. Several eyes peered at me, some from beneath colorful hijabs that loosely covered their faces and others from mahogany brown heads on which sat locks of thick black braids. To them, everything about me said I was a foreigner. My tight jeans, plain black t-shirt , lighter complexion and long untwisted hair. It must have been really obvious to them since I subconsciously looked directly at people in a not so subtle way- the typical urban Zimbabwean sort of way.
As I curiously continued my promenade, I marveled at the myriad designs and fabrics adorning this Senegalese society. Swirls, triangles, dots and lozenges were dyed, embroid-ed and hemmed into a billion styles on both men and women. On this Monday morning, ties were definitely out numbered and I loved it. Initially, the roads near my apartment looked no different from the ones criss-crossing the very worst ends of downtown Harare. The only things that made them completely unique was the horse drawn carts around which yellow dinged up taxis and painted kombi-like vehicles whizzed past. By 4pm that day, I had discovered that these taxis were the best source of transport. Thank God I remembered how to ask for general directions in French.
This all happened a few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to attend one of Africa’s biggest visual art biennials- Dak’Art 2012. I was fortunate enough to attend the tenth anniversary of this huge festival as well as see the work of one of Zimbabwe’s top photographers, Nancy Mteki.
There was art everywhere. In hotels, banks, museums, and even in a hospital. Attending the tenth anniversary of the Dak’Art Biennial in Dakar, Senegal was an opportunity of a life time. Though the Biennial officially opened on the 10th of May, I arrived in Dakar on the 13 of May and was there until the 18th of May. This is still considered part of the professional week since many seminars and exhibition openings occur then. Dak’Art 2012 was very well organized. There was a comprehensive program with which we could access maps and vital information regarding exhibition openings, performances and seminars that were occurring all over Dakar and nearby regions. This made navigating the city very easy. Often there would be two or three exhibition openings occurring at the same time. As a result it was impossible to attend every single event.
As a young art professional, I was exposed to new themes and ideas surrounding contemporary visual art in all forms. Ker Thiossane is a venue for research, residence, creation and training. It encourages the integration of multimedia in traditional artistic and creative practices, and seeks to support the mixing of disciplines. The center held an exhibition titled Afropixel. This was part of a festival which took place for the second time in Dakar at Kër Thiossane, in connection with the Dak’Art biennale. ’Kër’ means “house” in Wolof and ’thiossane’ refers to traditional Senegalese culture.
I was able to visit this art center to see their main exhibition and interact with artists working there. The artists I interacted with included local Senegalese artists as well as individuals from Spain. As a result of my visit to the center, I was informed about the video art performance piece which I saw at the Institut Francais after being invited by artists from Ker Thiossane.
I was exposed to many forms of photography and video work at Dak’Art. At the Institut Francais, I saw the work of Antoine Tempe, Fabrice Monteiro, Omar Victor Diop, Youri Lenquette, Zanelle Muholi and Judith Quax. The Raw Material Company had exhibition titled -Chronicle of a Revolt : Photographs of a season of protest in two locations. One was at the Raw Material space, and the other was at the Biscuiterie de Médina. As a result I was able to meet Koyo Kouho the founder of the Raw Material Company and her team.
I am extremely grateful for Marie from Raw Material. She picked me up from the airport at 2am after working past 10pm the previous day. She was such a sweet heart and would patiently help me navigate my way around Dakar, not only to find exhibitions but to find dress makers and embroidery specialists. I have a feeling we will be friends for a long time!
One of the biggest photography exhibitions was held at the Goethe-Institute. It was titled, Africa: See You, See Me. At the opening of this exhibition I met many people including the entire team from the Goethe-Institute and the curator of the show, Awam Amkpa. Attending this opening enabled me to interact with six African artists that had been sponsored by the Goethe-Institute, to attend the biennial, as well as the main designer of the Dak’Art program. Clifford Zulu who is a curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo made it possible for me to meet all of these people as he was also in Dakar through a program sponsored by Goethe.
At Aula Cervantes I attended another photography exhibition opening sponsored by the Embassy of Spain. There I saw the work of David Palacin and continued to interact with several artists and other art professionals.
I was exposed to countless works by local Senegalese artists and craftsmen. I discovered that Senegalese art has a unique style that can easily be identified among other work from the continent. I was able to view this work at the Hall Theatre Sarano, Complexe King Faud, Monument del Rennaissance Africaine, Place de L’Independance, Africa Park, Hotel Sokhamon, Hotel Oceanique , Hotel Pullman, to name a few. One of the artists I interacted with is Moussa Traore who is a mixed media artist. He had an exhibition along with 4 Italian artists. The exhibition opening was in his home. In this show, viewers could see the connection between cultural references from Senegal and Italy and took note of points of similarity.
Some of the most memorable shows were at the Biscuiterie de Médina, the Agence Senegambie Voyages and at the National Gallery. At the Biscuiterie I saw the work of big name African artists Soly Cisse, Cheikhou Ba, Cmara Gueye, Ndary Lo and Marc Montare. These artists worked in various types of mediums exploring themes such as African tradition in contemporary art.
At Senegambie I saw the solo show of Saadio Diallo whose style of painting involves geometric shapes and bright contrasting colors. His exhibition was titled, Africa My Home. At the National Gallery I had the opportunity to see video art instillations, prints and photographs by Goddy Leye, Peter Clarke and Berni Searle.
During my time in Dakar, I was able to interact with Nancy Mteki and other African artists exhibiting at the Musee de l’IFAN Theodore Monad Place Soweto. Mteki, a Zimbabwean photographer made Zimbabwe extremely proud. I was honored to be able to attend an event at the Zimbabwean Embassy where Mteki and other artists were congratulated for being awarded art residencies.
In a separate event, I returned to Place Soweto for an exhibition opening for a show titled, Le Pouvoir des Masques. This exhibition was a comparison between traditional African masks and traditional European masks. It included a video performance and a discussion. Unfortunately, the discussion was in French and I could not fully understand the arguments.
At Village des Arts de Dakar, I was able to see the work or resident artists. I was given a tour by the owner of the village, Idrissa Diallo and saw some of the works in progress. This included a 40 meter long drawing in the garden area at the center. Other highlights included an exhibition of furniture and paintings at Galerie Arte Dakar, as well as the mobile hotel at the Gare Ferroviaire. I was given a tour of the mobile hotel by Racine Ba one of the inventors behind it.
Besides being exposed to new trends in Contemporary African art, my eyes were opened to the fact that there are always cultural exchange opportunities for artists and other art professionals. There are countless opportunities for artists to share skills and ideas if they access the right networks. Many of the artists that I met at Dak’Art were there because of programs sponsored by a diverse range of organizations. I would love to share this knowledge with the Zimbabwean artists that I meet on a daily basis here at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.
I was thrilled to see how various artists are embracing unconventional artistic methods, especially performance, photography and video art. This is because for a long time, many people failed to see how photography was an art form, however now it is very popular in art spaces all over the world. Video art and performance is fairly new in Zimbabwe. It is therefore refreshing to see that in the rest of Africa, many artists are willing to explore it to express their ideas. This should challenge Zimbabwean artists to continue to break out of the comfort zones of painting and sculpture.
I hope I have many more art trips in the near future