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DAK’ART: World capital of contemporary art

Dakar, a creative city…

Created in 1992 from a dream shared by a few artists and art lovers, the DAK’ART bienniale of contemporary African art has become, over the years, an essential continental artistic event. Dakar and Senegal are today an essential pole of African and world creation. And this 14th edition is, in many ways, historic, as confirmed by Sylvain Sankalé, one of its most ardent supporters.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit, and creators from Africa and the diaspora were in the starting blocks to show the best of their creative genius. Four long years have passed since the last biennale. Several international art galleries have recently set up shop in the Senegalese capital and an embryonic local art market is gradually emerging. Artists’ collectives have been created or established, such as the emblematic “Medina” workshop around the stylist Cheikha and the visual artist Douts Ndoye, or Kénu, the Lab’Oratoire des Imaginaires in Ouakam, led by the musician Alibeta. Both practice collective intelligence and invest in local social value-added.

In addition to art galleries, many places of conviviality are multiplying in the Senegalese capital, following in the footsteps of the famous Keur Gaïndé complex of the pioneer Amadou Yacine Tham, a building in the shape of a giant lion’s head that deploys an art gallery, a hotel, a restaurant and a discotheque that has marked Dakar nights…

In 2008, Koyo Kouoh, a Cameroonian-born curator and current director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, created the Raw Material Company, a centre for art, knowledge and society that hosts residencies, an academy and a resource centre. At Dak’Art 2022, Raw Material presents “The Spectrum of Ancestors in the Making”, a work of memory about a forgotten Vietnamese-Senegalese community by artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen who lives and works in Saigon, Vietnam.

Today, Lulu Home Interior & Café combines interior design, local creations, a bookshop and a co-working space with small restaurants and cultural events. Loman Art House, an imposing villa located a few blocks from the African Renaissance Monument, is both a meeting place and a place for exhibitions, creation and hospitality, run by Loman Pawlitscheck, an Australian artist born in Cape Town and living in Dakar since 2007. And art galleries are beginning to abound in the Plateau, which used to be the “city centre”.

Dak’Art 2022, a historical vintage!

It is in this context of creative emulation that Dak’Art 2022, an art bienniale entitled “I Ndaffa” – forging, in the Serer language, takes place. A theme inviting to reinvent the models that have inspired many artists. This 14th edition, which welcomed over 300,000 visitors, was dedicated to opening up to new audiences while confirming the international scope of this unique event in French-speaking Africa. It was characterised by a confrontation between different generations of creators that was as unprecedented as it was fusional, and by the discovery of new forms of art, outside the walls.

The special project of this bienniale is a fine illustration of this, which delighted the public: Les Restes Suprêmes, by the playwright and director Dorcy Rugamba, is a theatrical, scenographic and visual performance where masks speak of the past, so rightly revisited.

The Dak’Art “In” has become a giant exhibition taking place in more than ten major places in the city. In the big international exhibition gathering more than 50 creators from all over the world: from Cuba to Kenya, through France, the United States, Nigeria, South Africa or the Maghreb… the organisers have paid a special tribute to the one called the “Master” Abdoulaye Konaté.

Fally Sène Sow is one of the great revelations of Dak’Art 2022. His installation “Rusty World” is unique in its kind and he confirms his immense talent of building works as monumental as they are detailed by presenting “Chaos Colobane”, at the Vema space on the pier leading to the island of Gorée. In it, the artist painstakingly reproduces the daily life of the inhabitants of a working-class district of Dakar with striking realism. “This is years of work and if I had to do it again, I would do it again,” says the artist, driven by a transcendental passion.

At the new Museum of Black Civilisations, where a major exhibition dedicated to Picasso is also being held, the Senegal Pavilion made a strong impression with Ibrahima Dièye’s paintings, Djibril André Diop’s iron sculptures, the installation “Cent et poussière, incursion dans le Sine Saloum” by Mbaye Babacar Diouf and Arebénor Bassene, and Matar Ndour’s ethnographic photographs.

In the village of Ouakam, the private entrepreneur Khaly Sy has just inaugurated his brand new space “Esprit Boulangerie”. He is hosting an extension of the Senegal Pavilion, presenting works by Kiné Aw, El Hadj Sy, Moussa Ndiaye and Daouda Ndiaye… And at the National Art Gallery next to the Biennial’s headquarters, Soly Cissé, one of the most prominent Senegalese contemporary artists on the international scene, is given carte blanche to occupy the entire space and take us on a journey through his colourful imaginary universe.

Côte d’Ivoire was the guest country at this 14th edition of DAK’ART. The “made in Abidjan” pavilion presented leading artists such as Jems Kokobi, Valérie Oka, Ernest Dükü, N’Guessan Essoh or Pascal Konan. Very much marked by the desire to bring art into the public space, the biennial proposed a major innovation this year. The Doxantu – a walk in Wolof – is a route lined with monumental works on the western coastline of Dakar where 17 major artists from the continent present open-air installations. Amongst others, the artists Freddy Tsimba (DRC), Ki Siriky (Burkina Faso), Thiemoko Diarra (Mali/Belgium), Barthélémy Toguo (Cameroon) or Diadji Diop (Senegal) caused a sensation with his bright red bust of a swimmer taking a breath and taking flight.

An amazing OFF!

A veritable explosion of events took hold of Dakar and its surroundings. Like a firework display of works of all kinds, from the four corners of Africa and the diaspora around the world. A profusion of more than 400 off-site exhibitions, surprises and… dazzling! Impossible to see everything. You have to catch up on…Instagram and other platforms so as not to miss anything!

In Senegal, we can say that the next generation is assured when, opposite a major artist on the Dakar scene since President Léopold Sédar, El Hadj Sy, who has the right to a masterly exhibition at the Selebe Yoon gallery, there is a young, powerful, rising generation, detached from the dross of the past and brimming with creative energy, thus showing a new path.

Pascal Nampemanla Traoré distinguished himself with his artistic proposal “Le Fil d’Ariane”, which invites the visitor into a labyrinth installed on a building site on the first floor of the Mémoires Africaines gallery (in Saly, on the small Senegalese coast, 70 kilometres from Dakar). Pascal alone floods this unlikely exhibition space in an installation that sums up his 25 years of creative work, questioning consumer society with a notable tribute to Pierre Rabhi.

Dakar has confirmed its international vocation by hosting the Black Rock residency, initiated by the Afro-American artist Kehindle Wiley, made famours by his portrait of Barack Obama. The exhibition featured works by the 32 Black Rock residents carefully displayed in the Maison de la Culture Douta Seck. This time, there were no American guest stars, but the show was also in the colourful audience, half Afro-punk, half Cannes festival!

Diasporas from all over the world with a powerful energy, like these people from Brussels: Precy Numbi, a Congolese genius of recycling whose performances have strongly seduced the public; Laura Nsengiyumva, an artivist who has returned to Dakar, 10 years after winning her very first prize there; Rokia Bamba, an energetic DJ made in Brussels and member of the “Troubles Archives” collective, and Teddy Mazina, a visual creator from Burundi who revisits history with “Muzungu Tribes” as part of the Matter Art Project. Reyana Sow, a young Brussels entrepreneur under the Noir Concept label, presented, among others, the unclassifiable creator of Rwandan origin, Mucyo. He creates giant portraits of legendary figures from the black world on fabric, using bleach and a toothbrush as his only tools! At nightfall, Mucyo also plays and juggles with fire, giving the lively Dakar evenings a fairytale feel.

When Dakar celebrates art, it is also dance, live shows, cinema and music with memorable Nyege Nyege evenings on the Yoff side and the inevitable Thursday night rendezvous on the terrace of the Trames agency, with a view of the Place de l’Indépendance to the sound of the trendy DJs who make Dakar move.

The party, of course. But art is also a market. A nascent art economy is emerging in West Africa around the Dakar hub, which is attracting more and more creators and connoisseurs.

A round table on the financing and structuring of cultural industries organised by the ACP-EU Culture programme highlighted the need for more voluntary national cultural policies and the mobilisation of resources at local level to anchor cultural and creative industries in a sustainable process that is less dependent on external resources.



Author and Photo Credit: Bernard Verschueren, Creative Africa


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