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Interview: three questions to Maître Sylvain Sankale

In what context was the Dakar Biennale born?

The Dakar Biennale was created in the midst of a structural adjustment crisis during which the Senegalese state could no longer afford the cultural policy it had previously pursued. It was no longer possible to organise exhibitions or to buy works. The artists complained and suggested that an event be organised in Senegal that would allow them to exhibit their work internationally. This is how the Ministry of Culture decided to organise the first Dak’Art Biennale in 1992, dedicated to all the arts. It was in 1996 that the first real biennial of contemporary African art was held. It was then equipped with a General Secretariat and a Scientific Council that I myself chaired for Dak’Art 2000. Dakar has progressively imposed itself as a major capital for visual arts on the international level although we still do not have a museum dedicated to contemporary art in Senegal…

What are the major innovations of this Dak’Art 2022 Bienniale?

The major evolution comes from the artistic director, Mr. Malick Ndiaye, who created the Doxantu (walk in Wolof) to spread a series of installations and works of art by artists of excellent level all along the western coast of Dakar. This promenade offers a particular renewal to creation and its visibility. In addition, the “off” has grown from edition to edition. It now includes just over 400 different exhibitions, not only in Dakar – the biennial’s flagship city – but also in the regions of Senegal and abroad. This combination of events gives the biennial a unique character, especially since artists and the public have been waiting for this event since 2020. Moreover, the level is very high this year and I even think that it is the best vintage we have had since the creation of Dak’Art.

How is the art market in Senegal and Africa today?

For a long time, contemporary art in Africa appeared to be an essentially Western phenomenon that did not interest the local populations. Both because they had not been trained in it and because the concerns of immediate survival put art issues in the background. At the beginning, there was no such sensitivity, enthusiasm and education for art. Little by little, things have evolved: more and more schools are organising exhibition visits and a growing number of cultural mediators are accompanying this process of opening up to art and culture. When parents take their children to see exhibitions, this leaves its mark. A growing number of young people are interested in art and we are witnessing the birth of a new generation of creators integrated into a general movement that goes beyond contemporary art and leads the public to take an interest in everything that is created locally. But it is obvious that it is still in Europe that the market value of artists is set. I remain convinced that when Africans buy contemporary African art, this market will increase in value.


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