Saturday, 31 May 2008

Dak'Art 08: A hazy Mirror?

It was my first time in Dakar and I am glad that I had the opportunity to witness what the Biennial can congregate.The overall quality of the exhibitions was far from impressive, a condition that can be associated with the lack of curatorial direction and the restriction of time allocated to its production. However, it is important to support Dak'art as a platform for African contemporary art, as it represents a fundamental space for debate where African visual and intellectual life can be expressed.

This question of sustainability at home becomes paramount if we want to create a more balanced presence of artists and visual languages in the world today. It might be pertinent to remember that the Havana Biennial began in 1984 with the remit of providing an event for artists outside the European-US mainstream to exhibit their work. Creators from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia were selected by a team of Cuban curators who throughout the years acquired regional expertise and would follow developments of art production in those centres existing outside the radars of the 'official art world'.

Saidou Dicko - Video installation - Dak'Art OFF

Both in the official and the off venues of Dak'art, I was impressed by a handful of interesting works, among them Samba Fall's 'Consumania' video at the Galerie Nationale, Saidou Diko's multimedia interventions and 'Kanakassis’ works displayed at Ker Thiossane, which proposed the Deberlinisation of Africa through the symbolic creation of a Pan African currency. Also remarkable were Kan Si's video work 'Lu et Approuve' and Soly Cisse's site specific installation at the Maison des Esclaves in Goree island.

The display at the Galerie Atiss and the photographic exhibition 'Off Limits' are among the off biennial projects that were worth seeing. Another highlight of the opening days was the screening of Manthia Diawara's film 'La Maison Tropicale' which opened up a fruitful debate around ideas of cultural heritage and the misfortunes of Modernist utopias. It was just a pity that theoretical events and debates were not clearly advertised!

Badouin Mouanda - photography - Dak'Art OFF

My conclusion is that Dak'art will enjoy longer life and success if the good intentions of Senegal's Ministry of Culture are matched in future editions with the plurality of curatorial talent that currently exists in the continent.

Gabriela Salgado is Curator, Public Programmes at Tate Modern, London.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Stina Hogkvist asks...

  1. Why no curator? Was this due to some ideological non-hierarchy thinking or just a result of poor funding?
  2. Someone told me that the pirate film industry in Senegal is fantastic and that every household, rich or poor, has a dvd-player. This would mean that most people would know how to turn the machine on. So, how come no one turned them on in the exhibitions? (This is not unique to Senegal but is a classic post-opening-fatigue-now-all-the-important-people-have-gone-syndrome)

Fashion show by Senegalese Designer Oumou Sy.

Other remarks:

  1. I was blown away by the opening of Oumou Sys fashion show. It started with the men’s line that was some strange mix of tradition goes street-wise. Very nice outfits. Very nice men. When the lights went out the conferencier started mumbling something about that African men want their women to be sensual and strong and good mothers (zzzzzzzzzz). The whole fashion show was about the married woman. Which was a very interesting theme. By the look of the outfits I take it that these married women comes with a maid. Anyway. Oumou Sy lost my interest when it came to the women’s dresses. Than it was all about body, sex and tradition again. Of course feminism is something very context and timebased, and I know too little about the west-african history of fashion/women history to know if this was avant-garde or not. But for me it was just fashion singing that same old tune.
  2. I have not read one review of the biennial in Norway. Only one in Sweden. And you can tell that they are scared of writing something negative. I think it all comes from their selfproclaimed topdog position that does not want to bark at what is seen as the underdog. The sound of silence. Someone also told me that you have to review the African exhibitions with a different set of tools than the international ones whatever that means.
  3. 3. Why do all Norwegians look the same? One Senegalese artist asked me.

Stina Högkvist is a curator at the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Dak’Art 2008 and the future of Africa: a 1st timer’s recollections

Oh the delicate national dishes of Yassa and Chiebou Dienne! Let me reflect on the enduring tradition of communal eating and the legacy that sharing these dishes represent. Dakar is colour, elegance and vibrant culture. But there was South African Nkosikhona Bongamahlubi’s video, Prayer for Peace which addresses the ravages of war and its consequences that challenge Africa’s lost legacy of community and sharing. Robert Koko Bi’s Darfur, and Angele Etoundi’s Pretresses use of black suddenly becomes for us multiple metaphors that speak of and to the diversity of contradictions in Africa’s richness, blindness and brutality. The imagery of black has become to some of us Nigerians a dark reference of charred human remains from the endless waiting for the dividends of democracy still in the “Pipeline.” The critical question for me now is how do we transform/late these endeavours to “material” for negotiating positive change with our politicians and rulers.
Jerry Buhari is an artist and lectures in Fine Art at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Angele Etoundi Essamba 'Burka'

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

My Dak'Art Experience by-Richardson Ovbiebo

Swedish curator (unnamed), artists Samba Fall
and Richardson Ovbiebo

Travelling out of my country for the first time was not just exciting but also educative and enlightening because I was launched into a country that was Francophone and also was holding a visual art in Africa DAK’ART 2008. It also made me understand the importance of not just understanding French but also other languages if one wants to operate in the global sphere.

The biennale introduced me to a lot of new artforms, media, artists and practices such as video art which I had only read about in magazines or books. The frequent art discussions that were held within the programme were informative as serious issues that affect
art both in Africa and other parts of the world were discussed by art histtorians,
curators, critics, artists, journalists and gallery owners. The exhibits within the Biennale and the OFF Exhibitions were very enlightening as artists young and old gave their views on life, society, culture using the various meda to express themselves. The documentary film Maison Tropicale by Manthia Diawara marked the highlight of the biennale for me. The film generated important questions about Africans and modern architecture, how people respond to what they do not understand, how we treat our cultural heritage and how do we see ourselves as Africans. Richardson Ovbiebo is a recent fine art graduate (Sculptor Major) from the Yabatech, Lagos.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The 8th Biennale of Contemporary African Art, Dak'Art debuts 9th May

As you may have guessed finding the time to update this blog over the last month or so has been like mission impossible. Since I left for Glasgow eons ago, life has vacillated between getting on and off planes, looming deadlines and missed deadlines. However as one of the most important visual art activities on the continent, we can't let Dak'Art pass without comment or discussion.

In the first instance my review Dak'Art 08: Chasing Shadows can be read at

It would be impossible for me to update the blog with all the news and views from Dakar,so I thought instead of repeating myself it would be good to feature other voices and hopefully get some discussion going over an extended period. Consequently I am going to open up the space until the end of the biennale on the 9th of June - and hopefully beyond by soliciting short contributions from artists, writers, curators and other visitors to Dak'Art whom I met.

A new contributor will be added each day - if they are not also negotiating deadlines. I thought we lived in a consumer driven world not a deadline one.
Invited contributors will be able to praise, rant, analyse or critique the biennale. It could be about an exhibition they liked, a comment on the official exhibition, or on the off or both. What went right, what went wrong but importantly what Dak'Art 2010 could do, or be like. What it needs to add or what it needs to take out. What you would like to see more or less of. In short, their honest feelings, views and opinions from Dak'Art.

The 8th Dakar Biennale. Africa:Mirror?
9 May - 9June 2008