The Dakar Biennale returns, fueled by conversations about African epistemologies and colonial legacies

As the golden hour ushered in one of Senegal’s famous sunsets on the opening weekend of the returned Dakar Biennale, understated elegance gave way to euphoria and excitement in the capital known for its spirit of Teraanga, a Wolof word meaning generosity of character. suggests, considered a national virtue.

Following a deluge of last-minute bookings in anticipation of the momentous occasion, stakeholders and spectators with diverse interests in African art ecology gathered at the former Palais de Justice on Thursday, May 19, for the opening of the Biennale for the first time in four years. , after a Covid-induced hiatus. With over 400 shows registered in the “LE OFF” program alone – the official satellite events of the Biennale – attendees were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of shows on display.

Over the years, the Dakar Biennale has established itself as an important axis for advancing critical pan-African thinking. This is certainly a legacy of the vision of Négritude, the literary theory born by Leopold Senghor, the philosopher, poet and first president of independent Senegal.

Dak’Art has therefore played an important role in introducing artists to a worldwide audience. Alumni of the event include figures who have received major acclaim such as Abdoulaye Konaté, Emo de Medeiros, Nnenna Okore, Aïda Muluneh, Emeka Ogboh and Ibrahim Mahama.

Recently, there has been an increased demand for two-dimensional black bodies in the global art market, given the trend of black figuration. However, the 2022 Dakar Biennale entitled “Out of the Fire” felt immune to volatile trends and was based on a retrospective view. This is also very much in the spirit of Senghor, who once admonished, “Let us listen to the voices of our ancestors… In the smoky hut murmur souls wishing us well.”

Language of materials

Endogenous African ways of making were heavily promoted at the main event, as part of a wider story about decentralizing approaches to generate both knowledge and wealth. Here, African ways of thinking and storytelling were deliberately reframed, in response to the historical background in which they were historically reduced to “less than” visual arts and considered “craft” or “folk art”.

Terence Musekwa, Black people and dirt (Ubuntu and the Earth) (2019-2020).

So, Terrence Musekiwa .’s installation Black People and the Earth (Ubuntu and the Earth) explored space-time theories through his family tradition of stone carving. The artist connects with found materials and objects in Zimbabwe and works with stone as a means of communicating and connecting with ancestors. “I’ve been cutting since I was five years old, it was between my father’s legs,” Musekiwa told Artnet News.

For his debut with Dak’Art, Musekiwa used a carved stone head and a large, woven piece of silk, which hung more than 2 meters high. With this work, he hopes to highlight the history of silk weaving in Rhodesia, as a means of telling the history of conflict and untold stories that were part of the story of the tradition. “There’s a lot of information in materials,” he explained.

Rafiy Okefolahan, Rendez-nous le Dieu Ogou (Return Orisha Ògún)

Rafiy Okefolahan, Give us the God Ogou . backReturn Orisha gun† Image courtesy of Djibril Drame.

Meanwhile, at Place du Souvenir African (African Memorial Square), at one of Dak’Art’s orbital events, Yoruba artist Rafiy Okefolahan’s took a metaphysical approach to current international conversations about the return of looted objects, through installation and performance. Of Colors inspired by spirits (Colors inspired by spirituality), Okefolahan presented an abstraction of a sanctuary as a pretext for a performance piece.

titled Return to us the God Ogou (Return Orisha Ògún), Okefolahan’s performance referred to the Sculpture dedicated to Gou (Sculpture dedicated to Ògún), which is currently part of the collection of the Quai Branly Museum. Dressed in bright monochrome outfits, Okefolahan’s collective performed divination with cowbells, whistles and gourds. The ritual focused on raffia as a textile to communicate with gods, recalling the image to the Republic of Benin and transcending more bureaucratic approaches to restitution.

Converging Global Pedagogy

In a three-channel video installation at the main site, the Brazilian collective Fluxos do Atlantico expanded the topic of African spirituality within diasporic contexts, examining how culture and tradition change and adapt to new contexts. Reference is made to the Museu Afro Brasileiro in São Paolo through archival material as part of a physical installation, questioning notions of return.

Atlantic currents, crossing archives (2020)

atlantic currents, Crossing Archives (2020). Photo by Tobi Onabolu

Elsewhere, at IFAN, a scientific and cultural research institute, Senegalese artist Hamedine Kane has reinvented learning spaces through a multimedia installation in collaboration with Stephane Verlet-Bottero. The work consisted of a central building structure, inspired by the styles of West African seller’s shops.

Featuring a wide variety of objects, including rulers, incense, spices, clay pots, combs and horsetail whisks, Kane’s piece questions the connection between spaces and objects in educational settings by bringing market and school together. The installation includes LED-lit chalkboards depicting subtle explorations of numerology, as well as an elaborate bookshelf and floor cushions.

The school of mutants by Hamedine Kane

Hamedine Kane, Mutant School, Xettu-Xam-Ham† Image courtesy of the artist.

“The pedagogies I want to evoke in this installation come from the education movement that emerged from Cheik Anta Diop University, which was founded by Senghor just after independence in the 1970s,” explains Kane. “On Île de Gorée there is also the Mudra Afrique, a dance school [founded in 1977]where Germaine Acogny and Maurice Béjart did all their work on traditional African ballet repertoire and connected this with contemporary dance.”

Coinciding with the opening of the Biennale, reflections on publishing were dissected at the African Art Book Fair, an event that invited bookmakers, writers and institutions to discuss defining and writing the canon and its challenges. A panel discussion on artist’s books and cataloging sparked a welcome critical debate on the necessity of publishing, rigorously assessing intentions, functions and geographic considerations.

Sound on canvas

A tribute to the late South African painter Ernest Mancoba, artist and DJ Mo Laudi’s installation on the main Biennale site, Man is a Man (A Tribute to Mancoba)

“I wanted to know, who is Mancoba?” Mo Laudi explained to Artnet News, citing his importance as “the first black South African artist to leave the oppressive regime and become a founding member of the COBRA movement.” Recordings of Mancoba’s voice are mixed with original compositions and samples, including field recordings and music, Xhosa throat singing and drumming.

Ntshepe Tsekere Bopape (ook bekend als Mo Laudi), <i>Restitution.</i> Image Courtesy of the artist” width=”1024″ height=”770″ srcset=” 1024×770.jpg 1024w,×225.jpg 300w, app/news-upload/2022/05/Mo-Laudi-Ntshepe-Tsekere-Bopabe-50×38.jpg 50w, -Tsekere-Bopabe.jpg 1381w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/></p>
<p id=Ntshepe Tsekere Bopape (aka Mo Laudi), refund. Image courtesy of the artist

In Refund (Série “the rest painting”)Mo Laudi annotates tranquility on his scores in the classical music tradition, presented through mixed media, including Senegalese coffee, clay, acrylic and charcoal. Mo Laudi says his work considers freedom in the context of property and time, and invites inner stillness and stillness: “I play with the notion of tranquility: rest– situation of the object; rest-reclaiming what it means to be an African.”

Building on the global Black Radical Tradition of the 1950s to 1970s, Mzwandile Buthelezi explores material and color in painting, creating a symbolic language in which charcoal means percussion and red pastels evoke the sounds in silence. Movement, rhythm and improvisation are prominent in Buthelezi’s works as the artist considers the politics of jazz.

Mzwandile Buthelezi

One of Mzwandile Buthelezi’s ‘score-like’ canvases at the Dakar Biennale. Photo by Tobi Onabolu.

Buthelezi’s musical sensibilities yield ‘score-like’ canvases, with energetic annotations that occasionally take on a three-dimensional quality through the dynamics of their movement. Buthelezi’s works were created with a South Africa-based interdisciplinary collective, Texture of Silence, who bridge the gap between music and the visual arts and contribute to conversations about global Blackness.

An unstable equilibrium

Even amid the optimism of the opening of this important Biennale, the industry’s recurring paradoxes linger.

While critical conversations about archiving, literary documentation and the patriarchy seep into quiet corners of the city, glamorous parties hosted by European and American institutions continue to draw a disproportionate amount of attention from the industry – and perhaps you could even say that this is also a hangover from Senghor’s Complicated Legacy. “The balance you admire in me is unstable, difficult to maintain,” Senghor once said. “My inner life was early divided between the call of the ancestors and the call of Europe, between the demands of black African culture and those of modern life.”

Nevertheless, the pan-African cultural revival continues to rumble and the return of the Dakar Biennale has been given a major boost. African artists are at the forefront of the movement, doing research, thinking and ultimately the work.

“Out of the Fire: The 14th Dakar Biennale” can be seen at venues across Dakar through June 21, 2022.

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