PLATFORMS OF COMMUNICATION STREET PAINTINGS OF DAKAR
INTRODUCTION Dakar is a center for modern art and has been so since the hey days of N égritude under President Senghor beginning in 1960. The government's support of the arts was extraordinary and despite its shortcomings and waning patronage, the artistic habits and forms of engagement developed under earlier cultural policies still resonate with artists today, particularly those who use the capital city's walls and public spaces as forums of artistic and political communication. These urban features represent the many marginalized citizens of Dakar, those "forgotten" by their leaders, but who at the same time benefit from a creative environment fostered by the ideals of Negritude.
CONTENT SET SETAL PAPISTO BOY SUFI IMAGERY FROM STREET TO CANVAS IN THE SPIRIT OF NEGRITUDE
SET SETAL 1. Set Setal mural. Dakar, early 1990s. Photo from website by Massimo Repetti. 2. Set Setal murals. Rebuess, Dakar. 1994. Photo by Elizabeth Harney. 3. Set Setal mural. Dakar, early 1990s. Photo from website by Massimo Repetti. During the late 1980s, the city’s ineffective disposal services lead to a surmounting trash and waste problem manifesting in the filth of the streets. Moral degradation also seemed to mark the city, its citizens having been forgotten and deprived of access to basic health and safety services. The “Set Setal” movement was born out of these conditions and consisted of mostly women and youth taking to the streets with brooms and paintbrushes and cleaning up. Their efforts were documented on the streets of the city.
SET SETAL 4. Set Setal mural. Dakar, early 1990s. Photo from website by Massimo Repetti. Women are said to have had a significant role in the management and mobilization of the movement, working with NGOs to organize trash removal and sanitation measures in local districts, while giving them an active, leading role within their community. (Libasse and Denton)
SET SETAL 5., 6., 7. Set Setal murals. Dakar, early 1990s. Photos from website by Massimo Repetti. The murals also depict icons recognizable to the contemporary Dakarois, images taken from West African mythology, global commerce, religious mystics and political leaders. These disparate figures and forms speak of an identity embedded in the patterns of globalization combined with the citizens’ strong ties to regional traditions (i.e. Murid Sufism, Mami Wata mythology). This dual citizenship to both the city and the global community is part and parcel of the identity of the modern urbanite. It is a testament to their worldly intelligence and native sensibilities. Moreover, the seemingly haphazard arrangement is perhaps better explained not by careless appropriation, but by the sense of immediacy engendered by their polluted walls and streets. A more thematically unified mural program would have likely taken more time to plan, so these icons are brought together as a natural consequence of priority to revive Dakar.
SET SETAL 8. Set Setal mural, Abdou Diouf: Vive la D émocratie . Rebeuss, Dakar, 1991. Photo by Elizabeth Harney. 9. Set Setal mural. Francois Mitterand. Dakar, early 1990s. Photo from website by Massimo Repetti. 10. Set Setal mural, Lamine Gueye. Rebeuss, Dakar, 1991. Photo by Elizabeth Harney. Prominent figures from the political and entertainment spheres are commonly represented in murals. The individual chosen seems to rely not on their political associations but on their merits in the struggle for human rights. Often, they are iconic beacons of peace and justice, advocates of equality and champions of the underprivileged.
SET SETAL 11. and 12. Set Setal murals and street decoration. Dakar, early 1990s. Photo from website by Massimo Repetti. Limited funding necessitated use of found objects, recycling used tires as street trimmings (fig. 11), plastics and metals as crafts and organic waste as compost. The murals envisioned a bright, clean and orderly communal space, serving as visual reinforcements of the movement’s aims and values. (fig. 12) Elizabeth Harney explains that these murals “are positive evidence that the younger generation was no longer consumed by what he called the ‘long quarrel’ over the mixing and coexistence of African heritage and the trappings of modernity in urban Dakarois life.” They show that the public is working through their
PAPISTO BOY 13. (top) Section of the Belaire factory mural. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 14. (right) Papisto Boy in front of a portrait of Bob Marley in his Belaire factory wall. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 Although the impromptu nature of graffiti and some of the wall paintings found from Set Setal often leave their creators unaccredited and anonymous, there is one well-known man named Pape “Papisto Boy” Samb who can be identified as a leader in this movement. He is credited as being a leading figure and artist throughout the existence of Set Setal and continues to work in extensive mural programs, most notably the infamous 200m wall encircling a factory located in Belaire, Dakar. His work is derived from a deep spirituality fostered by the teachings of Islam, and is punctuated with an untrained mastery of line and color.
PAPISTO BOY 15. (left) Narrative panel from the Belaire factory mural. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 16. (bottom) Narrative panel from the Belaire factory mural. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 He offers socio-political commentaries which are testaments to his and also his audience’s knowledge and awareness of world affairs and their primary actors. His observations range from progressive leaders to renowned soccer heroes of the region, and are not only rendered pictorially but even take the form of poems, evidenced by the the haiku located in fig. 15. (Roberts)
PAPISTO BOY 18. Narrative panel from the Belaire factory mural. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 His murals mend the dilapidated surroundings in which they are often set, not structurally but in spirit. The bright colors seem to leap out from bleak walls and the images he uses, fig. _ in particular, are evocative of an African and Dakarois sense of power and pride in their heritage and religion. They transform an empty, forgettable section of a neighborhood into a source of spiritual rejuvenation and as didactic tool to begin or facilitate thought and discussion about one’s identity and place in society.
PAPISTO BOY 19. Narrative panel from the Belaire factory mural. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 His work transforms empty, forgettable sections of neighborhoods into a source of spiritual rejuvenation and as didactic tools to begin or facilitate thought and discussion about one’s identity and place in society.
SUFI ICONOGRAPHY 20. Set Setal mural, Cheikh Amadou Bamba . Dakar, 1990s. Phot by Elizabeth Harney. 21. Image of Sheikh Amadu Bamba on a shop wall in Dakar, Senegal, by an anonymous artist. Photo 1995 by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts from “Passport to Paradise” online exhibition, Fowler Museum website. 22. Set Setal mural. Dakar, early 1990s. Photo from website by Massimo Repetti. A considerable portion of Dakar’s population consider themselves Mourides, so it is appropriate that its patron saint Sheikh Amadou Bamba is frequently represented in public spaces as an assurance of faith and commitment to the Brotherhood. His image alone is so distinctively Mouride that painting his likeness anywhere becomes an act of piety and religious service in and of itself. Therefore, this iconic figure proliferates as a result of the prevalence of the Mourides combined with the devotional practice associated with his pictorial re-creation.
SUFI ICONS 23. Detail of factory mural by Papisto Boy. Photo 1999 by Mary Nooter 24. Detail from Narrative panel from the Belaire factory mural. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 25. Pape Seydi. Le penseur (The Thinker) from the series La foi aux murs (Faith at the Walls), 1998. Image from Roberts’ article. Sheikh Ibra Fall and Amadou Bamba’s sons are other notable icons in the Sufi community. The former is his prophet and the one to spread his teachings among the Wolof speaking people of Senegal, while the other serves as the General Caliph for the Mourides (Roberts’). Although they are a secondary figure to Bamba- Fall is scaled smaller against the latter, as in fig. 24- they are nonetheless frequent and easily recognizable image throughout Dakar’s urban landscape. SUFI ICONOGRAPHY
SUFI ICONS 26. (top) Elimane Fall. Djewol , late 1990s. Poster. 27. (bottom left) Detail of wall mural by Papisto Boy depicting Sheikh Amadu Bamba praying on the waters. Dakar, 1997. Photo by Mary and Allen Roberts. 28. (bottom middle) Transparent image of Amadou Bamba on city wall. Date uknown. Image courtesy of Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Mary and Allen Roberts. During an interview by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts, photojournalist Pape Seydi explained the relationship between these religious images and their audience: “ For many devotees, these images also represent social therapy. They offer well-being, peace, and a sweetness of the spirit. Religious images contribute strongly to appease and to calm social tensions.” This kind of reassurance must be a welcome relief for those whose existence is wrapped up in the modern city, where anxiety and insecurity are said to breed and thrive. Images of saints counter such destructive energies and provide the Mouride a guide, however two-dimensional, with whom they can navigate the streets and defy the feeling of anonymity often cause by a large, urban metropolis such as Dakar. More than being affirmations of faith, they are companions for the weary urbanite. SUFI ICONOGRAPHY
FROM STREET TO CANVAS 29. (left) Birame Ndiaye. Concrete Jungle 1 , 2001. Mixed media on canvas. 30. (top) Cheikh Ndiaye. I’m True . 1998. Mixed media on carton. Image from Grabski article. A defining feature of some of the contemporary artwork being produced in Dakar by its trained artists is the appropriation of the graffiti aesthetic. They mimic the patina that is the result of environmental conditions that change the walls as a natural consequence of time and movement.
FROM STREET TO CANVAS (caption) 31. Modou Dieng. Pacing and Facing, Life Can Do That . 2000. Black-and-white photograph, collage, oil on canvas. Image from Grabski article. Fig. 31 uses bright pieces of paper layered over a colorless photo of sections of the city. The addition of color seem to be symbolic attempts at imbuing the city with a life-force that the warm, saturated hues of the paper imply. The sky is blue again and the entire space is punctuated with bursts of life through color. Showing the return of color, the return of health, the return of life. This may be an answer to, or a call for action itself. Just as the citizens of Set Setal took to cleaning up their neighborhoods, so must the rest come and do the same for all of Dakar.
FROM STREET TO CANVAS 32. Soly Ciss é. Demon , 1998. Acrylic on canvas. Image from Grabski article. While some celebrate the urban space as mediums with which to communicate freely while others recognize its more sinister elements, pointing to unchecked consumption patterns evident in Dakar’s growing commercialization as causes for the “deterioration of social norms” (Grabski), leading to the dehumanization of its inhabitants.
FROM STREET TO CANVAS 33. Cheikh Ndiaye. Nettitude, 1999. Mixed media on canvas. Image from Grabski article. These nods to what have traditionally been thought of as “diseased” forms, walls symptomatic of the “ailing” city and a collapsing physical and moral environment, are indicative of the current era’s attempts at diagnosing and curing that which has caused such conditions. It is a generation that Grabski describes as having “ arisen to create urban cultures severed from the colonial memories and nationalist fictions on which independence and subsequent rule were founded,” creating “a space that is at once local and global.”
IN THE SPIRIT OF N É GRITUDE 34. Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2002) and Pythagorus. Detail from Narrative panel from the Belaire factory mural. Photo by Allen and Mary Nooter Roberts. 1998 The link to President Senghor and the cultural policies of Négritude, though visually veiled, is never very far when examining the work of current artists. Though they no longer operate under the auspices of extensive state patronage, and despite the aesthetic departure from the bright and decorative images that Senghor prescribed as the antedote for the “death” of European forms, this “third-generation” of both officially trained and self-taught artists are still educators of identity and cultural characteristics. It is not a consciousness that compels them, but the visual results do show similar efforts of renewal and re-figuration of identities. Such preoccupations are no longer centered on “the sum of African cultural values”; rather, they respect one’s place within the immediate sphere of Dakar the city, as well their presence relative to the global community. It seems a hopeful attempt at cohesion in the same way that Senghor had hoped in the most basic tenets of his policies.
BIBLIOGRAPHY <ul><li>Passport to Paradise . Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. date unknown. Fowler Museum of Cultural History. 30 Nov 2005 <http://www.fowler.ucla.edu/paradise/main001.htm> </li></ul><ul><li>Grabski, Joanna. “Dakar’s Urban Landscapes: Locating Modern Art and Artists in the City.” African Arts v. 36 no. 4 (Winter 2003) p. 28-39 </li></ul><ul><li>Harney, Elizabeth. In Senghor’s Shadow: art, politics, and the avant-garde in Senegal, 1960-1995 . Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. </li></ul><ul><li>Libasse Ba, and Fatma Denton. Urban waste Management for small scale energy production report . Dakar: ENDA TM, July 2001. </li></ul><ul><li>Repetti, Massimo. “Marking Dakar: A Topography of the Imaginary.” Street Notes . Deirdre Kantz trans. Spring 2001. XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics. 30 Nov 2005. <http://xcp.bfn.org/repetti.html#4%20and%205> </li></ul><ul><li>Roberts , A. F. “A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal.” African Arts v. 35 no. 4 (Winter 2002) p. 52-73, 93-6 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Papisto Boy (portfolio).” African Arts v. 33 no. 2 (Summer 2000) p.72-79 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Strother, Zoe. “N égritude.” UCLA. 21 Apr 05 </li></ul>