A Taste of Dak’art, , 2018, Dakar, Senegal

June is one of my favorite months and at Zawadi it will be a busy and exciting one. I am just back from Dak’Art the bi-annual, Pan-African Art festival in Senegal that lights up an already exciting art landscape. It lasts for a month, May 3-June 3 and it covers an official and sometimes even more interesting unofficial OFF sites where artists show their works in hotels, banks, shops, homes etc. This year there were 88 OFF sites and the challenge is to jump in a taxi and see as many as possible.

Enjoying the view at one of the artist Off sites

Senegal is a nation whose first president was a poet, Leopold Sedar Senghor, and I think that makes a different in the sensibility of the country and its people. It hosted the first Black Arts Festival in 1966 and has continued that tradition of supporting Pan-African Art.

Walk around the dusty streets of Dakar. It is a tapestry of color, variety and sensory stimulation, Women in traditional and contemporary clothing, colors so beautifully mixed that it defies imagination. Women walk towards you in the brightest shades of orange, green, purple reflecting against beautiful shades of black skin. Say Bon jour and they mostly respond with a smile. People watching was very much part of this trip.

There was much to be impressed with in the multiple venues and pictures can show some but can’t include the awakening of all the senses; the smell of cooking as you past a gated house, the smash of the waves against the shore (Senegal is a peninsula so the ocean is an important background to the country), the dryness of the landscape as it moves towards the end of the dry season (8 months without rain), the feel of the breeze at night. It’s a time where all senses are engaged.

I only attended 18 or so of the OFF venues. One of my favorites was “I am Black and White” , a multi-discipline home design exposition. Fatimata Ly whom I have known since 2002, makes beautiful dish ware and has expanded her range with a new series based on the Korogho cloth of Cote d’Ivoire, was in the show. I had a wonderful opportunity to meet her in Dakar and we set on a lovely patio drinking mojitos talking about art and the current atmosphere for African artists. (If this sounds like the bright moments, John Coltrane themed, it was indeed.).

There were several artists in the Black and White exhibit and one of my favortie’s was a woman who does mirrors inspired by the bead work of the Maasai in Kenya, a really amazing connection which brings together the Pan African sense of art one often finds at Dak’art. I had to bring one back and anticipate that it will be strongly appreciated. It’s clear that the Pan-African dream still exists and was strongly noted in some of the art.

Ambre is one of my favorite boutiques and though they have beautiful products, it is the garden that keeps me coming back and provides inspiration for my own.  They incorporate traditional pots and contemporary sculpture amid the colorful tropical plants. The predictable sunshine allows for a greater use of outdoor space and that is something we don’t have. Nonetheless, I had already started the process of adding pieces of broken pots and metal sculptures to my garden. Now in this intense greenery we have here in June, I can add even more color with pillows and textiles.

No visit would be complete without going to the Village des Artes. I have been going there since my first Biennale in 2002 and one of the great things about repeat visits to a place is that it allows for a greater depth of experience. I’ve gotten to know some of the artists there and its great seeing old friends again.

One of my favorites is Moussa Tine whose small pieces I have carried in the shop since 2008 and whose bigger piece I have in my private collector. Moussa Tine is an astute observer of the social scene in Africa and his comments are always insightful and reflective. His styles have changed over time but they present a commitment to an African consciousness in his art that always remain.

Revisiting also invokes sad memories as a number of artists I got to know are deceased. I see the door of Djibril Ndiaye who passed a few years ago but whose art remains on the door, the same with Moussa Mbaye who did such wonderful recycles in his art. The Kembory Gallery did a wonderful homage to Souleymane Keita, one of Senegal’s best known artist and it recalled times I was able to visit him at his home in search of his pieces. There were also homages to Ndary Lo, the great metal artist whose pieces exhibited together made for an amazing encounter with such a spirit and Ousmane Sow, who made monumental sculptures. New artists bring their vibrancy to the Village des Artes. Two I especially like are Kine Aw who has exhibited at Seregetti Gallery in Maryland and Baba Ly, a young artist whose father Dede Ly is also an outstanding artist.

Canvas painting by Baba Ly

Canvas painting by Baba Ly

A new cadre of artists is now rising and that is amazing to see. The next Biennale is in 2020 and it’s a good time to start planning to go there. One of the things I noticed is the limited availability of wrapping materials for art pieces purchased or even price lists of paintings in the Senghor Gallery in the Village. There was only one price list and had to be shared with the visitors and returned (This was at the end of the Biennale so there were probably more earlier.) We take a great deal for granted in our Museums, but though there is some support from the government, many African artists work in very constrained circumstances. It takes a great deal to put on this exhibition and their resources are limited. The artists do a good job of using cardboard and other papers for wrapping. My small contribution next time will be to make a donation for these items, a tiny return for all the pleasure I receive on these trips .

Drop by Zawadi and see our treasures from Dak’Art.

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