CHAPTER 1. Making the City’s Scene: Visibility, Exhibition Culture, and Mediatization
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21 With his trademark beret, small circular glasses, and pipe, Joe Ouakam is an artist who is seen. His presence in Dakar’s art scene is both unmistakable and ubiquitous. Ouakam ambles through downtown streets, reads at the café of the Institut Français, and publishes his opinions in Dakar’s newspapers. Attending both art events and political debates, Ouakam navigates the city with great finesse , accruing visibility and fashioning his persona as he moves. Ouakam is likely the most visible and widely recognizable artist in Dakar. “Joe is everywhere ,” an article in AllAfrica.com summarized aptly.1 In fact, it is more likely that Dakar’s art scene makers and the city’s public will see the artist himself rather than a formally organized exhibition of his artworks. Anyone familiar with the city’s art scene knows that a formal exhibition of Ouakam’s art in Dakar is a relatively unusual event.2 His artwork can be seen more regularly in his courtyard studio at 17 Rue Jules Ferry, where the artist lives and works. His courtyard is filled with materials and art objects in various states of progress and ruin: baskets, wires, fishing nets, bottles, cans, clothing, and wood. Some of the objects and materials—wires wrapped around a bundle and sculptures covered partially by cloth—seem to have been worked by human hands while others seem to await an assignment of purpose. chapter 1 Visibility, Exhibition Culture, and Mediatization Art World City 22 Objects and materials are piled in every corner, propped against the walls, and suspended from clotheslines. Wall niches remaining from the courtyard’s former life as a bar and restaurant are filled with stacks of dusty books and newspapers. Located in the heart of downtown Dakar, the address also boasts a somewhat mythic reputation as a gathering place for artists, writers, and musicians. On any given day, art makers and scene makers come and go, hoping to engage the philosophical Ouakam in conversation. Since Ouakam’s previous gallery exhibition in Dakar had been in 1992, it was somewhat unexpected when the artist was featuredintwoformallyorganizedsoloexhibitionsin2010.Thefirstwasentitled “Paa Bi: La Cour de Joe Ouakam” and held at Ouakam’s courtyard studio (May 6–June 6, 2010), and the second was “Joe Ouakam” at Dakar’s Galerie Nationale (December 10–31, 2010). Both exhibitions are analyzed further in this chapter’s concluding section. Their vernissages (opening receptions) bustled with art world figures, and the media coverage was extensive. Ouakam himself greeted the throngs of guests. Inside, exhibition-goers milled around, commenting on the events and the displays of art. At the “Paa Bi” exhibition, Ouakam’s courtyard looked much as it usually did except for the paintings and drawings displayed for sale on the walls. Red dot stickers next to many paintings and drawings signaled that they were already sold. The press billed this exhibition as “the largest installation of contemporary art in Dakar.”3 In the context of this particular evening, the “installation” in question—the objects and materials that had accumulated in the artist’s courtyard over the years—was transformed into a formal exhibition by the art scene in attendance, the paintings and drawings displayed and sold, and the media’s focus on the artist and the event. Figure 1.1. Joe Ouakam (in beret) speaking at a conference on Set-Setal at Cheikh Anta Diop University, December 11, 1990. Ouakam is seated to the left of former Dakar mayor Mamadou Diop. Photograph by Mamadou Touré Behan. Making the City’s Scene 23 Given that Ouakam’s artistic persona, wrought in the crucible of the city, was already highly visible and given that his work was already displayed at his courtyard studio, having two shows in one year after not exhibiting in Dakar for so many years presented a conundrum. Why did Ouakam become a formally exhibiting artist when he had successfully fashioned his persona by sidestepping the formally organized exhibitions that are Dakar’s dominant modality for art scene visibility? Rumors percolated through the art scene. Were these events driven by financial motives? Was the premium on the city’s real estate about to force Ouakam from his downtown studio residence? In light of his age, were Figure 1.2. Interior view of Joe Ouakam’s courtyard studio at 17 Rue Jules Ferry in downtown Dakar, February 2013. Photograph by author. Art World City 24 these events a tribute to the artist, a gesture to formalize his place in the art scene? Whatever...



Subject Headings

  • Dak'art (Exhibition).
  • Art, Modern -- 21st century.
  • Art, Modern -- 20th century.
  • Art, Senegalese -- 21st century.
  • Art, Senegalese -- 20th century.
  • Artists -- Senegal -- Dakar.
  • Art -- Senegal -- Dakar -- Exhibitions.
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