CHAPTER 4. From Street to Studio: Sourcing the Materials for Art from Urban Life
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135 Artists and artworks engaging with the material and visual registers of urban life are abundant in Dakar. One of the most ubiquitous artistic references to the city involves récupération, a category of expressive production that makes use of salvaged and reworked materials culled from the urban environment. The term “récupération” describes both the manner in which materials are acquired and the visual project that results from their reimagining. This category of artistic production emerged as a major trend in Dakar’s art scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the materials of urban life—discarded metals, driftwood, shattered windshield glass, plastic jugs, well-worn shoes, tattered garments, and rebar—became the materials of art. Focusing on récupération, in this chapter I pursue the assertion with which I ended the previous chapter—that artistic production cannot be separated from the conditions of its making. To this end, I trace récupération’s emergence to the dynamics of urban and global institutions in Dakar’s art world city. My contention is that paradigm shifts at the École des Arts positioned the street as a field of engagement and in doing so brought artistic practices closer to urban life. I also posit visual and social experience in Dakar as generative of artistic imagination. From this point of view, I consider récupération as the outcome of intersections chapter 4 Sourcing the Materials for Art from Urban Life Art World City 136 between the art school and the city and between art and life. While this trend originated in the school’s institutional and pedagogical approaches, the legitimizing forces of the global art world contributed to its momentum. Together, they solidified récupération as a trend in Dakar, exemplifying the increasing overlap of art world institutions, artistic practices, and urban life. I conclude this chapter by examining récupération’s implications for artistic identity and the city’s art scene. Shifting Orientations to Art Practice and Urban Engagement at the École des Arts Récupération took shape as a trend in Dakar’s art scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s among students and professors at the École des Arts, then located in Dakar’s Point E neighborhood. Student artists at the time, including Jean-Marie Bruce, Cheikh Niass, Ndary Lo, and Hassane Sar; artist-professors Viyé Diba, Serigne Mbaye Camara, and Djibril Ndiaye; and the art school’s director, Kalidou Sy, were central to the emergence of récupération as an expressive form in Dakar’s art world city.1 By the late 1990s récupération was considered to be the expressive form du jour. Turning their attention to the city as a site to source materials and subjects, many artists at this time fashioned urban-referential expressive propositions from materials associated with the city’s consumption practices , urbanization, and globalization. Several writers have assumed that this work results from a shortage of conventional art supplies;2 however, my analysis suggests that scarcity and necessity are not the driving factors. I propose instead that shifts in thinking about artistic practice, articulated in the art school’s curriculum and pedagogy, were crucial to making the materials of the city into the materials for art. The art school’s administrative, curricular, and pedagogical structures were significantly overhauled in the mid-1980s.3 These revisions represented a major intervention in what many artists describe as the laissez-faire attitude about artistic training that had been entrenched at the school since its establishment in the 1960s. The curriculum was updated to be in step with the best practices of European art academies, and pedagogy was increasingly formalized. Artist- From Street to Studio 137 professors Serigne Mbaye Camara, Viyé Diba, Seyni Gadiaga, Djibril Ndiaye, and Abdoulaye Ndoye in conjunction with Kalidou Sy, the school’s director from 1986 to 1996, played important roles in conceptualizing and implementing the new curriculum and pedagogy. These artist-professors also brought about the “Senegalization” of the institutional space: they were the first core group of Senegalese faculty to work and remain at the school.4 While Senegalese artists Papa Ibra Tall and Iba Ndiaye taught at the school during its earliest years, they had relatively brief tenures. They began teaching in 1960, but Tall left the school in 1965 and Ndiaye left in 1966. For the next couple of decades, the school’s most influential professors were French expatriate Pierre Lods, who taught from 1960...



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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