CHAPTER 5. Picturing the City
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175 In April 2000, three young artists organized a group exhibition entitled “Démarches Urbaines” (Urban Steps) at the IFAN Museum (now the Musée Théodore Monod). Located on the Place Soweto in Dakar’s stately Plateau neighborhood , the museum’s spacious halls, verdant gardens, and historic significance made it the city’s premier exhibition venue at the time. The exhibition featured the work of Cheikh Ndiaye, Modou Dieng, and Mohammed “Mookie” Coulibaly , all recent graduates of the École des Arts. In keeping with Dakar’s art scene practices, the artists organized and subsidized every aspect of the exhibition. They printed the color invitation cards and posters; they designed the scenography and installed their works; they paid for the refreshments and arranged for a local jazz band to play at the vernissage. Their investment in making their works and animating the venue was appreciated, since more than six hundred individuals attended the exhibition. Four film crews documented the event while artists, journalists, collectors, diplomats, friends, and family members mingled and beheld the suite of works focusing on various facets of urban life. Although “Démarches Urbaines” conformed to Dakar’s art scene practices as elaborated in this book’s first chapter, those in attendance said they had never seen anything quite like this exhibition. The show was described as audacious chapter 5 Art World City 176 and subversive; some exhibition-goers even likened it to “an earthquake that broke open new ground.”1 The exhibition’s large-format, two-dimensional works surrounded viewers with images evoking the streets beyond the museum walls. Ndiaye’s canvases explored hip-hop as a cultural expression uniting urban youth while Dieng’s wide-angled photographic streetscapes reimagined Dakar ’s colonial architecture, and Coulibaly’s graffiti- and hieroglyphics-inspired canvases focused on the interplay of writing and figuration. Taken together, the exhibited works asserted a place for the city as a thematic premise and pictorial subject in Dakar’s art scene. Not only did these works exalt the city as generative of representational forms, the exhibition also declared that urban-referential propositions merited our regard and contemplation. In the years following “Démarches Urbaines,” the number of artists working on representations of urban life has continued to grow steadily. Along with works of récupération (discussed in the previous chapter), artworks referring to the city are among the most plentiful propositions in Dakar’s visual economy. Both forms exemplify artists’ explicit engagement with Dakar for subjects and resources. Moreover, they emerge from and are sustained by the city’s urbanization and art world globalization. Urban-referential propositions validate this subject by way of their regular appearance in exhibitions in Dakar and beyond. Exhibitions such as “Le Piéton de Dakar” (2013) at Galerie Le Manège as well as “Conditions Urbaines” (2010) and “Urban Mystic” (2015) at Galerie Arte affirm the city as a subject for art. In the Dak’Art Biennale’s International Exhibition in 2014, one of the two Senegalese artists selected was Assane Ndoye, whose papier-mâché and found object compositions depict the informal architecture of the city’s squatter settlements . There are many other examples of this theme in global art world exhibitions . For instance, Ndoye Douts’s stop-motion animation Train Train Medina (2001) was featured in “Africa Remix” (2004–2005), an exhibition on view in Paris, London, Tokyo, Dusseldorf, Stockholm, and Johannesburg. The vibrant, graffiti-inspired paintings by Soly Cissé, who is described as “the figurehead of Dakar’s urban generation,” were featured in the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (2014, 2015) in New York and London.2 And, as noted in this book’s intro- Picturing the City 177 duction, Cheikh Ndiaye’s work was also featured in the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (2014, 2015) and in the Venice Biennale (2015); he was one of two Senegalese artists included in this most revered of all global art world venues.3 In this chapter, I focus on artistic representations of Dakar in relation to the city itself, its art history, and globalizing art world platforms. Specifically, I address how and why artists make the city their subject and how these representations ramify in Dakar and beyond. I examine the practices and production of several artists who make urban-referential work. My analysis of these works and artists’ discourse about them illuminates their profound engagement with the practices of visuality, indicating its integrality to both urban experience and artistic production. From a distinctive place...



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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