- Dak’Art 2004:Biennial of Contemporary African Art, 7 May–7 June, Dakar, Senegal
The sixth edition of the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, named DAK'ART, held officially from 7 May to 7 June 2004, was a marvelous opportunity to encounter Dakar under a new light, wandering through numerous spaces to look at a wide range of exhibitions organized by the State for the "in" selection and by embassies, stores, private galleries, restaurants, bars, and associations for the "off" program. Walking in and out of places that one would simply pass by, crossing the city in all directions according to the rhythm of traffic flow, which radiates from the "Plateau" at the heart of the city to different districts, cutting through markets to the Ocean front all brought about many reflections, however chaotic the event and exhausting the experience could be.
The poet and former president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, highly interested in the promotion of culture (his visionary projects were, in many regards, understood by few), initiated in 1966 the famous exhibition entitled Premier festival mondial des arts nègres. It brought together 800 works that encompassed painting, drawing, tapestry, sculpture, and printmaking. The following year, Algeria organized the Festival culturel panafricain d'Alger; however, it was only in 1977 that another festival was held on the continent, called Festival des arts et de la culture du monde noir (FESTAC), which took place in Nigeria. As for Senegal, it was in 1990 that the first edition of the biennial appeared, which included literature. In 1992, it was decided to bring together exclusively the visual arts, and aside from a pause in 1994, it has pursued that framework. This year, the biennial included works of thirty-three artists from sixteen countries, fifteen of whom were women, and there were also five designers. The exhibition was spread throughout five locations, making use of different public spaces: the National Gallery; the CICES, which holds international fairs; the [End Page 109] historical IFAN Museum with its remarkable African art collection; the Douta Seck Cultural Center; and finally, the old Palace of Justice, which is a spectacular rundown building on the Corniche, that is at once "a symbol of the modernist architecture and of the independence era in Dakar, and the site which hosted the large survey of modern African art at the Dakar's Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres in 1966" (Curator Hans Obrist in the DAK'ART 2004 catalog, pp. 162-63). For 2006, President Wade has the ambition to hold a large event, entitled for now the Festival des arts nègres, inspired by the energy and success of the 1966 Festival. Since throughout the world, many fewer funds have been invested in cultural events and governments have shifted their priorities, a disconnection with the arts has increased—in particular with visual representations (painting, sculpture) that seem to have become more inaccessible to the inexperienced viewer. Also, contemporary African art remains known by few. Such a project, as well as the maintenance of the Dakar biennial, is crucial to seek a balance, promote a better understanding of the continent's complex elements, and present art that one too rarely has the opportunity to see.
For DAK'ART 2004, the curators centered the exhibition around a large selection of videos and numeric works, inserting some paintings as well as sculptures. The public debates organized over five days developed themes such as the impact of globalization on art, the use of new technologies, the problem of holding biennials in Africa, and notions of the definition of identity. Even though these are recurrent topics that are undoubtedly more the public's or eventually the critics' concerns than those of the artists, they invited one to face some of the many continuing difficulties encountered in the creation of art across the continent, ranging from a serious lack of investments and funds, to problems of distribution, outside influences and considerations, as well as political push-pulls. If many of the discussions led to dead-ends, they nevertheless offered an opportunity to seek new perspectives and answers to certain interrogations as well as to see that endless...