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REVIEW DAK'ART 98 The Dakar Biennale There are no necessary links between the cosmopolitanism of Western art discourse and the practical participation of non Western art epistemologies. That this should be is not because the worldly aspirations of Occidentalartdiscourse represents little more than empty rhetoric but that its language was never meant to be aimed beyond the imagination of the Western ego. Much has been written regarding Picasso's Primitivism and the artist's fascination with African motifs, but it was a valid and authentic step within the egocentric development of Western art's conception of itself in the world. In Claude Levi-Strauss' The Structural Study of Myth, Chthonian beings, emanating as they do from the netherworld beneath the terra (i.e. read creatures from the earth) were monsters which had to be destroyed because of their differences to the Occidental cosmology . In the story of Oepidus, these creatures were a metanymy for the violence of Western discourse towards all those discourses which refused to deny humanity's earthly origins . Perhaps this is changing somewhat , has changed somewhat, as anxieties in the West about the virtue of its own thought no longer produces only indifference or something worse to the welfare of the other, but also the recognition of greater cultural interdependence. Still, a visit to Dakar, Senegal, on the occasion of DAK'ART, one of Africa's largest, most important and one of only two biennials of contemporary art is rather like a step back into time. I mean this also in the most problematic sense of what such a reverse voyage could mean. Taking in DAK'ART underlined, to my mind at least, the utterly axiomatic role, historically and politically, of the West to a large part of today's Africa. DAK'ART was officially opened by the Senegalese President Abdou Diouf, in a theatre that has seen a lot of wear and tear since the halcyon days of the Premier Exposition Mondial des Arts Negre of 1966 for which it was built. Rather than Duke Ellington, James Baldwin, Aime Cesaire, Josephine Baker and other luminaries from the world's African Diaspora, DAK'ART 96's opening ceremonies included an audience consisting of officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, UNESCO, various curators of "African Art" mostly from America and the men and women who make up Senegal's international Ambassadorial corps. Except with the notable exceptions of a curator from London's excellent Institute of Contemporary Art and a few others, including the American freelance curator Mary Jane Jacob, there were very few of the Western art world person nages one would encounter at the opening of such events as Documenta or the Venice Biennale. This would not necessarily be a bad thing, as the world is in dire need of alternative models for not only art but system of art. But DAK'ART's politicalinfluence is remote, weak and a highly contained one. What was on view consisted almost entirely of paintings, invariably scaled for the easel. To be fair, this is in large part a reflection of the real economy in which West African artists must work. For this region of the world is very poor and politically unstable. Mere canvas and paints are expensive, nevermind the luxury of computers and video equipment for elaborate video art installations . A look at the content of the paintings was another matter. There was very little in the way of political content, at least in the manner to which it is familiar in the West. Ironically, at least to me, the most politically engaging art to be found at DAK'ART were by Diasporic artists such as Carrie Mae Weems. Also interesting were artists from South Africa, such as Willie Bester, for which an entirely different set of circumstances effect theirworks. Paintings tended to be historical homages to I'Ecole de Dakar, the post second world war art movement which was brought up in conversation by many of the artists with whom I spoke. Dialogues about art were generally closeted to this single French art movement which corresponded , not uncoincidentally, with the completion of West Africa's decolonization process. The Ecole de Dakar, a...


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