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DAK'ART of the Magic Emma Bedford It was something that Bili Bidjocka said in discussion about his work in Dakar that seemed to encapsulate so much of what biennales are about generally and to throw into sharp relief the experience of this biennale in Senegal. Invoking the notion of the perfect lover and the magic moment, when one is in complete harmony with one's surroundings or "the other," he referred to that obsessive, albeit illusory, desire we all nurture for some sort of climactic connection. Fairly standard human behavior it may be, but it was somehow heightened here on the African continent where so many foreigners are wanting a quintessential ^ African experience and so many eager locals are seeking the connection that signals some promise of success. Bidjocka succeeded in enticing hardened biennalistas out of the hermetically sealed and often venal art world of the biennale with his work entitled, Take a Cab and Go for a Ride. Planting 16 flags around the city, each with the double lines of a pause button printed on them, he invited viewers to venture out of the confines of museums and regimented programs and to explore the fabulous city of Dakar and its warm and generous people. This opened up all kinds of possibilities for the viewer, from escaping the artifice of the biennale for the real world of the city to the potential for discovering that perfect lover or that magic moment. In the process he challenged a number of preconceptions about the nature of art and the institutions which support it. Not only did he choose to undermine the biennale's premise of "African-ness" by collaborating with Vanessa van Obberghen but, by working with this artist of Asian descent, he also questioned notions of ethnicity and fixed identity in a Pan African biennale, which is open only to artists of African descent born on the Continent, or its Diaspora. At the International Exhibition of Contemporary African Art mounted at IFAN (the museum) several works stood out. But the work that remains to haunt me is undoubtedly Tracey Rose's video entitled TKO, a boxing term standing for "technical knockout," which occurs when the referee terminates the match because one fighter is too badly injured to continue. One of South Africa's leading young artists, Rose recently completed a residency at ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas, where this video was produced by placing the camera inside a punch bag that is being pummeled. The projected image is a profoundly de-stabilizing one as it lurches across the screen. The soundtrack , unmistakably a woman's voice, heaving in relation to the blows, builds to a crescendo as the punches get increasingly violent and then tapers off to a whimper. Given South Africa's chilling rape and domestic abuse statistics , one cannot help reflecting on this social scourge as well as on the ways in 14-Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art Bili Bidjocka, Take a Cab and Go for a Ride, 2000, Site-specific installation. Limiting itself to art from the African continent and the hosting of artists from the African Diaspora (with the odd exception) is both its strength and its weakness. While this allows one to form an impression of where and how art produced by artists of African descent is positioned in global terms, the potential for interaction and exchange afforded by a more international show is lost. which women are fighting back. The experience is all the more disturbing, as one isn't sure who is punching or being punched. But the sense of being caught up in a violent situation is overpowering and inescapable. Like all of Rose's work, the video deals with issues of race and gender in ways that challenge and unnerve the viewer. As the ArtPace brochure points out, "Rose effectively positions the viewer as both the aggressor and the target ... With this video piece, Rose deconstructs and reconstructs the role of the individual in society, juxtaposing internal /external with personal/social. Rose reminds us of the importance of multiple perspectives, multiple identities and multiple visions in a changing, moving world." The assertion of women's experience formed an interesting subtext...


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