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THE DAK'ART BIENNALE EXHIBITING CONTEMPORARY ART AND GEOPOLITICS IN AFRICA Joanna Grabski D ak'Art, Senegal's Biennial of Contemporary African Art, occupies a unique niche in an art world gone biennialistic. It is the only biannual international forum dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art by African practitioners in Africa.1 Held in Senegal's capital city of Dakar, the event celebrated its seventh edition in May 2006 and is increasingly acknowledged as a major platform, and even institution, for mediating knowledge about contemporary art from Africa. While Dak'Art has been accorded some discussion in international journals, coverage has focused primarily on the event's shortcomings, especially its lack of a coherent curatorial vision, the unevenness of the exhibited works, and the event's notorious organizational problems.2 Strikingly little attention has been devoted to Dak'Arfs constitution as a site for knowledge production about contemporary art from Africa. In order to pursue this line of inquiry, this article examines Dak'Arfs construction as a Pan-African discursive platform and addresses how this discursive platform acts as a frame for the viewing experience in the absence of curatorial intervention. Secondly, it considers the event's purpose and contribution to an art-world calendar replete with international exhibitions. Framing the Biennale By way of both political rhetoric and the exhibited works, Dak'Art forms a site for the construction of a Pan-African discursive platform. Its singular focus on exhibiting the work of African and Diaspora artists relates to both the event's history and ideological foundation. From its inception, Dak'Art intended to rectify the marginalization of African artists from international art venues by creating an international platform for showcasing their work in Africa. Dak'Arfs ideological raison d'etre is thus undergirded by an "expression of political will."3 Pan-African in focus, the event's force resides in the premise of geopolitical collectivity . In this, it is as much an artistic event as an illustration of collective power. Its discursive construction relies heavily on the political rhetoric associated with Senegal's first president, Leopold Sedar Senghor, in his writings on Negritude and subsequent cultural policies. In fact, the tenets of Senghorian ideology provide the ideological capital for the Biennale. Positioning art as a tool for development, Senghor established a number of cultural institutions and infrastructures to support the arts, including the monthlong Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Negres. As an institution, the Dakar Biennale repro104 - IMka Journal of Contemporary African Art duces the paradigm established by the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Negres. Held in Dakar in April 1966, the festival was a site to expound the narrative of Negritude and a forum to present the expressive contributions of Black artists and writers . Its objective was to illustrate and affirm what Senghor termed "the Black contribution to a universal dialogue."4 Both events showcase the creative propositions of African artists while offering a meeting place for culture brokers and artists from the continent and its diaspora. Most of all, both events involve the enterprise of self-determination , for they represent the continent on the world stage. In each of Dak'Art's seven editions, official speeches and catalog essays reinforce the event's Senghorian legacy.5 For example, the 2002 catalog includes a text by Marie-Jose Crespin, the President of the Scientific Council, in which she elaborates on how Dak'Art continues the course charted by Senghor. Crespin states in true Dominique Zinkpe, G8 Promene son Chien (G8 Walks Its Dog), installation, 2002. Photo: Joanna Grabski. Emeka Udemba, World White Walls, installation. 2002. Photo: Joanna Grabski. Senghorian spirit, "Art is the best ambassador of our continent; a continent that is too often known only for the conflicts that tear it apart; for the dictators that stifle it."6 During Dak'Art 2004, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade even went so far as to announce that the Festival Mondial des Arts Negres had been reborn as Dak'Art. While many critics view the appropriation of Senghor's rhetoric as highly problematic and misplaced at a twenty-first-century contemporary art exhibition, such narration is instrumental is establishing Dak'Arfs discursive frame. Moreover, both the thematic pretext and media...


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