Article. Dak’Art 2004, Universes-in-Universe

Inserito da iopensa il Mer, 2004-06-09 21:19

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Dak’Art 2004 by Iolanda Pensa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Would you like to show in the next Dakar Biennial? Apply!
You only need the passport of an African country to join the Dakar Biennial selection. Wait for the official call (, send your application and become a contemporary African artist too.

Dakar Biennial continued this year its sixth journey to promote contemporary African art throughout polemics, misdeliveries, delays, confusion and doubts about its future. But for the first time the International Selection and Jury Committee took a drastic decision, made clear in the official speeches: let’s stop talking about the organisational problems, let’s talk about art.

Dak’Art Exhibitions

The International Exhibition

Even though Dak’Art doesn’t have a curatorial approach, this year the International Exhibition showed unintentional coherence. “I see so much suffering: artists seem concentrated on pain and loneliness” – noted Marilyn Douala Bell co-founder of Doual’Art Centre in Cameroon.

In the video Wahid by Younès Rahmoun (born in 1975, Morocco), two hands seem unable to pray, meditate and count, while a voice endlessly repeats “wahid”, which in Arabic means “one”, but also “God”.

In the video installation and performance The Room, Amal El Kenawy and Abd El Ghany El Kenawy (born in 1974 and 1965, Egypt) place pain inside a space – as cold as toilet tiles – and they observe its privacy, delicacy and strength.

The Egyptian artist Maha Maamoon (born in 1972 and winner of the Dak’Art photography prize) transforms in Cairo Scapes her huge city racket in solitary quiet horizontal and flowering landscapes.

Train Train Médina by Mohamadou Ndoye Douts (born in 1973, Senegal) recreates in an animation movie the chaotic liveliness of an old Dakar estate which grows to reduce itself to dust.

South African artist Thando Mama (born in 1977, winner of the Belgian Community Prize) in We are Afraid shows and hides the face of a man in a video placed at the end of a dark tunnel, while some confused voices keep repeating “we are afraid”.

Khaled Hafez (born in 1963 and winner of the Francophonie prize) dresses the video Idler’s Logic like a set design, filled with collages, gadgets, quotes, violence, colours and images.

The President Prize Michèle Magema (born in 1977, France/Congo) marches in Oye Oye in front of images taken from Zaire dictatorship history, when president Mobutu promoted the myth of “Authentic Africa”.

Other official shows

Among the numerous Dak’Art official events, the individual exhibition focused on Africa was the most interesting. The curator, Yacouba Konaté, placed inside the National Gallery the works of three sculptors from different generations: Christian Lattier (1925-1978, Côte d’Ivoire), Joseph Francis Sumégné (born in 1951, Cameroon) and Tapfuma Gutsa (born in 1959, Zimbabwe). The exhibition presented a new approach to contemporary African art, deeper and more pensive: it promoted sculptures (which have been underestimated in the last few years); it identified some key protagonists and it used a historical prospective.

The curator Hans Ulrich Obrist represented “the world” in a fascinating but intrusive space, such as the former Palace of Justice, an abandoned – because unstable – building. Among chairs, tables, old documents and dust, he created two isle-spaces: a cinema and a TV room, both designed with colourful cushions and carpets by the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Thanks to very transportable DVD, the show presented videos focused on the relationship between art and space made by popular international artists.

The off

This year Dakar Biennial promoted 131 events “off”, far too many to guarantee even quality. The most significant were 3X3 – The Official United States participation in Dak’Art 2004 by Salah Hassan and Cheryl Finley, Gént by the artists association Man-Keneen-Ki, a seminar on art places organised by the international network Artfactories and by the multimedia art centre Kër Thiossane. The exhibition of Canary Islands artists Voices del noroeste was organised by Orlando Britto Jinorio and was installed in a flat, where, among others, José Ruiz filled a wall with pendulous condoms, one for each country of the world.

3X3 – The Official United States participation in Dak’Art 2004

3X3 – The Official United States participation in Dak’Art 2004 organised by Salah Hassan and Cheryl Finley was more than a parallel event, it was an event in competition with Dak’Art: it had a lively calendar, a huge budget and a renowned public of collectors, art critics and international curators. The show presented itself as the official United States participation to a biennial which doesn’t usually contemplate national participation. 3X3 showed three site specific works by David Hammons, Pamela Z and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, richly financed and carefully installed.

David Hammons organised a raffle at a street corner, free but slightly funerary. For a whole week on a yellow and red “Maggi” stage, some joyful animators congratulated the winners of two sheep, while anxious participants waited for the verdict. The work wanted to bring something to the people who normally don’t receive anything from art; it tried to get out of the conventional art world logic, ending up – probably without acknowledging it – inside the usual market logic (with the “Maggi” Soup sponsor, the humanitarian dynamic and the paradox of interested generosity).

Pamela Z did a performance in the Sorrano Theatre and installed her sound work Just Dust in the Maison des Esclaves in Gorée Island. Just Dust tells about the Afro-American artist first trip to Africa, giving voice to trivial thoughts through a deeply evocative sonorous landscape. You can feel there, with ingenuous wonder and that terrible desire to shape souvenirs, the painful inability to possess a place.

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons showed more than an interesting work: she had an amazingly beautiful and well installed exhibition space in the new CACAO art centre, a former industry fully restored. The enthusiasm of the Art Academy students who collaborate with the artist was nice to hear

Gént by Man-Keneen-Ki

Gént, which means dream, is an installation-exhibition placed in a courtyard. The itinerary follows a circular path where the art works produced by street children are placed: black and white and colour photos, small installations and videos. The itinerary leads to a central room covered with leaves where a child sleeps on a bench.
Man-Keneen-Ki uses art and set design to create something beautiful around misery and pain and encourages creativity as a means of expression. The idea is fascinating but Gént, even though it’s one of the most interesting Dak’Art off events, can’t compete with the amazing subtle and elegant show Les Enfants de la Nuit curated by the same organisation in 2000.


And while the International Selection and Jury Committee was talking about art, gender issues, the artists’ concern about the city and the world equilibrium, the importance of promoting new technologies, the remarkable new Egyptian participation… the rest of Dakar continued – as at every biennial edition – to discuss the terrible organisation, the lack of art works and catalogues, the unexpected programme changes, the doubts about Dak’Art future edition, the way artworks are selected…

By the way,

Would you like to show in the next Dakar Biennial? Apply!
You only need the passport of an African country to join the Dakar Biennial selection. Wait for the official call (, send your application and become a contemporary African artist too.
Have you moved? Well, you can still become a diaspora artist.

Versione originale dell’articolo pubblicato su “Universes-in-Universe”.