April 24 - 30, 1998
Africa Light
Review by Sabine Vogel
"Urinating forbidden. S'il vous plait" is written on the sand colored wall across from the Institute of Culture. In the garden, juice is served. It tastes freshly squeezed as if the Prime Minister's mother squeezed it herself, and rumor has it she also has the monopoly. One pays with coupons, which are received from beer-drinking men sitting at another table under a disheveled palm tree. Dak'Art 1998

International Jury

Parallel Events


Until a year ago, the Maison de Culture still served as the abode for an out-of-favor politician who grandly spent his long housearrest there. Most of the offices of this future department remain unfurnished. However, Baba Ibnou, president of the new Institute of Culture, and his propagandists are all the more fulfilled in their mission: communication, culture and contact. There is still no fax machine, but at least there is the representative set of sofas in the main office. The large assembly room, where the biennial's conferences were held, is air-conditioned and has a working simultaneous translating system. Cyprien Tokoudagba

Cyprien Tokoudagba
The Dakar Biennial is international. Artists from all over Africa can apply and a jury of five curators decides whom to invite. Exceptions are made. This year, the participating artists do not exclusively live in Africa, and not all of them knew of their application. The curators were granted a certain amount of decision-making freedom because many of the already-successful African artists might never have applied themselves. Contributions by the European Union facilitated this third pan-African art biennial, which consists of around 40 visual artists in the main exhibition, five solo exhibitions and extensive parallel programming. The entire event was cost-efficiently condensed into a week. Shortly thereafter, Dakar and its famous slave island Goree sink again into the lascivious and sleepy apathy of the African everyday.  
The jury prize went to Viye Diba, a renowned artist from Senegal, for his desert-colored monochrome canvases from which hang little bags that look like fetishes. »That is just as good as Polke,« exclaims European curator Alfons Hug, former exhibition director for the House of World's Cultures in Berlin. On the other hand, »Everything is always so decorative here,« laments the critic Kojo from Cameroon, living in Zurich. In contrast to the aggressive Johannesburg Biennial, which last year ignored the local scene and catapulted itself most probably »offside« with an exclusively New York-oriented market internationality, in Dakar a peaceful and colorful harmlessness and a cheerful friendliness dominate. With modesty and calmness, the African art works in Dakar self-confidently demonstrate the failure of the colonial view. Defense D'Uriner S.V.P. Viye Diba

Viye Diba
Benin artist Dominque Zinkpe's »Question of Identity«, an opulent Voodoo Altar, reminds one more of praline bon bons than dried sacrificial blood. The pale little bones of the typical modern African assemblage bespeak the gleaming sunlight of the sand dunes and the bathtub-warm salty ocean, more than death. Instead of the Kabakovian slum houses of South African Pat Mautloa, who although invited was for some reason not there, the wall now displays the door panels by Tiébéna Dagnogo as a painterly processed composition. Living in Paris, the long-admired painter Chérie Samba, now paints himself counting money in view of the declining prices of his work. Senegal, that is »Africa light«, emphasizes Franke, the director of the Goethe Institute, who brings the mood to this point. In Dakar, one can find baguettes, two-ply toilet paper, a couple of large-eyed begging children and the sport-like stress about taxi fees.  
Fundamentally, the art and aesthetics of everyday life in Dakar are harmonious, pain-free, painterly and archaic-abstract. The African modernism made of poor materials, found objects of quotidian mythologies and a tendency to please finds in Viye Diba its master and is otherwise also self-confidently lived up and cared for. Another parallel exhibition at a branch of the Goethe Institute pays tribute to the small wood and stick objects of Camara, a sculptor from Senegal. Here also, a vain refinement and beautiful harmony on sand. Diplomats, ambassadors and other prominent figures give their offerings. Red dots suggest the existence of a local art market. The back street is filled with Mercedes limousines, the house fašades across the way are wrapped with patterned plastic matting, and the West European guests take snap shots of them as an example of a Senegalese Christo. Dakar is picturesque, a slightly bare shouldered Orient, the colors perfectly matched for a Klee Tunisian travel, a bit of pink slave-island folklore, and many irresistible glass-bead vendors. Dakar is design! Logically, in addition to the uncensored art markets and Cultural Village, which offered products of self-help collectives and prisoners, the biennial was also accompanied by a stylish furniture and textile design exhibit. Chairs made of concrete displayed on grainy salt, subtle trash-aesthetic and a sensitively applied Afro-look gave the design show a suspiciously Parisian flair. Yet these strident Chaiselongues made of iron and ethno-prints could not be afforded by the locals. For them, the market takes place in the narrow and noisy streets where the European tourist succumbs to the constant bombardment of the consumer war. Every night of this one-week biennial spectacle concluded in a chic restaurant with the strident creations of a fashion show and theatrical performances by young talents from Mauritius to the Ivory Coast. The avant garde-like body art was highlighted and media celebrated not only by the inquisitive and exotic-seeking guests but also by the Parisian art magazine Revue Noire. Serigne Mbaye Camara

Serigne Mbaye Camara

Alassane Drabo

Alassane Drabo
Africa? Who is that? Antonio Olé, the artist from Luanda, built his work on the island of Gorée and next to it built the installation of Cuban artist Kcho, who was as usual prevented from travelling. Olé cannot and will not speak for Africa. He laughs. Angola and its history already give him enough to worry about. He hopes to conclude this chapter by the next millenium. Additionally, he continues to work with his Jewish heritage. Last year, he was part of »Remote Connection« in Jerusalem. Africa? An hour's drive from Dakar, in the no man's land of the coastal desert, is an artist commune that tries to make itself useful in social projects with neighboring villages. They invite us to eat. »We take no money«.

English translation by Kaira Cabañas

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Gerhard Haupt & Pat Binder, 1998. Text: Sabine Vogel

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