June 27, 2016
It seems a little crazy to fly to Dakar in Senegal from the US for two nights, then fly back again, especially when the opening of the Dak’Art Biennale was six days before, and the special events would be over, but that was the only way I could juggle all the dates.
The 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair in New York closed on May 8, the ‘Senses of Time: Video and Film-based Work from Africa’ opened at the National Museum of African Art in Washington on May 17, and in the meantime, Victoria Mann and Salimata Diop of the AKAA art fair had proposed organizing a book launch and an Other Voices, Other Cities workshop for me in Dakar in the gap between the two events.
So I went, arriving in Dakar very early one morning, and was met by Salimata and taxi-ed to the charming Hotel Djoloff, in the Fann Hok district of Dakar.
From the roof top restaurant, one could watch the fishing pirogues setting out for the catch each day. Time being super short, Salimata had organized the workshop for that very day, inviting Dakar friends and artists.
As always, my question to the group is what they believe to be the essential nature of their city. The discussion, which started with the mention of blackouts and traffic jams, went through the fact that Dakar is a peaceful and safe country, with strong traditions like ‘ataya’: drinking tea together to promote social interaction and communication; a country where almost everyone has a cellphone, and systems like ‘wari’ help people transfer money across the country without bank accounts by paying money into one ‘Wari’ point then texting the recipient a message to pick it up at another, the fact that creativity and a sense of design can be seen everywhere in many small ways, the fact that everything is always an emergency and last minute but everyone trusts that it will happen anyway.
So the line which emerged at the end was: DON’T PANIC – CREATIVITY WILL SAVE US.
Viye Diba, an artist friend who missed the bus to the workshop but came to the shoot laughed when he heard the line, and said it would have been the line he would have chosen anyway
Before the workshop, we had visited the old Palais de Justice to view the main show of the Dak’Art Biennale. It’s a magnificent old modernist building in a state of decay, and the curator’s theme for the Biennale was ‘Dak’Art 2016 : La Cité dans le jour bleu’ which I thought was very poetic. That colour of blue used for the script is seen in many places in Dakar.
The next morning, I considered a few other places but given the fact that time was so short, and we still had to make all the letters that day, I thought it would be best to settle on the Palais as a location for the shoot, and to paint the letters that shade of blue.
During the shoot, Simon Njami, the curator for the Biennale appeared, so I persuaded him to be part of the word ‘CREATIVITY’.
That night, I take the 2 a.m. flight back to Washington.
‘Senses of Time’, at Washington’s NMAFA has been curated by Karen Milbourne and Polly Roberts, video works from myself, Theo Eshetu, Yinka Shonibare, Sammy Baloji, Moatz Nasr and Berni Searle. Berni has come for the opening, and Moataz was supposed to come, but on returning to Cairo from Dak’Art, he was detained by police for 16 hours and his passport has been withdrawn. Such is the danger of being an outspoken artist in a repressive country.
The seven video works have been extremely well installed in a darkened gallery at the museum, and look great. The powerful Johnnetta Cole opens the exhibition. Lots of press arrive for the press preview, and here is a nice clip… even if the presenter comes out with the inevitable framing line… ‘the curators want you to know that African art cannot just be defined by traditional media like beadwork and masks…’ Oh, America …
I spent a couple of months in Washington in 2007 on a Visual Arts Research fellowship, and it’s enjoyable to wander round the museums on the mall again. In the Smithsonian Castle is a machine which will take your photograph and reproduce it on a screen in pixels of work in the collection.
Ten days after my return to Cape Town, I fly to Joburg to help celebrate the Goodman Gallery’s 50th birthday at an amazing party set in Shine Studios, high above the lights of Johannesburg.
Gallery owner Liza Essers has thrown the perfect party and the gallery has flown in artists from as far as London, like Lisa Brice. The speeches are pertinent and funny, even if gallery founder Linda Givon does go on at length wondering how exactly Brett Murray knew what Zuma’s penis looked like…
And the Khumalo sisters do such a brilliant job of dj-ing that three hours after the midnight bus has left the party, the artists and gallery staff are still on the floor.