The 2018 DAK'ART Biennale Was a Creative Playground For African Artists
A look back at Senegal's biggest contemporary art gathering.
The dust has settled and Senegal has bid adieu to it's momentous 13th Dak'art Biennale. It proved to be the landmark event it's meant to be. From May 3rd to June 2nd, hundreds of works were shown and events took place in Dakar and surrounding areas.
The grandiose Ancien Palais de Justice stood at the center of the IN, like it did in 2016, with a number of paintings, photos, sculptures, videos and installations placed throughout its atriums and courtyards. IN artists' works called to mind a desire for unity, acceptance and home.
The OFF was the Biennale's playground, showcasing artists who didn't necessarily adhere to the Red Hour theme. Eclectic pieces were placed in hotels, restaurants, shops, by monuments, beaches, etc. The decentralization of art was awe-inspiring.
Press, creatives, merchants, art connoisseurs and visitors excitedly descended on the artistic hub. The works on display were a mélange of styles, subjects and materials.
It is important to note, there were realities evident in Dakar that I was not privy to upon my arrival in the city. Despite my excitement that its inhabitants were a critical part of this experience, I quickly learned that many of them had no idea this event was taking place. My driver and guide entered l'Ancien Palais de Justice dumbfounded by what was inside. They voraciously took in pieces much like I did.
Art can not possibly play a critical role in the life of someone who does not come from a realm of existence like my own.
With the Biennale, there are social, economic and political factors at play. Simon Njami, curator, was tasked with making a number of unconventional decisions. He re-trained a number of workers from 2016 to facilitate the events. A number of artists on display at the Biennale lived outside the continent, therefore needed to be offered visas; he did just that. He reached out to 50 percent of the artists on display. He opened the event up to more than just holders of African passports so as to foster new conversations around art and the continent and its growth. Contrary to popular belief, events of this magnitude do not take place in the country. It is not home to a contemporary art museum, it lacks galleries and activities around art are a rarity. I learned post this event, the country doesn't necessarily support the arts.
To truly examine the event, it must be looked at broadly so I bar these thoughts.
I focus on this. On my second day in Dakar, as I sat at a dinner table with a Nigerian entrepreneur, Senegalese singer, Congolese artist, Haitian-Senegalese artist, Cameroonian-Chadian artist and Cameroonian deejay I realized this is what makes this event powerful. Africa, it's diaspora and individuals who consume our work come together to partake in a number of powerful dialogues. We exchange ideas. We recognize that we are living at a time where there is widespread interest in the continent and that Africa's time is indeed now.
Myself and many others look forward to Dak'Art 2020.
Here are some highlights of the 2018 Biennale:
1. Ghanaian Godfried Donkor collage series Olympians, was an ode to Senegalese wrestling.
2. The Grand Prix Léopold-Sédar-Senghor award was given to Franco-Beninese photographer for her series on breaking free, rooted in examining how Africa is portrayed in the media.
3. Egyptian artist Ibrahim Ahmed's Only Dreamers Leave was an installation of fabric sails, serving as a representation of leaving home and migrating elsewhere.
4. At L'Île de Gorée, a place where the slave trade was orchestrated, Senegalese artist Soly Cissé presented Cotton Field.
5. Nathalie Mba Bikoro's Triumph of Seagulls was a celebration of female empowerment.
6. The home of one of Africa's most notorious sculptors, Ousmane Sow, was opened for viewing.
7. Gambian photographer Lena Nian opted for a black and white gallery on tribal unity.
8. At Espace VEMA, there was the Kraftsman exhibition where Senegalese creative Papi channeled energy through pigments.
Audrey Lang is an alumna of Northeastern University and a Boston-based site merchandiser. A surveyor of life who's enamored with all things fashion, art and Africa, keep up with her on Instagram and Tumblr.