For its 14th edition, Dak’Art – Biennale de l’art africain contemporain brought a multitude of events to the Senegalese capital to showcase and promote the exciting panorama of African and related international art. Conceived in 1989 to celebrate African literature, art and crafts; since 1996, the biennial has focused on visual art evolving into the continent’s most important event.
With the theme of “Ĩ Ndaffa#,” the biennial’s artistic director El Hadj Malick Ndiaye, has brought together African and international artists, curators and professionals across the official program and the rich proposal of the OFF Biennial. The invited countries are China and Ethiopia.
The theme of Ĩ Ndaffa# (in Serer) refers to the craft of forging and encompasses the idea of a creative process aimed at introducing new ways, concepts and possible solutions. A process, this one intrinsic and implicit in manual activities and a consistent presence in most of the works chosen by the curators where textiles, fibre, weaving, and the fabric in its physical and conceptual form are prominent.
The entrance to the former palace of justice, located in Cap Manuel and the Biennale’s official venue, is through two large metal doors on the left side of the facade. Inside, a large, bright patio houses the artworks. Already on the threshold, we are surrounded by an explosion that is an interweaving of shapes and colours, softening the architecture’s rigidity.
On the left, we find the vibrant and intricate organic sculptures of Hyacinthe Ouattara, 1981, who was born in Burkina Faso and living in France. The “Composite” series is a reflection conducted around the textile material, a common and familiar element that holds the imprints of the world and the inner self of the individual, that speaks of the present time and the future.
His twisted, sewn, embroidered volumes of fabric recall both the primary forms of nature and our human bodies and organs; emotionally charged, they become a vessel of our shared humanity.
The human figure, literally represented, faces this biological abstraction in Kenyan Kaloki Nyamai‘s work. Two bodies are immersed in the daily routine of a domestic scene made both poetic and mysterious by the large scale format, by being proposed on a patchwork of sewn pieces, and by the surface covered with threads to form a thin shroud, almost a protective veil.
Between European and African iconography, the woman’s body appears again in the mixed media series on waxed silk “MEMBRANE Brunhilda,” by Christina Katharina Lokenhoff. The visual tactility of these surfaces is reminiscent of skin, a membrane, indeed, our body’s limit and frontier. The German artist draws from Africa as the source of her inspiration, learning from local women to believe in a life force often denied by traditional European education. Her fiercely feminine creatures stand as effigies of transformative power and encourage us to break free from our fears and reconnect with our roots.
Mirroring MEMBRANE, a large cascade of manipulated, woven, twisted rubber and polyurethane are transformed by Elrie Joubert, Pauline Gutter and Liberty Battson (TRIPE Collective) into the piece Encroaching Stray. These three South African artists have combined their practices to create an immersive experience from everyday materials. As activists, they present a new perspective that embraces the theme of the biennial Ĩ Ndaffa# by investigating the process of production instead of the product.
Ana Silva, Angola, brings her own visual memory to Dakar in a re-interpreted glimpse of Lunda markets. Using different materials, discarded or second-hand objects, she suggests a narrative of lace and nets where female figures are revealed. The artist states, “I cannot separate my work from my experience in Angola when access to materials was difficult due to the war of independence and civil war. My creativity arose from exploring my surroundings.”
Italian-Senegalese artist Adji Dieye (b. 1991) presents a photographic project on fabric in the hallway. Dieye addresses visual representation and identity commodification through her work while criticising cultural norms and stereotyped roles.
Two rooms of the old palace of justice are dedicated to the impressive macroscopic tapestries of Abdoulaye Konatè, a Malian artist who won the Grand Prix Léopold Sédar Senghor and the 1996 edition of the Biennale.
His works address burning current issues, socio-political, religious and environmental questions through constant references to his country’s tradition, the weavers’ ritual and ageless gestures, and the symbolism associated with Malinian secret societies. The walls are covered with surfaces composed of weavings, embroideries, amulets, and fetishes. Thin strips of cotton are stitched to obtain volume from the typical flat structure of the fabric, playing with folds and hollows, overlapping in countless optical effects. The material thickens, and the plane vibrates in a visual dance that strives for abstraction. The choice of colour depends on the search for aesthetic harmony and their symbolic meaning.
Tapestry played as a narrative device in space acquires volume and becomes a three-dimensional object in Férielle Doulain Zouari‘s installation. Current Water is made of reclaimed materials and features corrugated blue plastic tubes spaced with thin golden fibres cascading down between two columns in the exhibition hall. Based in Tunis, Zouari is developing research that questions contact points between the natural and artificial worlds. She seeks to materially represent the themes of encounter, reconciliation, and conflict resolution with a keen eye on mass consumption.
A round 360 degrees perception is at the core of Victor Sonna‘s two “double trilogies.” Originally from Cameroon, he lives and works in the Netherlands. His poetics play on the boundary between these cultures, in a middle ground where he challenges the concept of borders. These works integrate different fabrics, plastics, threads, and nails, everything bathed and fixed by a resin cast.
Just like the point of view of these pieces, his work is plural and unsettling.
Outside the official pavilion, textiles enter into a dialogue with the environment, nature and the city.
In the French Residence Gardens, Johanna Bramble presents one of her weavings installed in intimate dialogue with the natural environment.
The exhibition, featuring ten artists, enhances the landscape as the site of all metamorphoses by celebrating the powerful and intimate human connection with trees and plants. For this event, site-specific works were created in relation to the surrounding flora, offering an aesthetic journey around our relationship with living things as a whole. Worth mentioning is Kwami da Costa‘s monumental paper drapery reminiscent of his strong connection to the land of his native Togo.
When a place’s history endures in its visible elements and peoples’ memories, the dialogue between art and territory is charged with meaning.
The exhibitions on Gorée Island are imbued with an additional symbolism referring to the colonial past as a slave-trading centre from Senegal to the Caribbean and the United States plantations.
Ange-Arthur Koua exhibits for LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery. A native Ivorian living in Abidjan, he questions his culture of origin in mixed-media textile tapestries that investigate generational identity, displacement and migration. His works, which can be perceived from both sides, raise questions about the duality of individuals. On one side is the culture of origin, and on the other side is the person’s inclinations and identity essence. According to Akan culture, the old clothes used by the artist retain the presence of the souls of the people who wore them, becoming protective fetishes.
The connection to daily objects and their use is also found in a piece made up of small embroidered combs representing Sonya Clark‘s poetics and displayed at Black Rock Maison de la Culture Douta Seck. Clark is an undoubted exponent of textile art that often addresses issues of race by exploring the concept of Blackness and visibility. The featured piece refers to the series in which the artist questions the function and connotations humans attribute to everyday objects such as combs, coins, beads, fine threads and strands of human hair. “Objects have personal and cultural significance because they absorb our stories and reflect humanity. My stories, your stories, our stories are encapsulated in the object,” Clark says.
Textile and its methods, whether used to explore and connect with the natural environment, convey personal stories and feelings, create a visual narrative of people’s history and culture, or voice protest and social activism, are current sought-after mediums for contemporary artists. This biennial adds to many others that are proving this trend.