I have been to Nairobi and Addis Ababa in the recent past. Dakar is different. Nairobi is very like Lagos – same energy and zest, a far more customer friendly version of Lagos, I suppose. Addis has a staid, old school charm about it. It feels like a city going at it’s own pace, yet it’s warm and familiar.
Dakar is different. Not quite as familiar as the other cities. African, but different. The airport is nice. I admit I have an airport complex by now. Every airport I’ve gone through seems so much better than Lagos. Immigration is paperless which seems really modern and easy.
Language is the first problem. Senegal is French-speaking. It’s amazing how language can be a barrier. The taxi drivers can’t tell me about the city. We say cava and merci. That’s all I can manage. The rest is a smiling silence.
The architecture is different — flat roofs everywhere. This is probably because Senegal is predominantly Muslim so the architecture has a strong Arab influence. I miss the slanting roofs of Lagos and Accra. It’s hot.
I am grateful for the company of artists.
Ousmane Ndiaye Dago
Dago is a Senegalese photographer best known for his ‘Femme Terre’ photographs. Language is difficult for us. But I enjoy his company. His got an interesting, wiry energy about him.
He has done the ‘Femme Terre’ photographs for years. It’s part photography and part performance art. The Femme Terre photographs are a sort of homage to Africa along with his wrestlers series. He explores the beauty of the continent through these photographs of mud-encased beautiful, young women. The women are sometimes naked, sometimes semi-naked. He focuses on their bodies rather than their faces, partly out of respect for the complexity of nudity in Africa but also as a way to subdue the individual character of each model and concentrate instead on the idea.
To create the photographs he paints the women and the background and occasionally adds props to this background. Then he photographs his creation. Sometimes he performs the act of creating these photographs on stage, blurring the line in his work between photography and performance art.
Diallo started painting at 59. It’s clearly never to late to start. He’s been painting for six years now, but I imagining he’s been processing these thoughts all his life. He worked as an engineer for most of his life. He loved to read and write, and was keen on the arts. One day he decided he was going to create art instead of just admiring it.
It’s been an interesting journey for him. He’s created an amazing collection that reflects his wisdom and acute insights about his surroundings. His artworks convey a great sense of wisdom and presence, as if they were created by an artist who has thought deeply and experienced the world fully. I suppose he has. Many of his pieces are large. He says that is to discourage people from collecting them.
His artworks are dense and complex, layers of ideas about Senegalese life and culture. And actually layers of colours. Diallo, lives in Ngor island, a short boat ride from Dakar. I can’t swim. I don’t like boats much. The boat ride to the island was alright. A big enough boat with life vests. The boat ride back was far more precarious – a small boat, no life jacket. I got in though. I didn’t want to look like I was afraid. In the ten minutes, well maybe five minutes on the boat, I reflected on the folly of not wanting to appear afraid. I should have just said no. I made it though.
Gueye works in Dakar. He’s nice, easy going man. Regular. The sort of man you’d find on any street. His artworks tell the stories of everyday people in Senegal. Not necessarily the people in Dakar, he points out. He likes to explore the lives of the people outside Dakar where life is tougher.
He is truly a street poet, finding the stories of the people in the streets, expressing these stories in his art. exploring their joys and sorrows, their everyday struggles and victories. His figures are hopeful, open. He treats his subjects with compassion and understanding, like he is one of them.
He finds the best in his people. He finds the best in Dakar.
Dakar is hot. But interesting.