Critics’ Picks

View of “El Hadji Sy,” 2016.


El Hadji Sy

Centre for Contemporary Art - Ujazdowski Castle
ul. Jazdów 2
June 16–October 16

The first show in Poland dedicated to El Hadji Sy, the Senegalese artist and activist, focuses on the performative and socially engaged side of his practice. Some of the works also familiarize us with artist’s interest in the intersection of spirituality and nature, for instance, the painting Vegetal Ancestry, 2013, in which the lips and neck of a man’s profile become leafy plants. On display is a rich repertoire of sculptures, paintings, and works on jute, some of them realized during artist’s residency at this venue. Many pieces remain linked to the documentation of performances in which they were originally featured. One such work is Slave Boat, 2015, completed in Warsaw and included in a performance Three Keys, 2015, staged in the courtyard of Ujazdowski Castle. Inside the boat made of jute, a print is visible that captures the soles of feet arranged in several rows. This intervention commemorated enslaved Africans who were taken from their homeland and transported in harrowing conditions on overcrowded boats to the Americas. The performance also explored the meaning of water and travel in a broader, spiritual context. In another ephemeral action, Fractured Memory, conducted at the Museum of Photography in Antwerp in 1999, the artist pointed to the fact that Africa and its cultural activities, including performance and storytelling, still suffer from a lack of recognition. To change this dynamic, he puts these ephemeral forms at the center of his compelling practice.