Dakar, Senegal

Steeve Bauras, 3K, 2013, mixed media installation with performance. From “Cyclicités,” 2013.

Steeve Bauras, 3K, 2013, mixed media installation with performance. From “Cyclicités,” 2013.


Galerie Le Manège, Institut Français du Sénégal

Steeve Bauras, 3K, 2013, mixed media installation with performance. From “Cyclicités,” 2013.

The exhibition “Cyclicités,” curated by the collective On the Roof (Elise Atangana, Yves Chatap, and Caroline Hancock), presented three research-based projects examining historical patterns through elements of the local urban and cultural context. Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop’s ongoing series “Architextures,” 2011–, portrays Dakar as a rural village evolving organically through the grid imposed by Western colonization. Several striking photographic blowups suspended in the cavernous space compared, in close-up detail, the pure geometry and repetition in natural growth with that of industrial products and architecture. Echoing and encompassing features of the building itself—its barred Gothic windows and steel beams—as part of the installation, they highlighted our universal mimicry of nature. Mounted directly on the floor, the depiction of a dizzying viewpoint upward through a vertiginous construction tower, here a vortex descending infinitely into the ground, linked everything together visually and conceptually.

In Canadian-Tanzanian artist Kapwani Kiwanga’s installation Flowers for Africa: Senegal, 2013, three bouquets of flowers, solitary ceremonial leftovers wilting on simple white plinths, stood in for significant public events leading to Senegal’s independence, as marked by accompanying plaques. Delving into photographs of the formalities in various national archives, the artist reduced them to a common denominator: the decorative bouquets that contributed to their pomp. Carnations and anemones represent Charles de Gaulle’s visit to introduce the 1958 constitutional referendum; carnations additionally stand for the union of Senegal and the Sudanese Republic (later called Mali) in the Mali Federation, portrayed by a photo of girls singing at the celebration; and a vase of deep-pink bougainvillea is a reproduction of those pictured at an official reception in the presidential palace after Senegalese independence, in 1960. These ephemeral relics provoke the question of how best to reactivate collective memory without physical evidence, and whether it is necessary, possible, or simply futile; the answers have to do with the differing conceptions of time among various cultures. The imposing architecture of the gallery, a nineteenth-century colonial artifact, was an oppressive presence that overwhelmed the modest floral memorials.

Black-hooded skateboarders, gliding silently back and forth in the arc of a wooden ramp, symbolize reverse racism in Martinican photographer Steeve Bauras’s interactive installation 3K, 2013. On a screen behind it, a scene from Samuel Fuller’s 1963 film, Shock Corridor, was projected, alternating with footage of and by young local skateboarders cruising through and panning across the street life of Dakar. The grainy black-and-white sequence from Fuller’s film depicts the rant of a mental patient who—traumatized by being chosen as the first black to attend a Southern white school, where his classmates’ racist mentality thwarted any possibility of integration—takes on the persona of his own worst enemy: a white supremacist, specifically the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, the “invisible empire.” Skin-prickling discomfort was instilled through the sound track, a refrain of ominous keyboard tones cut with a faint intermittent siren, coupled with the protagonist’s racist slogans: “Integration and democracy don’t mix! Go home, nigger! America for Americans!” By singling out this perverse fictional narrative and inserting it into the context of a black culture, the artist references an insidious—and equally perverse—form of intracommunity racism wherein slight degrees of skin color differentiate levels of superiority, highlighting the latent prejudice within all societies. Even in the country whose first president, poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a founder of the Négritude movement, the term toubab, for “white person,” nevertheless denotes power and entitlement, and the bourgeoisie still privileges European dress and culture.

A diptych by Diop, in which a plant sprouting through crumbling cement during the rainy season is mirrored by similarly shaped metal pipes below it, seems to signify the irrepressible endurance of our primal instinct for survival—and the amnesia that facilitates our ceaseless violence against nature—in spite of the constructs of “civilization.” We are, after all, the dark and terrifying “other.”

Cathryn Drake