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by Rasheed Araeen

Dak’art 1992–2002 The Problems of Representation, Contextualisation, and Critical Evaluation in Contemporary African Art as Presented by the Dakar Biennale


Dak’art 2002
The 10th May 2002 was a beautiful sunny morning in Dakar. As I approached the grounds of the grand premises of CICES (Centre international du commerce exte´rieur du Senegal), I sensed an atmosphere of great celebration and festivities. Musicians and dancers, with their specially designed colourful dresses, were around everywhere, perform ing among the people – both Senegalese and their international guests – who had gathered there for the official opening of DAK’ART 2002. What really pleased me most was not only the celebratory spirit of the whole thing, but also the fact that so many Senegalese people who would otherwise be unemployed most of the year were able to earn some money by participating in this event. The whole thing was so overwhelming that one expected it to be a prelude to an extraordinary event, particularly when it was also a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dakar Biennale.

After being received in such a festive atmosphere, which produced an optimistic mood in me, I proceeded to the hall where the actual opening ceremony was to take place. The hall was in fact packed with thousands of people, with a dozen or so TV cameras installed there to record the ceremony. And although I myself was an hour late, the podium was still empty. It took at least another hour before the whole entourage of government officials and Biennale organisers began to arrive. At least another hour was lost in listening to their unnecessarily long and vacuous speeches before the doors of the exhibition were officially opened.

Compared with the festivities outside in the grounds of CICES and the great enthusiasm of the public around, who patiently and attentively listened to all the speeches of the high officials, the actual event urned out to be an anti-climax. If the exhibition represented, in the words of Marie-José Crespin, ‘the vibrant artistic heart of the continent’,1 then it was a big dis appointment. First of all, the continent wasn’t there. How could a mere thirteen countries (mostly Francophone), out of more than forty African nations, justifiably represent ‘the heart of the continent’?2

In fact this has been one of the main problem of the Biennale from its very inception in 1992. Its inability to attract the participation of sufficient artists across the whole of Africa, so that it could justify its claim to be ‘the Biennale of Contemporary African Art’, has constantly left a big gap. Of course there have been many other problems – of a material, organisational, artistic and ideological nature – to which it seems little attention has been paid, and which consequently has prevented the Biennale from fulfilling its his torical objectives. As these problems are of a fundamental nature, and they remain unresolved even after the ten years’ existence of the Biennale, I feel that it is more important that we pay attention to these problems rather than just looking at the Biennale as a unique event of African art. It is of course a unique event, but what signifies its uniqueness? Is it possi ble to answer this question with out looking at the whole thing and taking stock of what the Biennale has done in its ten years’ exist ence? In fact, it will not be imper tinent even to ask: what has been its achievement? If it has not achieved much beyond just showing works of some African artists every two years, and celebrating them without any context or crit ical evaluation, shouldn’t the whole idea of this Biennale and its performance now be subjected to critical scrutiny? But, first, let us visit the remaining exhibitions.

The next day I found myself climbing up the high steps of the (ancien) Palais de Justice. Again there was a music and dance group at the door to welcome the audience. As I entered the building I faced rows of pillars; around each of these pillars were placed bags of agricultural products indigenous to Senegal – rice, sorghum, millet, beans, etc. It was an impressive display. At the other end of the building colourful chairs were arranged in the usual manner of a public meeting. I wandered around thinking what all this was about, as there was no information whatso ever about the nature of this exhibi tion. On enquiring from an official of the Biennale present there, I was told that they were just Senegalese foodstuffs on display; and the chairs were for the people to sit on – which they were in fact doing. Only when I returned to my hotel room late in the evening and looked in the cata logue did I realise that I was looking at the installation works of two (in fact there were three) invited Euro pean artists – Jannis Kounellis and Franz West (the third artist was Jaume Plensa). Why were they there, and what was the significance of their participation in an African biennale? If their presence in Dakar was part of the Biennale’s ‘quest for reciprocated exchange relations and shared social, economic and cultural growth’,3 it failed miserably despite the quality of their work. In the absence of a context or framework in which this ‘exchange’ could take place, the whole thing in fact became a farce. I will return to this question again later, when I will point out the impossibility of this ‘exchange’ within the prevailing dominant framework.

My next stop was at the Muse´e de I’FAN. As I entered the premises I saw a row of beautiful young Senegalese girls in front of the door of the museum, dressed in a beautifully tailored Biennale’s typical costume, welcoming the audience. I passed through them and climbed up to the first floor, where there were installations by three artists. For me it was another disappointing show. But maybe I should let its curator N’Gone Fall enlighten us:4

Identity, authenticity, africanity. None of these words has a meaning when we talk about [these artists]. What, then, they have in common? A feeling of belonging to Africa. West, Southern, Central Africa. Amahiguere Dolo with Mali, Berry Bickle with Zimbabwe, Aime Ntakiyica with Burundi. Three exhibitions, three atmospheres, three personal stories.

Dolo is a Dogon. In Dogon society, a sculpture has a specific function; it is a link to God, it represents a symbolic area whose spiritual dimension is only accessible to the initiates. If Dolo’s sculptures are intriguing, it is because they are full of mystery. Dolo speaks to the spirits. There is no relation to the cult, nor any invocation of the Word in his creative process. His sculptures do not have a utilitarian, sacred or secular function. They are meant for a public on whose senses and imagination they call.

To live or rather to survive, such is the goal of Berenice Josephine Bickle. In a country which is on the verge of achieving a record of ‘isms’ (racism, homophobism, totalitarianism, anarchism), to be a woman, and a white woman and an artist is to personify a cocktail of attributes very difficult to manage in Zimbabwe. Can Berry Bickle be a barometer of artistic trends in Zimbabwe? Can she discharge that when, in the collective unconscious, Zimbabwean art is lim ited to stone sculptures?

There is always interaction between the work [a video installation by Aime Ntakiyica] and the public. The latter are not mere spectators, they move between the periphery and the centre, among suspended objects, in levitation …
Fragments of space (a fountain, a corri dor, a shower, a patio, a summer room), these installations enable him to con quer a place and mark his territory.

Language can reveal what an object hides, but it can also mystify. Thus the object becomes cocooned in the play of language without revealing its real sig nificance or lack of significance. So I returned to the ground floor where a band was playing traditional instrumental music. It was beautiful, but there was no one listening.5

It may seem that I am being dismissive of everything. But this is not so. The Biennale is full of interesting work, as interesting as one would find in other biennales or international exhibitions. If I am disappointed it is only because I have somewhat different, if not high, expecta tions from this Biennale. For me the Dakar Biennale is an event of unique historical importance, with a specific objective that should differentiate it from other biennales. If this uniqueness is not supported or underpinned by the works in the Biennale, then there is something wrong. Biennales or international exhibitions are often of a thematic or historical nature, underpinned by rigorous scholarship that gives them their specific contexts that highlight their aesthetic as well as sociohistorical significances. In view of the fact that the Dakar Biennale has emerged out of a different struggle and history, I cannot merely use the contexts of other biennales or international exhibitions, and what legitimises them as historically significant events, to evaluate its real significance and/or what it contains.

One cannot just look at artwork and say whether it is good or not. It must say more than just offering itself for appreciation or enjoyment; this is particularly so when the work of different artists is put together. They must have a context or framework that justifies or legitimises their togetherness, and enables us to understand their collective significance. It is therefore necessary to go beyond just looking at artworks and ask: what is the context of the Dakar Biennale? If Africa is the context, what does it mean? If it means its achievements in art, how do we recognise them? The answer to these questions is not as obvious as is assumed by the organisers and supporters of the Biennale. In fact I find no satisfactory answer from the works on display or the texts in the catalogues.

However, I do find it interesting that so many people to whom I have talked– particularly from Europe and North America – are so fascinated by the Biennale and are full of praise for it. In some way, this is understandable. After all, most of these people – museum directors, gallery owners, curators, critics, journalists, and so on, from the West – are the guests of the Biennale. They have been given free air tickets and are accommodated in four- or five-star luxury hotels with cash for daily expenses. This may be a facile or cynical observation, but should we not look at the whole thing beyond the West’s fascination for the others, which often is no more than a patronising gesture by the benevolent power? Can we evaluate the real significance of the Biennale and what it shows as works of art without its own specific context and, more importantly, a critical framework, which are historically justified? Works of art have little value without their sociohistorical contexts and without the context in which they are collectively presented. Is it enough to say that it is a biennale representing Africa, or that it is now the only African biennale of visual arts showing the works of African artists living in both Africa and abroad?

What do the ciritics say?
Clementine Deliss, reviewing the very first Biennale in 1992, says that ‘the misguided faith in the so-called international art circuit [has] deterred the organisers from developing a pan-African approach, [with] a focus on greater communication and familiarity within Africa between practising artists and writers’.6 Four years later, Brian Biggs finds ‘that there was no attempt to pursue a pan-African approach, or to give the artists a central role in shaping and participating in the event. The focus . . . on an all-African selection went only half-way to addressing the . . . issue with large areas of the continent hardly represented at all. . . .’ He then raises a very important question: ‘So what were the objectives set out by the DAK’ART organisers, and what role do international gatherings like this [mostly from Europe and North America] have in the developing framework of contemporary cultural discourse on the African continent itself? Reading through the
. . . catalogue, answers to these questions proved frustratingly evasive.’7

Katya Garcia-Anton goes even further: ‘However intoxicating the festival spirit must have been, the spectre of colonialism cast a sombre shadow. The voice, as well as aesthetic values, continued to reside within a dominant western centre.’8

I am in total sympathy with these comments, as they have raised some very fundamental issues and to ignore them would be tantamount to not recognising the historical nature of the Biennale. Pan-Africanism is an important concept, as it brings Africa’s whole body together. But can contemporary art produced by African artists, whether in Africa or abroad, be contextualised only by and within the idea of pan-Africanism without recognising its history of struggle against colonialism? If the African ‘voice, as well as [its] aesthetic values, continued to reside within a dominant centre’,9 was there no struggle against this centre? Why is this struggle, or its spirit, totally absent from the Biennale?

The struggle of Africa was not only against the crude and brutal forces of political domination and oppression but also for its right to define itself in its own way and within modernity. Although it would be a truism to say that modernity was an arm of colonial domination, Africa – like other colonised continents – did adopt its ideas of universal progress and emancipation, with a hope that it would help construct its liberated future in terms of advanced scientific and technological developments. This consciousness also gave rise to the emergence of art that not only defied Africa’s old traditions, particularly those which in some cases had become an obstacle to its modern progress, but also challenged the West’s perception of Africa and its creativity perpetually trapped in its old structures. Since the work of Aina Onabolu of Nigeria in the early twentieth century, and subsequently the struggle of many other African artists (such as Gerard Sekoto, Ernest Mancoba, Iba Ndiaye – to mention a few from the African mainland) against the West’s monopoly of modernism’s history,10 African art has come a long way; it has now reached a position where there seems no longer to be conflict or struggle with the dominant centre. But can this really be true? If the social, economic and political conditions of Africa are still struggling against the global hegemony of the West, how can its art be free from this hegemony? The present generation of African artists – those we see in the Dakar Biennale as well as in international exhibitions – may not feel that there is any need to confront the dominant system, but are they not then abandoning the very principle of modernism or the avant-garde (dissent from or challenge to the established order) from which they derive their formal strategies?

We can, however, say that African artists are as good as their Western counterparts, in terms of the use of modern techniques and technologies, but should this really be their only aim? Modern techniques and technologies are necessary means today by which the contemporary artist is able to reflect on the complexity of modern life with all its contradictions. But if this is only determined or achieved by the internal mechanisms of making art and is removed from the specificity of the sociohistorical forces of Africa and its critical relationship with the dominant world, would it not lead African art to naive and facile ends? It would be unfair, however, to attribute these characteristics only to the works in the Biennale. They are in fact also part of what is now inflicting art globally, and as the Biennale wants to be part of the global art community this condition of African art is understandable. However, we cannot avoid asking the question: why is African art part of this global phenomenon, emerging from the centre in the West, but also what does this mean for Africa? Can Africa assert its independence or develop its own Direction and Vision within this context without critically confront ing the dominant structures of art around the world today?

What are these structures?
While lamenting the absence of ‘inter-African links’ free from ‘colonial relationships’, David Elliott, President of the Selection Committee and Jury of DAK’ART 2000, says that ‘the masters had departed yet their structures remained’.11 Who would disagree with him? But is he seriously concerned with ‘their structures’, or just shedding crocodile tears? Is this not just a passing gesture of Western liberalism that can only see these structures in operation away from its own home territory, and forgets that these structures are in fact the very source of its power and privilege?

What are these structures, and how are we to deal with them? Should or can Africa alone deal with them? If the issue is of freedom from these structures, can it be achieved without a struggle against these structures? If these structures are still found on African soil, where are their roots? Are they in Africa? If their roots are elsewhere, outside Africa, but they continue to affect whatever Africa does or produces, shouldn’t we look at these roots? What is the nature of these roots? Who and what nurtures these roots?

What is remarkable is not that people like David Elliott can see these structures and that they can point to the detrimental effects these structures have on African art and its position in the world, but their inability to see or recognise that they themselves are in fact part of the problem. If Elliott is really concerned with these structures, what has he been doing to confront them on his own ground? David Elliott is not an ordinary person but represents an important pillar of the Western art establishment, and his influence on the British art world in particular has been considerable. In fact he is part of the worldwide system that continues to defend and maintain the power of ‘the masters’ and ‘their structures’. I’m not alluding to the political and economic structures of the West but its liberal institutions, and I have seen no evidence of fundamental change in these structures since they were formed to uphold the ‘humanism’ of colonial power. They are still intact, both in art institutions and academe, and are rigorously protected from the subversive onslaught of the others, who are kept outside their boundary walls on the pretext that they belong elsewhere.

The structures of colonialism cannot be dealt with only by those who are colonised. Colonialism is a process or phenomenon that affects both the coloniser and the colonised, and decolonisation implies a dialogical process by which both should be liberated. The freedom of the colonised without the coloniser undergoing the process of decoloni sation is an illusion that maintains the power of the coloniser over the colonised even when the colonised is supposed to be free. Western liberalism represents this power. If people like David Elliott really want to see the others liberate themselves from these structures, they will have to be actively part of this liberation. They themselves will have to confront the institutions of which they are part, and in the process help liberate their structures from the colonial legacies. The problem is that the power and privilege of these people depend on the continuation of these structures, and it is this power that brings them to Africa. When these people come to Africa and tell Africa that it is still the victim of these structures, all they do is to display their white liberal guilt mixed with arrogance of power.

It is therefore no wonder that the work of such a historically important European artist as Jannis Kounellis should end up falling flat in the abandoned building of the Palais de Justice – the very same Palais de Justice through which the colonial power bestowed its ‘justice’ on the colonised and by which it justified its power. As this building now lay shattered, dilapidated by its lack of historical purpose, with what new ‘justice’ is Kounellis now seeking a dialogue with the society when it has not yet recovered from the old one? How can an artist who had no dialogue with his African – or the other – contemporaries while they were there on his home ground, have a meaningful dialogue with them now on African soil? And on what basis? Did Kounellis ever ask himself why the discourse that privileged him and gave him the power to assert his presence in Africa kept the others outside this discourse? Did he ever realise that these others were immigrants as much as he was an immigrant?12 How could he? They were different, and were meant to do different things. In fact, he would have been surprised – to say the least
– if he had found them doing similar things, within the same context and seeking the same structures for their recognition on a par with his status as a white/European artist.

Africaʼs real achievement
What exactly has all this got to do with the achievement – or non- achievement – of African artists, or the Dakar Biennale? The answer to this question lies with the historical position of African artists of the last hundred years or so, both within and outside Africa, and the lack of its sufficient recognition. It is of particular historical importance when it is measured as part of its struggle within and against the dominant centre. My aim here is to argue that without the full recognition of this position we have no other way to judge what is produced as African art today.

The struggle of African artists in the West in particular offers an important clue to the problem I have alluded to, and reveals the difficulty of the problem. This difficulty does not necessary lie with the artists themselves, or their failure to enter the discourse of the country they make their home, but with the system which often shuts its eyes whenever it encounters them at the centre of the modern discourse; with the result that these artists remain invisible to the system as well as to Africa.

Migration of artists to the centres of power is not a new or unique phenomenon. Artists have always migrated; in the early twentieth century Paris was their destination. In the postwar period, London attracted many artists particularly from the former British colonies. However, the issue here is not the migration (despite postcolonial theories of migration and diaspora) of these artists but what they actually produced and how their work was received by their hosts.

What did African artists really do when they found themselves in the West? Did they just follow the already beaten track of Western art, or did they find their own way within modernist developments? The institutions in the West are silent about this important question. They would rather prefer this question never to be raised, because they cannot answer it within the context of prevailing colonial structures while they still protect them. There are of course some sympathetic voices, from within the establishment, with great admiration for African artists’ ‘Africanness’. But this admiration often overlooks the modernity of African artists’ work, and use their ‘Africanness’ as the only measure of these works. Some others have been totally dismissive of them, even to the point of being openly hostile to Africa’s quest for modernity and allowing their hidden racism to appear on the surface.

Art moves forward only when there emerge new perceptions, innovations and breakthroughs – both formal and conceptual – and in this respect we have no reason to presume that there is or should be any difference between the aspirations and quests of white and non-white artists. Given the global spread of modernity during colonialism, and with modernism now being the common inheritance of artists from all over the world, it would be presumptuous to think that they should have different goals on the basis of racial or cultural difference. If artists from all cultures find themselves within the same context of the metropolitan centre, and they all want to produce something new within this context, what is the problem? The answer to this lies in the philosophy or ideology of the history of modern art, without the understanding of which one cannot deal or engage with whatever one encounters as an established thing, and what one produces as a result. And here lies the main issue. The problem is not of entering the discourse of history and establishing one’s position by confronting whatever history represents as an accumulation of knowledge, but the recognition of this entry and what it has produced. How can a historical discourse whose very structures are formed on the differentiation between the white/European subject and what is continued to be perceived as its others, and which legitimises only whites/Europeans as its players by excluding the others from its system, see the presence of the others within it? Wouldn’t this otherwise destroy the very basis of its institutional power?

As this differentiates the others from their white/European contemporaries and removes them from the consideration of their place in history on the basis that the history of modernism is the exclusive domain of the white/European subject, the position of the others – and in our case of African artists – becomes precarious. They are thus forced to exist in a vacuum, reduced to nothingness. While the position of white/European artists is thus firmly established within history, according to the Eurocentric philosophy of modernity, bestowing upon them the exclusive status of canons, this exclusivity then becomes a barrier that one has to break through to claim one’s place in history.

So what African artists faced was a double task, both of producing something new within modernism but also of challenging and redefining its historical context beyond its Eurocentric legacy. The point I’m trying to assert is that African artists have indeed crossed the barrier of the white/European exclusivity of modern art history, and that this is where their historical achievement lies. In other words, Africa does have a place in modern art history, and it is the duty of Africa to claim this place. This place is not of a secondary nature but is fundamental to what would then provide African art or the Dakar Biennale with its historical context or framework.

How can Africa claim this historical context?
It is perfectly legitimate to critique the West and to demand from it whatever it owes to the others. It is also historically legitimate to demand that Western institutions should undergo their own decolonisation in order to liberate themselves as part of the liberation of humanity at large. Without this decolonisation they should have no claim to possessing humanist discourses of universal values; and it is our intellectual responsibility to expose them when they resist decolonisation and are involved in the perpetuation of lies about the others, their misrepresenta tion and ignorance of their true historical achievements.

But can we change the whole thing by merely critiquing the West or appealing to its sympathetic and benevolent liberalism and seeking its help? How can this liberalism help when it refuses to accept its responsibility within its own territory? Can the West really absolve itself of this responsibility? It would, however, be silly to reduce the West to a monolith unable to aspire to radical change, and not to recognise that there also exist voices of dissatisfaction and dissent. These voices can be our allies. As this problem is not exclusive to Africa or the others but is the legacy of colonialism that affects humanity at large, there is no reason why the radical elements in the West cannot play an important role in dealing with this problem. But they must first recognise the problem as their own problem and then be prepared to have a dialogue with those who have already been struggling to confront it.

However, the problem is not of a mechanical nature, in the sense that we can persuade the dominant discourse or its liberal institutions to accept the others among its ranks on the basis of equality between all artists irrespective of their different racial or cultural background. What I am alluding to is in fact a philosophical problem: how can we eliminate the idea of the Other, which continues to inflict the others with their colonial past and denies them a central place in the progress of humanity? Although this problem has already been somewhat dealt with by the other or African artists, as I have suggested earlier, and we have empirical evidence to claim their place in history, this claim cannot be dealt with successfully unless it is also dealt with in philosophy. It is imperative that the philosophical underpinning of the subject of history is decolonised and redefined, so that we are no longer inflicted by the idea of modern art as the exclusive monopoly of the white/European subject. In fact we need a new universal philosophy that recognises the equality of all races and cultures and their equal roles in the dynamic of emancipatory modernity that can lead us to a better future.

What, then, can Africa do in this respect? Of course Africa alone cannot do everything to deal with what is a vast problem beyond its own resources, both material and intellectual. However big the problem, Africa has no choice but to do the groundwork itself. It will have to take the first step itself to lay the foundation for an institute that is fundamental to this pursuit, which is of both and artistic and a philosophical nature. The institute can be in the form of an independent art museum of contemporary art representing art from all over Africa and also art produced by African artists abroad, but not exclusively; it can also be affiliated with an institute of higher learning – a pan-African university? However, whatever form it takes, it must have a compre hensive archive, which should provide resources for research work, leading to scholarship that can present Africa’s own interpretation of not only its own art but contemporary art in general. Using the available empirical evidence it can then proceed to assert Africa’s independent position within the modern history of art.

This need has also been expressed somewhat differently by Ery Camara, President of the Selection Committee and International Jury for DAK’ART 2002:

The working conditions of our African artists are most often not the best, because of lack of infrastructure, namely lack of proper space, promoters, collectors or sponsors, committed to turning the work of art something of a higher value than a trophy or a mere luxury article. I insist on this point because without a circulation process guaranteeing a successful approach to these works, most of them would end up, as before, in hands that draw more profit from them than us, or they would rot in attics, offices or, at times and unlawfully, in private collections. It is the responsibility of African intellectuals to remedy this lack of interest making our heritage vulnerable and at the mercy of perverse manipulations. … I fully understand that economic circumstances may impose limits to many of our projects but developing an organisation and a suitable space that would exhibit and promote a selection of the most representative of our artistic production would be most useful in monitoring, with keen interest, the development of arts in our community. We need a space within which a great number of analyses and interactions among visitors, artists and the arts would be expressed in order to record, over the span of time, the ideas subscribed to by each generation 13

My own proposition may appear as too idealistic, given the reality of Africa today. But a small start can be made in Dakar as part of its Biennale. If an institute with a comprehensive archive (comprising slides/ photos, already written and published material, catalogues, books, videos, etc) and a library stocking essential theoretical and philosophical material, is established in Dakar with facilities for research work, with the provision for scholarships for both resident and non-resident scholars, it will provide not only tremendous resources but also a historically viable framework for the Biennale. It can also operate as a base for the publication of a journal in which research papers are published on a regular basis. Publications of monographs on historically important African artists will add to its resources.

If the Dakar Biennale wants to play a historically important role in the development and evaluation of contemporary African art, it must now think hard instead of indulging in facile self-gratification. Merely collecting some artists and putting their works together and then calling it a Biennale is becoming a farce. The Dakar Biennale is too important to let it slip into being a mere spectacle. It was an extremely important historic moment in 1992 when Dakar took the initiative to launch the first African biennale, and it must now undertake this responsibility seriously. It is absurd for African artists to follow global trends emerging from the West, when the West is undergoing a serious crisis of the collapse of its enlightened bourgeois vision. All it now has is its marketplace where it celebrates its dehumanising decadence and sells it as a precious thing. Why does Africa want to be part of this decadence? It is somewhat true that ‘Western-dominated art is running out of steam’, but to believe that African artists in the Biennale are ‘affirming their independence’14 from it is a kind of fantasy that does not help them. On the contrary, by trapping them in this fantasy they are prevented from moving forward in a way that would assert their independence. The historical struggle of Africa demands that it should develop its own Direction, within modernity, and its own Vision. The Dakar Biennale can provide these if it can put its house in order, free itself from unimaginative bureaucracy, and let other people with knowledge, expertise and intellectual understanding of things come forward and help the Biennale realise it true objectives – and thus fulfil its historical responsibility.

African intellectuals have a particular responsibility in this respect, as Ery Camara has also pointed out. It is no good merely saying that we should show our solidarity with the Biennale and support it whatever it does. Why are the African artists and writers I have met in Dakar afraid of self-criticism? Self-criticism is fundamental to one’s growth and maturity, without which we allow ourselves to drift into the abyss of the narcissistic self and with it turn Africa into a spectacle of nothingness.

I should not, however, end my reflections with a negative note. I will therefore give the last word to Marie-José Crespin, President of the Scientific Council for DAK’ART 2002:

DAK’ART is a channel to the future that should lead us to the reconciled world to which we all aspire. It may sound utopian, but I sense this vital breath, which is ready to become a gust of wind that will blow across the planet.15

DAK’ART 2002, 5ème Biennale de l’Art Africain Contemporain, was held from 10 May to 10 June 2002, in Dakar, Senegal.


1 Marie-José Crespin, President of the Scientific Council of Dak’Art 2002, A Course Set by a Poet President, introductory statement for the catalogue of DAK’ART 2002, pp 12–13.

2 There were forty-four artists (their number shown in brackets) representing thirteen countries in this international section of the Biennale: Algeria (1), Benin (2), Burkina Fasso (1), Cameroon (2), Egypt (1), Ethiopia (1), Ivory Coast (4), Madagascar (1); Morocco (8), Nigeria (4), Senegal (13), South Africa (4), and Tunisia (2).

3 Bruno Cora, curator of the European artists at the ancien Palais de Juctice, Seeds of the 21st Century: From One to Several, a catalogue essay, DAK’ART 2002, pp 103–4.

4 N’Gone Fall, curator of the exhibition at the Musee de l’IFAN, the following quotes here are from her introductory essay Myth, Memory and Concept, catalogue DAK’ART 2002, pp 110–12.

5 Besides these three exhibitions, there were three more main shows: (1) three African artists from the diaspora, curated by Ery Camara, at the Maison de la Culture Douta Seck; (2) at the Galerie Nationale was a homage to Senegal’s popular artist Gora Mbengue; (3) and The African Design Salon, representing fifteen designers, at Espace Vema, which I found most interesting. There were also some small shows around the city, besides a week of discussion at the Forum des Arts Atelier, CICES.

6 Clementine Deliss, The Dakar Biennale 92: Where Internationalism Falls Apart, Third Text, no 23, Summer 1993, pp 136–41.

7 Brian Biggs, DAK’ART 96, Third Text, no 36, Autumn 1996, pp 83–6.

8 Katya Garcia-Anton, DAK’ART 98, Third Text, no 44, Autumn 1998, pp 87–92.

9 Ibid, p 87.

10 See Olu Oguibe, Appropriation as Nationalism in Modern African Art, Third Text, no 60 (16:3), September 2002, pp 243–60.

11 David Elliott, Dakar: Real Action, introductory essay, catalogue DAK’ART 2000, pp 14–16.

12 Jannis Kounellis is originally from Greece, but he has lived and worked in Italy. He is considered to be an important member of the Italian art movement Art Povera that emerged around the mid–1960s

13 Ery Camara, ‘Essential Undertaking in the Field of African Art’, introductory essay, catalogue DAK’ART 2002, pp 17–19.

14 Marie-José Crespin, op cit.

15 Ibid.

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Issue 46 / June 2020

Contemporary Art Biennales – Our Hegemonic Machines in Times of Emergency

by Ronald Kolb, Shwetal A. Patel, Dorothee Richter

by Daniel Knorr

by Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv

by Delia Popa

by Diana Dulgheru

by Daniel Knorr

by Farid Rakun

by Raqs Media Collective

by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala

by Ekaterina Degot

by Yung Ma

by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk

by Raluca Voinea

by Răzvan Ion

by Daniel Knorr

by Lara van Meeteren and Bart Wissink

by Raqs Media Collective

by Robert E. D’Souza

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WHW in conversation with Omar Kholeif

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by Catherine David

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