A statement about Who Belongs Here?

STATEMENT:

It has been 29 years since Who Belongs Here? An American Story was first published. When I sat down to write this book, I was processing the intense pain my students—Cambodian refugees as young as six—were experiencing every day in our school. They told me about how unwelcome they felt, about the slurs they were called. 

Much in the world has changed, some for the better. Much in the world, sadly, has not. 

When I wrote this book, my goal was to share the experiences of my students in as raw and real a way as possible. My job as a non-fiction writer of children’s books is to tell stories that change and open minds; part of that work is telling harsh truths. When I wrote this book, I made the decision to include direct quotes from my students, including references to the racist slurs they heard from their classmates. I did this with my students’ permission; several of them reviewed the text for accuracy. But the final text decisions were mine and I own them, and I did this with the intent of accurately portraying the horrendous verbal violence they faced. As time has passed, I realize the fact that these words remain in print, in a book by an author who has never myself been called these words, is inappropriate. 

What has changed in the world for the better is that I as a reader, writer, and teacher am increasingly attentive to creating spaces for affected people and communities to share their own stories. What has changed in the world for the better is that we know the power and necessity of leaving pejorative, disparaging, and insulting terms to be used only by the groups that know how much those words sting.

What has not changed in the world is virulent and destructive racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and how it can ruin the lives of people—including children. If I am truly anti-racist in my approach, I can   demonstrate how to share space with affected individuals and communities, including by not repeating offensive and harmful words when a description of the discrimination will suffice. 

I regret and apologize for including these slurs in the book. I  will request  revisions so that, if the book is ever printed again, they will not remain. Finally, I am grateful for the librarian  who courageously and graciously reached out to alert me to this issue. I believe in Who Belongs Here? as a book because its story is, sadly, still relevant to the US today.

EDITS TO TEXT:

Nary remembers his grandmother telling him that the US was going to be better than heaven—full of food and peace. Nary wants to live in peace, so he doesn’t understand why some of his classmates are mean to him. 

One day, as he is getting books out of his locker, a classmate shouted a racial slur at him, sayingays “Hey, chink, out of my way!.” 

“Yeah get back on the boat and go home where you belong,” says another. 

After school, Nary goes home and talks with his grandmother. He is mad and hurt by his classmates’ words. The next day, someone calls him aanother racial slur  gook and tells him he doesn’t belong in the US. Nary doesn’t want to be afraid to go to school. 

…In Maine, more than 8,000 miles from their homeland, my Cambodian students were puzzled by the comments of some classmates.  “What’s a chink?” tThey asked me to explain to them what these hateful words they heard from their classmates meant. “Why do they tell me to go back on the boat? I didn’t come on a boat.” 

Margy Burns Knight   9/22

STATEMENT:

It has been 29 years since Who Belongs Here? An American Story was first published. When I sat down to write this book, I was processing the intense pain my students—Cambodian refugees as young as six—were experiencing every day in our school. They told me about how unwelcome they felt, about the slurs they were called. 

Much in the world has changed, some for the better. Much in the world, sadly, has not. 

When I wrote this book, my goal was to share the experiences of my students in as raw and real a way as possible. My job as a non-fiction writer of children’s books is to tell stories that change and open minds; part of that work is telling harsh truths. When I wrote this book, I made the decision to include direct quotes from my students, including references to the racist slurs they heard from their classmates. I did this with my students’ permission; several of them reviewed the text for accuracy. But the final text decisions were mine and I own them, and I did this with the intent of accurately portraying the horrendous verbal violence they faced. As time has passed, I realize the fact that these words remain in print, in a book by an author who has never myself been called these words, is inappropriate. 

What has changed in the world for the better is that I as a reader, writer, and teacher am increasingly attentive to creating spaces for affected people and communities to share their own stories. What has changed in the world for the better is that we know the power and necessity of leaving pejorative, disparaging, and insulting terms to be used only by the groups that know how much those words sting.

What has not changed in the world is virulent and destructive racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and how it can ruin the lives of people—including children. If I am truly anti-racist in my approach, I can   demonstrate how to share space with affected individuals and communities, including by not repeating offensive and harmful words when a description of the discrimination will suffice. 

I regret and apologize for including these slurs in the book. I  will request  revisions so that, if the book is ever printed again, they will not remain. Finally, I am grateful for the librarian  who courageously and graciously reached out to alert me to this issue. I believe in Who Belongs Here? as a book because its story is, sadly, still relevant to the US today.

EDITS TO TEXT:

Nary remembers his grandmother telling him that the US was going to be better than heaven—full of food and peace. Nary wants to live in peace, so he doesn’t understand why some of his classmates are mean to him. 

One day, as he is getting books out of his locker, a classmate shouted a racial slur at him, sayingays “Hey, chink, out of my way!.” 

“Yeah get back on the boat and go home where you belong,” says another. 

After school, Nary goes home and talks with his grandmother. He is mad and hurt by his classmates’ words. The next day, someone calls him aanother racial slur  gook and tells him he doesn’t belong in the US. Nary doesn’t want to be afraid to go to school. 

…In Maine, more than 8,000 miles from their homeland, my Cambodian students were puzzled by the comments of some classmates.  “What’s a chink?” tThey asked me to explain to them what these hateful words they heard from their classmates meant. “Why do they tell me to go back on the boat? I didn’t come on a boat.” 

Margy Burns Knight   9/22

2nd Edition Africa Is Not A Country

Enter into the daily lives of children in the many countries of modern Africa.

Countering stereotypes, Africa Is Not a Country celebrates the extraordinary diversity of this vibrant continent. This edition includes updates to the text, statistics, and illustrations to reflect Africa in the 2020s.

“A lovely book about Africa that gets the issue of its enormous diversity right.” —Barbara Brown, Director, Africa in our Schools and Community Program, African Studies Center, Boston University

“A book every school must have as we emerge into the global village. Gives good insights into Africa’s many cultures, with a balance of the contemporary and traditional that is the way of life now.” —Oscar Mokeme, Director, Museum of African Tribal Art, Portland, Maine

https://lernerbooks.com/shop/show/21977

Mary McLeod Bethune Is Honored With a Statue at the Capitol

Statue of Black Educator Replaces Confederate General in U.S. Capitol

Mary McLeod Bethune is the first Black American to be represented in the National Statuary Hall. Her likeness replaces a statue honoring one of the last Confederate generals to surrender.

  • Dr. Bethune was honored for her work championing education and civil rights, and became the first Black American to be represented with a statue in National Statuary Hall, a central room of the United States Capitol Credit…Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

By April Rubin

July 13, 2022Updated 5:04 p.m. ET

Mary McLeod Bethune on Wednesday became the first Black American to be represented with a statue in National Statuary Hall, a central room of the United States Capitol, honored for her work championing education and civil rights.

Bethune, whose statue replaces one of a Confederate general, became an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and an advocate for Black Americans from the schoolhouse to the White House. The school she founded with $1.50 eventually became Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university in Daytona Beach, Fla.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who hosted the dedication ceremony, called Bethune “the pride of Florida and America,” and said it was “poetic” for her likeness to replace that of “a little-known Confederate general,” Edmund Kirby Smith, who was among the last to surrender after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

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His statue was removed in 2021. Ms. Pelosi called it “trading a traitor for a civil rights hero.”

The House voted last year to remove statues honoring Confederate leaders and other white supremacists from display at the Capitol. That bill and others like it come amid a yearslong debate over the replacement of statues as well as names on buildings, streets and universities that memorialize racist figures. Critics say it is better to celebrate figures who contributed to the struggle for equal rights.

There are many signs of Bethune’s legacy at the university she led for 30 years, said Lawrence M. Drake II, the interim president of Bethune-Cookman University. She practiced experiential teaching as an educator, a philosophy that pairs activities with lesson material, he said.

“Our hearts are rejoicing today seeing our founder and namesake take her rightful place among the most distinguished Americans,” he said.

The statue, carved in white marble from the same quarry as Michelangelo’s David, depicts Bethune in graduation regalia and a cap with books. She is holding a black rose, which she once described as a symbol of acceptance of students’ individuality. In her other hand, she holds a cane that was given to her by Roosevelt.

The inscription is one of her best-known quotes: “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it may be a diamond in the rough.”

The artist, Nilda Comas, is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is the first Hispanic sculptor to create a piece for the National Statuary Hall. Each state sends two statues of prominent citizens to represent it in Statuary Hall, an ornate, amphitheater-style room just off the House floor, or elsewhere in the Capitol.

“We can’t change history, but we can certainly make it clear that which we honor and that which we do not honor,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said last year. “Symbols of hate and division have no place in the halls of Congress.”

A Senate version of the bill to remove Confederate statues from public display at the Capitol was introduced last year by Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, but it has not advanced.

Statues can be replaced only with the approval of a state Legislature and governor. Senator Rick Scott, a Republican and a former governor of Florida, started the process of commemorating Bethune.

Representative Val Demings, Democrat of Florida, said at the ceremony that her parents taught her about Bethune’s legacy of public service. Ms. Demings, who was given an honorary doctorate from Bethune-Cookman University, said she still looked up to her.

“Her labor of love could not be contained in her years on this earth,” Ms. Demings said. “Her contributions will touch generations yet unborn. She was bold, courageous. And although her journey had its triumphs and its struggles, Dr. Mary Bethune never wavered.”

Born in 1875 in South Carolina, Bethune was a daughter of formerly enslaved people and “became one of the most important Black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the twentieth century,” according to the National Women’s History Museum.

She and her husband, Albertus Bethune, eventually moved with their son to Palatka, in northeastern Florida. After her marriage ended, Bethune opened a boarding school in 1904 with $1.50 and an enrollment of just five students. The school became Bethune-Cookman College by 1931 and, in 2007, Bethune-Cookman University.

She founded organizations that advocated for expanding voter registration and granting women the right to vote, and worked with the N.A.A.C.P. and the United Nations to end discrimination and lynching.

In 1936, Roosevelt named Bethune the point person for Black youth at the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency focused on employment for young people, making her the highest-ranking Black woman in government. She was also a leader of his unofficial “Black cabinet,” according to the National Women’s History Museum, and formed a friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Bethune worked to make Americans believe that Black lives matter, Representative Frederica S. Wilson, Democrat of Florida, said at the ceremony. As a child who started her life working in the fields, Ms. Wilson said, Bethune realized that an education was the way out — for herself and for those who came after her.

Bethune was the youngest of 17 siblings and the first of them to learn to read.

“Today we are rewriting the history we want to share with our future generations,” Ms. Wilson said. “We are replacing a remnant of hatred and division with a symbol of hope and inspiration.”

Bethune wrote a “last will and testament” essay in 1954, the year before she died, about the legacy she wanted to leave for future generations. Many speakers at the ceremony referenced it.

“If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving,” she wrote. “As I face tomorrow, I am content, for I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of peace, progress, brotherhood, and love.”

African Art speaks in all its voices!

ADVERTISEMENT Continue reading the main story https://4e2eafe49dce5972b93d6774e90bf2c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html In Dakar, African Art Speaks in All Its Voices In its first pandemic-era edition, the Dakar Biennale, Africa’s biggest art gathering, is uneven, hectic — and full of possibility. Give this article By Siddhartha Mitter June 15, 2022 DAKAR, Senegal — Despite the rise to prominence of African contemporary …

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In Dakar, African Art Speaks in All Its Voices

In its first pandemic-era edition, the Dakar Biennale, Africa’s biggest art gathering, is uneven, hectic — and full of possibility.

  • Give this article
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

By Siddhartha Mitter

June 15, 2022

DAKAR, Senegal — Despite the rise to prominence of African contemporary art, its terms are still largely influenced by foreign validators: the mainly Western museums, galleries, collectors and auction houses whose attention anoints stars and assigns value.

In African cities, state support for the arts can be anemic as a result of decades of budgetary pressure, notably from lenders like the International Monetary Fund. Foreign cultural agencies like the Institut Français or Goethe-Institut are often the major arts presenters, and thus gatekeepers.

But every two years, the tables turn. For the five hectic weeks of the Dakar Biennale of African Contemporary Art, cultural producers from the continent and its diaspora converge here for the largest, densest artistic gathering — and most enduring, now in its 14th edition — on Africa’s terrain and its own terms, funded principally by Senegal’s government.

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This year’s Biennale, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, is titled “I Ndaffa,” a Serer expression that the artistic director, El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, an art historian, translated as “Out of the Fire,” alluding to a forge, where material is transformed and meanings are made. The city itself is its cauldron, with a sprawling program of some 500 satellite exhibitions and events — known as “Le Off” — throughout this busy capital, stretching to its outskirts and secondary towns.

“Dakar sets the tone and temperature of the African contemporary scene,” said the Cameroonian filmmaker Pascale Obolo, who is based in Paris. She traveled here to direct an art-book fair in a plaza on the seafront Route de la Corniche, featuring two dozen independent African presses and magazines.

Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.

Elsewhere, at an art center in the Ouakam neighborhood, the Egyptian director Jihan El-Tahri convened a work session on African image and sound archives, then threw the doors open for public rooftop performances. In Popenguine, a coastal village, the Ghanaian curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim set up a “mobile museum” with local artists and residents.

This intellectual effervescence, the sense of myriad projects being hatched or advanced with a Pan-Africanist or Global South orientation, is a characteristic energy of the Dakar Biennale that resonates beyond its main curated events. Indeed, many regulars say they come mostly for the Off. (The main show ends June 21; many Off events continue.)

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The Biennale’s approach is maximalist, borderline overwhelming, but favors discoveries. The flagship curated show, held in a Modernist former courthouse that is now maintained in an evocative state of decay, abounds in new names selected by an open call. And the Off spans a wild gamut of razor-sharp conceptual projects, retrospectives of Senegalese painters, gallery shows of emerging talent, design pop-ups, community projects, glorified tourist art.

But beyond the sheer energy and cornucopia, the stakes in the field have shifted in ways that challenge Dakar and other exhibitions to do more. In the four years since the last Biennale new horizons have opened for African art-making, and more deeply, African ideas in the world.

Restitution is the busiest front. After decades of inaction, the return of objects obtained through colonial plundering is on the agenda. A gathering stream of handovers — notably by France to Benin last November — is prompting investments in new venues to exhibit these objects, but also projects by contemporary artists reflecting on their return.

At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.

At Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in 2018, the Black French actress Nathalie Vairac, face daubed in kaolin, performed as a Punu mask from Gabon — of a type that has fetched up to $400,000 at auction — in “Supreme Remains,” a play by the Rwandan writer and director Dorcy Rugamba. The story followed the mask’s journey through colonial homes and collections, emphasizing the accumulating alienation from its roots and cultural harm.

On Gorée, Dakar’s historic island neighborhood and a remembrance site of the Middle Passage, the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula, accompanied by a trumpet player, gave a spare and affecting performance that examined the cultural and even spiritual stakes when a statue returns to its ancestral community, re-entering a changed world.

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The Cameroonian artist Hervé Youmbi offers his own solution. At the Théodore Monod Museum of African Art, he flanks a traditional mask from Senegal’s Diola people with ones of his making that mix forms from different regions and unconventional materials like denim. A video shows his new hybrid masks in ceremonial use in Cameroon and Senegal. A shipping crate and two wall texts — one written in an ethnographic-museum style, the other contemporary — complete the installation.

“All is in the hands of those who make the objects,” Youmbi said. “Why be hostage to pieces that are outside Africa? We can produce new ones and move forward.”

The market remains a distorting lens. Foreign collectors of African contemporary art are currently obsessed with the current trend of figurative painting and Black portraiture, notably from Ghana, but for many here the work fails to impress. African contemporary art museums, whose acquisitions might send different value signals, are still desperately rare.

Seen from the continent, the United States and Europe these days seem out of ideas, stuck in social crises and democratic decline. Lectures on “good governance” have lost their force. For renewed African artistic visions of society, community and ecology, the field has rarely been this open. “We have to write our own histories of contemporary art,” Obolo said. “We can’t miss the boat this time.”

Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.

In the atrium of the old courthouse, with slender columns around a garden, Ndiaye, the artistic director, said he built the main show’s roster of 59 artists with a bias toward the open call. “You give a chance to those in early career,” he said. “This Biennale is intended as democratic.”

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Highlights include work by the Cameroonian artist Jeanne Kamptchouang, who greeted visitors wearing a mirrored contraption on his head. His floor installation, which incorporates broken-down chairs, mirrors and plastic barrels employed in Dakar to deter sidewalk parking, read as beguiling urban poetry.

Louisa Marajo, a Paris-based artist with roots in Martinique, created a kind of shipwreck site from paint, photo collage, peeling paper and crates to evoke the natural and human disasters that shaped Caribbean migration. “The idea is permanent voyage and generative fire,” she said.

One emerging Senegalese artist, Caroline Gueye, built a trippy walk-in installation, all mirrors and blue light and silver foil. It evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes, said Gueye, who trained as an astrophysicist.

Among other notable entries, the small, tightly coiled metal sculptures by Kokou Ferdinand Makouvia hold a gnomic appeal. An installation of video and archival documents from Fluxus do Atlantico Sul, a collective in Bahia, Brazil, traces Afro-Brazilian connections. A large mixed-media work (including cow dung) by the Kenyan painter Kaloki Nyamai, on unstretched canvas that spills onto the floor, imbues a domestic scene with a sense of frayed history.

The Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey, and it mixes in smart, compact shows by guest curators, all women, among its voices — notably the presentation by Greer Valley, a Johannesburg-based scholar, showing conceptual artists from the sharp South African scene. But does it meet the moment? Designed before the pandemic, with few intervening tweaks, the flagship show now lacks urgency.

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Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.

The city picks up the slack, providing not just invigorating context for the Biennale but subject matter for some memorable entries. In the main exhibition, Adji Dieye has built a fan-like metal lattice on which she stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs from Senegal’s archives. A full room-size installation by Emmanuel Tussore brings in sand from Dakar’s beaches, steel beams from its construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

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And with an extraordinary walk-in installation in the main show, and a solo exhibition in the Off, at Vema Gallery, Fally Sène Sow, who draws inspiration from his home neighborhood of Colobane, a nonstop hub of commerce and traffic, turns intricate scale models into sound-and-sculpture hallucinations of a city under mounting ecological siege.

Dakar’s commercial gallery scene is very much alive: Cécile Fakhoury is showing a smart exhibition of prints by Binta Diaw; Selebe Yoon offers a retrospective of the painter El Hadj Sy; and OH Gallery, which Océane Harati founded in 2019 in the Maginot building downtown, displays an immense installation in the building’s ground-floor hall — separate works by Oumar Ball, Aliou Diack, and Patrick-Joël Tacheda Yonkeu — that combine into a kind of grand earthworks and bestiary.

The gallery sells works for up to $100,000 abroad, Harati said, but most buyers are local. Her artists make small pieces aimed at new collectors — and small budgets. “There was no niche for new collectors,” she said. “We want to valorize small formats so people who buy them feel considered.”

Art-world glamour has alighted in Dakar with Black Rock, the posh seafront residency established by Kehinde Wiley. For the Biennale season, Wiley funded the renovation of a cultural center in the old Medina neighborhood and held an exhibition of Black Rock’s residents — 40 of them, since 2019 — and several Senegalese artists. The opening featured a concert by the Nigerian singer Teni.

At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.

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But some of the strongest work on view in Dakar this season stems from slow, deeper engagement. Several years ago, the Vietnamese American artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen began visiting members of the Senegalese Vietnamese community, the children and grandchildren of the Vietnamese women married to Senegalese soldiers who fought in the French army during the Indochina War.

These were byproducts of empire — men denied full pensions by France, women seeking their bearings in West African culture, children raised amid secrets and shame. In Vietnam they were forgotten; in Senegal taken for granted. Nguyen’s four-channel video installation, “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming” tells their story poetically, and collaboratively.

The project had its homecoming at the Raw Material Company art space, accompanied by an exhibition of family photographs of Nguyen’s interviewees. Several of them gathered with him for the show’s emotional opening. “Our stories are little-known,” said Marie Thiva Tran, who is featured, with understatement. “But they are not uninteresting.”

In Dakar, Nguyen said, he had found rich exchanges with fellow artists on post-colonial experiences — and in the process, formed a commitment to the city. “Working here has expanded m

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In Dakar, African Art Speaks in All Its Voices

In its first pandemic-era edition, the Dakar Biennale, Africa’s biggest art gathering, is uneven, hectic — and full of possibility.

  • Give this article
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

By Siddhartha Mitter

June 15, 2022

DAKAR, Senegal — Despite the rise to prominence of African contemporary art, its terms are still largely influenced by foreign validators: the mainly Western museums, galleries, collectors and auction houses whose attention anoints stars and assigns value.

In African cities, state support for the arts can be anemic as a result of decades of budgetary pressure, notably from lenders like the International Monetary Fund. Foreign cultural agencies like the Institut Français or Goethe-Institut are often the major arts presenters, and thus gatekeepers.

But every two years, the tables turn. For the five hectic weeks of the Dakar Biennale of African Contemporary Art, cultural producers from the continent and its diaspora converge here for the largest, densest artistic gathering — and most enduring, now in its 14th edition — on Africa’s terrain and its own terms, funded principally by Senegal’s government.

ADVERTISEMENT

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This year’s Biennale, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, is titled “I Ndaffa,” a Serer expression that the artistic director, El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, an art historian, translated as “Out of the Fire,” alluding to a forge, where material is transformed and meanings are made. The city itself is its cauldron, with a sprawling program of some 500 satellite exhibitions and events — known as “Le Off” — throughout this busy capital, stretching to its outskirts and secondary towns.

“Dakar sets the tone and temperature of the African contemporary scene,” said the Cameroonian filmmaker Pascale Obolo, who is based in Paris. She traveled here to direct an art-book fair in a plaza on the seafront Route de la Corniche, featuring two dozen independent African presses and magazines.

Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.

Elsewhere, at an art center in the Ouakam neighborhood, the Egyptian director Jihan El-Tahri convened a work session on African image and sound archives, then threw the doors open for public rooftop performances. In Popenguine, a coastal village, the Ghanaian curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim set up a “mobile museum” with local artists and residents.

This intellectual effervescence, the sense of myriad projects being hatched or advanced with a Pan-Africanist or Global South orientation, is a characteristic energy of the Dakar Biennale that resonates beyond its main curated events. Indeed, many regulars say they come mostly for the Off. (The main show ends June 21; many Off events continue.)

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The Biennale’s approach is maximalist, borderline overwhelming, but favors discoveries. The flagship curated show, held in a Modernist former courthouse that is now maintained in an evocative state of decay, abounds in new names selected by an open call. And the Off spans a wild gamut of razor-sharp conceptual projects, retrospectives of Senegalese painters, gallery shows of emerging talent, design pop-ups, community projects, glorified tourist art.

But beyond the sheer energy and cornucopia, the stakes in the field have shifted in ways that challenge Dakar and other exhibitions to do more. In the four years since the last Biennale new horizons have opened for African art-making, and more deeply, African ideas in the world.

Restitution is the busiest front. After decades of inaction, the return of objects obtained through colonial plundering is on the agenda. A gathering stream of handovers — notably by France to Benin last November — is prompting investments in new venues to exhibit these objects, but also projects by contemporary artists reflecting on their return.

At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.

At Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in 2018, the Black French actress Nathalie Vairac, face daubed in kaolin, performed as a Punu mask from Gabon — of a type that has fetched up to $400,000 at auction — in “Supreme Remains,” a play by the Rwandan writer and director Dorcy Rugamba. The story followed the mask’s journey through colonial homes and collections, emphasizing the accumulating alienation from its roots and cultural harm.

On Gorée, Dakar’s historic island neighborhood and a remembrance site of the Middle Passage, the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula, accompanied by a trumpet player, gave a spare and affecting performance that examined the cultural and even spiritual stakes when a statue returns to its ancestral community, re-entering a changed world.

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The Cameroonian artist Hervé Youmbi offers his own solution. At the Théodore Monod Museum of African Art, he flanks a traditional mask from Senegal’s Diola people with ones of his making that mix forms from different regions and unconventional materials like denim. A video shows his new hybrid masks in ceremonial use in Cameroon and Senegal. A shipping crate and two wall texts — one written in an ethnographic-museum style, the other contemporary — complete the installation.

“All is in the hands of those who make the objects,” Youmbi said. “Why be hostage to pieces that are outside Africa? We can produce new ones and move forward.”

The market remains a distorting lens. Foreign collectors of African contemporary art are currently obsessed with the current trend of figurative painting and Black portraiture, notably from Ghana, but for many here the work fails to impress. African contemporary art museums, whose acquisitions might send different value signals, are still desperately rare.

Seen from the continent, the United States and Europe these days seem out of ideas, stuck in social crises and democratic decline. Lectures on “good governance” have lost their force. For renewed African artistic visions of society, community and ecology, the field has rarely been this open. “We have to write our own histories of contemporary art,” Obolo said. “We can’t miss the boat this time.”

Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.

In the atrium of the old courthouse, with slender columns around a garden, Ndiaye, the artistic director, said he built the main show’s roster of 59 artists with a bias toward the open call. “You give a chance to those in early career,” he said. “This Biennale is intended as democratic.”

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https://4e2eafe49dce5972b93d6774e90bf2c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Highlights include work by the Cameroonian artist Jeanne Kamptchouang, who greeted visitors wearing a mirrored contraption on his head. His floor installation, which incorporates broken-down chairs, mirrors and plastic barrels employed in Dakar to deter sidewalk parking, read as beguiling urban poetry.

Louisa Marajo, a Paris-based artist with roots in Martinique, created a kind of shipwreck site from paint, photo collage, peeling paper and crates to evoke the natural and human disasters that shaped Caribbean migration. “The idea is permanent voyage and generative fire,” she said.

One emerging Senegalese artist, Caroline Gueye, built a trippy walk-in installation, all mirrors and blue light and silver foil. It evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes, said Gueye, who trained as an astrophysicist.

Among other notable entries, the small, tightly coiled metal sculptures by Kokou Ferdinand Makouvia hold a gnomic appeal. An installation of video and archival documents from Fluxus do Atlantico Sul, a collective in Bahia, Brazil, traces Afro-Brazilian connections. A large mixed-media work (including cow dung) by the Kenyan painter Kaloki Nyamai, on unstretched canvas that spills onto the floor, imbues a domestic scene with a sense of frayed history.

The Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey, and it mixes in smart, compact shows by guest curators, all women, among its voices — notably the presentation by Greer Valley, a Johannesburg-based scholar, showing conceptual artists from the sharp South African scene. But does it meet the moment? Designed before the pandemic, with few intervening tweaks, the flagship show now lacks urgency.

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A Filmmaker Imagines a Japan Where the Elderly Volunteer to DieJayson Tatum Knew He Could Have Had His MomentHow Louis Theroux Became a ‘Jiggle Jiggle’ Sensation at Age 52

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Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.

The city picks up the slack, providing not just invigorating context for the Biennale but subject matter for some memorable entries. In the main exhibition, Adji Dieye has built a fan-like metal lattice on which she stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs from Senegal’s archives. A full room-size installation by Emmanuel Tussore brings in sand from Dakar’s beaches, steel beams from its construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

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And with an extraordinary walk-in installation in the main show, and a solo exhibition in the Off, at Vema Gallery, Fally Sène Sow, who draws inspiration from his home neighborhood of Colobane, a nonstop hub of commerce and traffic, turns intricate scale models into sound-and-sculpture hallucinations of a city under mounting ecological siege.

Dakar’s commercial gallery scene is very much alive: Cécile Fakhoury is showing a smart exhibition of prints by Binta Diaw; Selebe Yoon offers a retrospective of the painter El Hadj Sy; and OH Gallery, which Océane Harati founded in 2019 in the Maginot building downtown, displays an immense installation in the building’s ground-floor hall — separate works by Oumar Ball, Aliou Diack, and Patrick-Joël Tacheda Yonkeu — that combine into a kind of grand earthworks and bestiary.

The gallery sells works for up to $100,000 abroad, Harati said, but most buyers are local. Her artists make small pieces aimed at new collectors — and small budgets. “There was no niche for new collectors,” she said. “We want to valorize small formats so people who buy them feel considered.”

Art-world glamour has alighted in Dakar with Black Rock, the posh seafront residency established by Kehinde Wiley. For the Biennale season, Wiley funded the renovation of a cultural center in the old Medina neighborhood and held an exhibition of Black Rock’s residents — 40 of them, since 2019 — and several Senegalese artists. The opening featured a concert by the Nigerian singer Teni.

At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.

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But some of the strongest work on view in Dakar this season stems from slow, deeper engagement. Several years ago, the Vietnamese American artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen began visiting members of the Senegalese Vietnamese community, the children and grandchildren of the Vietnamese women married to Senegalese soldiers who fought in the French army during the Indochina War.

These were byproducts of empire — men denied full pensions by France, women seeking their bearings in West African culture, children raised amid secrets and shame. In Vietnam they were forgotten; in Senegal taken for granted. Nguyen’s four-channel video installation, “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming” tells their story poetically, and collaboratively.

The project had its homecoming at the Raw Material Company art space, accompanied by an exhibition of family photographs of Nguyen’s interviewees. Several of them gathered with him for the show’s emotional opening. “Our stories are little-known,” said Marie Thiva Tran, who is featured, with understatement. “But they are not uninteresting.”

In Dakar, Nguyen said, he had found rich exchanges with fellow artists on post-colonial experiences — and in the process, formed a commitment to the city. “Working here has expanded my thinking about multiple diasporas,” he said. “Dakar feels like another home for me now.”

y thinking about multiple diasporas,” he said. “Dakar feels like another home for me now.”

ADVERTISEMENT Continue reading the main story https://4e2eafe49dce5972b93d6774e90bf2c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html In Dakar, African Art Speaks in All Its Voices In its first pandemic-era edition, the Dakar Biennale, Africa’s biggest art gathering, is uneven, hectic — and full of possibility. Give this article By Siddhartha Mitter June 15, 2022 DAKAR, Senegal — Despite the rise to prominence of African contemporary …

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In Dakar, African Art Speaks in All Its Voices

In its first pandemic-era edition, the Dakar Biennale, Africa’s biggest art gathering, is uneven, hectic — and full of possibility.

  • Give this article
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

By Siddhartha Mitter

June 15, 2022

DAKAR, Senegal — Despite the rise to prominence of African contemporary art, its terms are still largely influenced by foreign validators: the mainly Western museums, galleries, collectors and auction houses whose attention anoints stars and assigns value.

In African cities, state support for the arts can be anemic as a result of decades of budgetary pressure, notably from lenders like the International Monetary Fund. Foreign cultural agencies like the Institut Français or Goethe-Institut are often the major arts presenters, and thus gatekeepers.

But every two years, the tables turn. For the five hectic weeks of the Dakar Biennale of African Contemporary Art, cultural producers from the continent and its diaspora converge here for the largest, densest artistic gathering — and most enduring, now in its 14th edition — on Africa’s terrain and its own terms, funded principally by Senegal’s government.

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This year’s Biennale, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, is titled “I Ndaffa,” a Serer expression that the artistic director, El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, an art historian, translated as “Out of the Fire,” alluding to a forge, where material is transformed and meanings are made. The city itself is its cauldron, with a sprawling program of some 500 satellite exhibitions and events — known as “Le Off” — throughout this busy capital, stretching to its outskirts and secondary towns.

“Dakar sets the tone and temperature of the African contemporary scene,” said the Cameroonian filmmaker Pascale Obolo, who is based in Paris. She traveled here to direct an art-book fair in a plaza on the seafront Route de la Corniche, featuring two dozen independent African presses and magazines.

Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.

Elsewhere, at an art center in the Ouakam neighborhood, the Egyptian director Jihan El-Tahri convened a work session on African image and sound archives, then threw the doors open for public rooftop performances. In Popenguine, a coastal village, the Ghanaian curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim set up a “mobile museum” with local artists and residents.

This intellectual effervescence, the sense of myriad projects being hatched or advanced with a Pan-Africanist or Global South orientation, is a characteristic energy of the Dakar Biennale that resonates beyond its main curated events. Indeed, many regulars say they come mostly for the Off. (The main show ends June 21; many Off events continue.)

ADVERTISEMENT

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https://4e2eafe49dce5972b93d6774e90bf2c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The Biennale’s approach is maximalist, borderline overwhelming, but favors discoveries. The flagship curated show, held in a Modernist former courthouse that is now maintained in an evocative state of decay, abounds in new names selected by an open call. And the Off spans a wild gamut of razor-sharp conceptual projects, retrospectives of Senegalese painters, gallery shows of emerging talent, design pop-ups, community projects, glorified tourist art.

But beyond the sheer energy and cornucopia, the stakes in the field have shifted in ways that challenge Dakar and other exhibitions to do more. In the four years since the last Biennale new horizons have opened for African art-making, and more deeply, African ideas in the world.

Restitution is the busiest front. After decades of inaction, the return of objects obtained through colonial plundering is on the agenda. A gathering stream of handovers — notably by France to Benin last November — is prompting investments in new venues to exhibit these objects, but also projects by contemporary artists reflecting on their return.

At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.

At Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in 2018, the Black French actress Nathalie Vairac, face daubed in kaolin, performed as a Punu mask from Gabon — of a type that has fetched up to $400,000 at auction — in “Supreme Remains,” a play by the Rwandan writer and director Dorcy Rugamba. The story followed the mask’s journey through colonial homes and collections, emphasizing the accumulating alienation from its roots and cultural harm.

On Gorée, Dakar’s historic island neighborhood and a remembrance site of the Middle Passage, the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula, accompanied by a trumpet player, gave a spare and affecting performance that examined the cultural and even spiritual stakes when a statue returns to its ancestral community, re-entering a changed world.

ADVERTISEMENT

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The Cameroonian artist Hervé Youmbi offers his own solution. At the Théodore Monod Museum of African Art, he flanks a traditional mask from Senegal’s Diola people with ones of his making that mix forms from different regions and unconventional materials like denim. A video shows his new hybrid masks in ceremonial use in Cameroon and Senegal. A shipping crate and two wall texts — one written in an ethnographic-museum style, the other contemporary — complete the installation.

“All is in the hands of those who make the objects,” Youmbi said. “Why be hostage to pieces that are outside Africa? We can produce new ones and move forward.”

The market remains a distorting lens. Foreign collectors of African contemporary art are currently obsessed with the current trend of figurative painting and Black portraiture, notably from Ghana, but for many here the work fails to impress. African contemporary art museums, whose acquisitions might send different value signals, are still desperately rare.

Seen from the continent, the United States and Europe these days seem out of ideas, stuck in social crises and democratic decline. Lectures on “good governance” have lost their force. For renewed African artistic visions of society, community and ecology, the field has rarely been this open. “We have to write our own histories of contemporary art,” Obolo said. “We can’t miss the boat this time.”

Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.

In the atrium of the old courthouse, with slender columns around a garden, Ndiaye, the artistic director, said he built the main show’s roster of 59 artists with a bias toward the open call. “You give a chance to those in early career,” he said. “This Biennale is intended as democratic.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Continue reading the main story

https://4e2eafe49dce5972b93d6774e90bf2c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Highlights include work by the Cameroonian artist Jeanne Kamptchouang, who greeted visitors wearing a mirrored contraption on his head. His floor installation, which incorporates broken-down chairs, mirrors and plastic barrels employed in Dakar to deter sidewalk parking, read as beguiling urban poetry.

Louisa Marajo, a Paris-based artist with roots in Martinique, created a kind of shipwreck site from paint, photo collage, peeling paper and crates to evoke the natural and human disasters that shaped Caribbean migration. “The idea is permanent voyage and generative fire,” she said.

One emerging Senegalese artist, Caroline Gueye, built a trippy walk-in installation, all mirrors and blue light and silver foil. It evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes, said Gueye, who trained as an astrophysicist.

Among other notable entries, the small, tightly coiled metal sculptures by Kokou Ferdinand Makouvia hold a gnomic appeal. An installation of video and archival documents from Fluxus do Atlantico Sul, a collective in Bahia, Brazil, traces Afro-Brazilian connections. A large mixed-media work (including cow dung) by the Kenyan painter Kaloki Nyamai, on unstretched canvas that spills onto the floor, imbues a domestic scene with a sense of frayed history.

The Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey, and it mixes in smart, compact shows by guest curators, all women, among its voices — notably the presentation by Greer Valley, a Johannesburg-based scholar, showing conceptual artists from the sharp South African scene. But does it meet the moment? Designed before the pandemic, with few intervening tweaks, the flagship show now lacks urgency.

Editors’ Picks

A Filmmaker Imagines a Japan Where the Elderly Volunteer to DieJayson Tatum Knew He Could Have Had His MomentHow Louis Theroux Became a ‘Jiggle Jiggle’ Sensation at Age 52

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Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.

The city picks up the slack, providing not just invigorating context for the Biennale but subject matter for some memorable entries. In the main exhibition, Adji Dieye has built a fan-like metal lattice on which she stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs from Senegal’s archives. A full room-size installation by Emmanuel Tussore brings in sand from Dakar’s beaches, steel beams from its construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

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https://4e2eafe49dce5972b93d6774e90bf2c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

And with an extraordinary walk-in installation in the main show, and a solo exhibition in the Off, at Vema Gallery, Fally Sène Sow, who draws inspiration from his home neighborhood of Colobane, a nonstop hub of commerce and traffic, turns intricate scale models into sound-and-sculpture hallucinations of a city under mounting ecological siege.

Dakar’s commercial gallery scene is very much alive: Cécile Fakhoury is showing a smart exhibition of prints by Binta Diaw; Selebe Yoon offers a retrospective of the painter El Hadj Sy; and OH Gallery, which Océane Harati founded in 2019 in the Maginot building downtown, displays an immense installation in the building’s ground-floor hall — separate works by Oumar Ball, Aliou Diack, and Patrick-Joël Tacheda Yonkeu — that combine into a kind of grand earthworks and bestiary.

The gallery sells works for up to $100,000 abroad, Harati said, but most buyers are local. Her artists make small pieces aimed at new collectors — and small budgets. “There was no niche for new collectors,” she said. “We want to valorize small formats so people who buy them feel considered.”

Art-world glamour has alighted in Dakar with Black Rock, the posh seafront residency established by Kehinde Wiley. For the Biennale season, Wiley funded the renovation of a cultural center in the old Medina neighborhood and held an exhibition of Black Rock’s residents — 40 of them, since 2019 — and several Senegalese artists. The opening featured a concert by the Nigerian singer Teni.

At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.

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But some of the strongest work on view in Dakar this season stems from slow, deeper engagement. Several years ago, the Vietnamese American artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen began visiting members of the Senegalese Vietnamese community, the children and grandchildren of the Vietnamese women married to Senegalese soldiers who fought in the French army during the Indochina War.

These were byproducts of empire — men denied full pensions by France, women seeking their bearings in West African culture, children raised amid secrets and shame. In Vietnam they were forgotten; in Senegal taken for granted. Nguyen’s four-channel video installation, “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming” tells their story poetically, and collaboratively.

The project had its homecoming at the Raw Material Company art space, accompanied by an exhibition of family photographs of Nguyen’s interviewees. Several of them gathered with him for the show’s emotional opening. “Our stories are little-known,” said Marie Thiva Tran, who is featured, with understatement. “But they are not uninteresting.”

In Dakar, Nguyen said, he had found rich exchanges with fellow artists on post-colonial experiences — and in the process, formed a commitment to the city. “Working here has expanded m

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Continue reading the main story

https://4e2eafe49dce5972b93d6774e90bf2c5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

In Dakar, African Art Speaks in All Its Voices

In its first pandemic-era edition, the Dakar Biennale, Africa’s biggest art gathering, is uneven, hectic — and full of possibility.

  • Give this article
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
“De Cruce” by Emmanuel Tussore at the Dakar Biennale’s official exhibition at the former Palace of Justice in Senegal’s capital city. A room-size installation brought in sand from beaches, steel beams from construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

By Siddhartha Mitter

June 15, 2022

DAKAR, Senegal — Despite the rise to prominence of African contemporary art, its terms are still largely influenced by foreign validators: the mainly Western museums, galleries, collectors and auction houses whose attention anoints stars and assigns value.

In African cities, state support for the arts can be anemic as a result of decades of budgetary pressure, notably from lenders like the International Monetary Fund. Foreign cultural agencies like the Institut Français or Goethe-Institut are often the major arts presenters, and thus gatekeepers.

But every two years, the tables turn. For the five hectic weeks of the Dakar Biennale of African Contemporary Art, cultural producers from the continent and its diaspora converge here for the largest, densest artistic gathering — and most enduring, now in its 14th edition — on Africa’s terrain and its own terms, funded principally by Senegal’s government.

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This year’s Biennale, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, is titled “I Ndaffa,” a Serer expression that the artistic director, El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, an art historian, translated as “Out of the Fire,” alluding to a forge, where material is transformed and meanings are made. The city itself is its cauldron, with a sprawling program of some 500 satellite exhibitions and events — known as “Le Off” — throughout this busy capital, stretching to its outskirts and secondary towns.

“Dakar sets the tone and temperature of the African contemporary scene,” said the Cameroonian filmmaker Pascale Obolo, who is based in Paris. She traveled here to direct an art-book fair in a plaza on the seafront Route de la Corniche, featuring two dozen independent African presses and magazines.

Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Near the entrance to the African Art Book Fair on the seafront, part of “the Off,” as the Dakar Biennale’s off-site exhibitions are known.

Elsewhere, at an art center in the Ouakam neighborhood, the Egyptian director Jihan El-Tahri convened a work session on African image and sound archives, then threw the doors open for public rooftop performances. In Popenguine, a coastal village, the Ghanaian curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim set up a “mobile museum” with local artists and residents.

This intellectual effervescence, the sense of myriad projects being hatched or advanced with a Pan-Africanist or Global South orientation, is a characteristic energy of the Dakar Biennale that resonates beyond its main curated events. Indeed, many regulars say they come mostly for the Off. (The main show ends June 21; many Off events continue.)

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The Biennale’s approach is maximalist, borderline overwhelming, but favors discoveries. The flagship curated show, held in a Modernist former courthouse that is now maintained in an evocative state of decay, abounds in new names selected by an open call. And the Off spans a wild gamut of razor-sharp conceptual projects, retrospectives of Senegalese painters, gallery shows of emerging talent, design pop-ups, community projects, glorified tourist art.

But beyond the sheer energy and cornucopia, the stakes in the field have shifted in ways that challenge Dakar and other exhibitions to do more. In the four years since the last Biennale new horizons have opened for African art-making, and more deeply, African ideas in the world.

Restitution is the busiest front. After decades of inaction, the return of objects obtained through colonial plundering is on the agenda. A gathering stream of handovers — notably by France to Benin last November — is prompting investments in new venues to exhibit these objects, but also projects by contemporary artists reflecting on their return.

At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At the former Palace of Justice, the Dakar Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey.

At Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in 2018, the Black French actress Nathalie Vairac, face daubed in kaolin, performed as a Punu mask from Gabon — of a type that has fetched up to $400,000 at auction — in “Supreme Remains,” a play by the Rwandan writer and director Dorcy Rugamba. The story followed the mask’s journey through colonial homes and collections, emphasizing the accumulating alienation from its roots and cultural harm.

On Gorée, Dakar’s historic island neighborhood and a remembrance site of the Middle Passage, the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula, accompanied by a trumpet player, gave a spare and affecting performance that examined the cultural and even spiritual stakes when a statue returns to its ancestral community, re-entering a changed world.

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The Cameroonian artist Hervé Youmbi offers his own solution. At the Théodore Monod Museum of African Art, he flanks a traditional mask from Senegal’s Diola people with ones of his making that mix forms from different regions and unconventional materials like denim. A video shows his new hybrid masks in ceremonial use in Cameroon and Senegal. A shipping crate and two wall texts — one written in an ethnographic-museum style, the other contemporary — complete the installation.

“All is in the hands of those who make the objects,” Youmbi said. “Why be hostage to pieces that are outside Africa? We can produce new ones and move forward.”

The market remains a distorting lens. Foreign collectors of African contemporary art are currently obsessed with the current trend of figurative painting and Black portraiture, notably from Ghana, but for many here the work fails to impress. African contemporary art museums, whose acquisitions might send different value signals, are still desperately rare.

Seen from the continent, the United States and Europe these days seem out of ideas, stuck in social crises and democratic decline. Lectures on “good governance” have lost their force. For renewed African artistic visions of society, community and ecology, the field has rarely been this open. “We have to write our own histories of contemporary art,” Obolo said. “We can’t miss the boat this time.”

Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Visitors to the biennale run though Caroline Gueye’s “Quantum Tunneling” exhibition, a trippy installation that evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes.

In the atrium of the old courthouse, with slender columns around a garden, Ndiaye, the artistic director, said he built the main show’s roster of 59 artists with a bias toward the open call. “You give a chance to those in early career,” he said. “This Biennale is intended as democratic.”

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Highlights include work by the Cameroonian artist Jeanne Kamptchouang, who greeted visitors wearing a mirrored contraption on his head. His floor installation, which incorporates broken-down chairs, mirrors and plastic barrels employed in Dakar to deter sidewalk parking, read as beguiling urban poetry.

Louisa Marajo, a Paris-based artist with roots in Martinique, created a kind of shipwreck site from paint, photo collage, peeling paper and crates to evoke the natural and human disasters that shaped Caribbean migration. “The idea is permanent voyage and generative fire,” she said.

One emerging Senegalese artist, Caroline Gueye, built a trippy walk-in installation, all mirrors and blue light and silver foil. It evokes tunneling to extract resources in mines, but also space-time wormholes, said Gueye, who trained as an astrophysicist.

Among other notable entries, the small, tightly coiled metal sculptures by Kokou Ferdinand Makouvia hold a gnomic appeal. An installation of video and archival documents from Fluxus do Atlantico Sul, a collective in Bahia, Brazil, traces Afro-Brazilian connections. A large mixed-media work (including cow dung) by the Kenyan painter Kaloki Nyamai, on unstretched canvas that spills onto the floor, imbues a domestic scene with a sense of frayed history.

The Biennale honors a respected master, the Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté, with a mini-survey, and it mixes in smart, compact shows by guest curators, all women, among its voices — notably the presentation by Greer Valley, a Johannesburg-based scholar, showing conceptual artists from the sharp South African scene. But does it meet the moment? Designed before the pandemic, with few intervening tweaks, the flagship show now lacks urgency.

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Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Looking at “Culture Lost and Learned by Heart – part 2” by Adji Dieye, a metal lattice that stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs.

The city picks up the slack, providing not just invigorating context for the Biennale but subject matter for some memorable entries. In the main exhibition, Adji Dieye has built a fan-like metal lattice on which she stretches cloth screenprinted with vintage photographs from Senegal’s archives. A full room-size installation by Emmanuel Tussore brings in sand from Dakar’s beaches, steel beams from its construction sites and stumps from a development-threatened wetland.

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And with an extraordinary walk-in installation in the main show, and a solo exhibition in the Off, at Vema Gallery, Fally Sène Sow, who draws inspiration from his home neighborhood of Colobane, a nonstop hub of commerce and traffic, turns intricate scale models into sound-and-sculpture hallucinations of a city under mounting ecological siege.

Dakar’s commercial gallery scene is very much alive: Cécile Fakhoury is showing a smart exhibition of prints by Binta Diaw; Selebe Yoon offers a retrospective of the painter El Hadj Sy; and OH Gallery, which Océane Harati founded in 2019 in the Maginot building downtown, displays an immense installation in the building’s ground-floor hall — separate works by Oumar Ball, Aliou Diack, and Patrick-Joël Tacheda Yonkeu — that combine into a kind of grand earthworks and bestiary.

The gallery sells works for up to $100,000 abroad, Harati said, but most buyers are local. Her artists make small pieces aimed at new collectors — and small budgets. “There was no niche for new collectors,” she said. “We want to valorize small formats so people who buy them feel considered.”

Art-world glamour has alighted in Dakar with Black Rock, the posh seafront residency established by Kehinde Wiley. For the Biennale season, Wiley funded the renovation of a cultural center in the old Medina neighborhood and held an exhibition of Black Rock’s residents — 40 of them, since 2019 — and several Senegalese artists. The opening featured a concert by the Nigerian singer Teni.

At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
At RAW Material Company during Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” a video installation that tells the stories of the children and grandchildren of the Senegalese Vietnamese community that formed in Africa after the Indochina War.

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But some of the strongest work on view in Dakar this season stems from slow, deeper engagement. Several years ago, the Vietnamese American artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen began visiting members of the Senegalese Vietnamese community, the children and grandchildren of the Vietnamese women married to Senegalese soldiers who fought in the French army during the Indochina War.

These were byproducts of empire — men denied full pensions by France, women seeking their bearings in West African culture, children raised amid secrets and shame. In Vietnam they were forgotten; in Senegal taken for granted. Nguyen’s four-channel video installation, “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming” tells their story poetically, and collaboratively.

The project had its homecoming at the Raw Material Company art space, accompanied by an exhibition of family photographs of Nguyen’s interviewees. Several of them gathered with him for the show’s emotional opening. “Our stories are little-known,” said Marie Thiva Tran, who is featured, with understatement. “But they are not uninteresting.”

In Dakar, Nguyen said, he had found rich exchanges with fellow artists on post-colonial experiences — and in the process, formed a commitment to the city. “Working here has expanded my thinking about multiple diasporas,” he said. “Dakar feels like another home for me now.”

y thinking about multiple diasporas,” he said. “Dakar feels like another home for me now.”