the Dakar Biennale, a major event for contemporary African art, postponed for six months

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The installation by French artist Emmanuel Tussore during the 14th edition of the Dakar Contemporary African Art Biennale, in May 2022. ZOHRA BENSEMRA / REUTERS

The aisles of the old courthouse in Dakar are empty, devoid of the works that were to be exhibited in this emblematic place of the Senegalese capital, less than two weeks from the initial date of the launch of the 15e edition of the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, Dak’Art.

On April 24, by a press release from the Ministry of Culture of Senegal, one of the major meetings of continental contemporary art was postponed from May 16 to November 7. A hard blow for players in this sector as Dak’Art, which has existed since 1996, has always been held on the scheduled date, with the exception of the 2020 edition, during the Covid-19 epidemic. . Fifty-eight African and diaspora artists were invited this year.

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“The national context, marked by the holding of the last presidential election [le 24 mars], had a strong impact on the preparation process for this event dedicated to the visual arts. But the international context also played a role, notably with difficulties in transporting works passing through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. [où les houthistes multiplient les attaques contre les navires au large du Yémen] »explains Marième Ba, the general secretary of Dak’Art, who says she cannot quantify the financial cost of this change of date.

While rumors of a postponement have been circulating for several weeks, many cultural actors criticize an announcement considered too late, only three weeks before the event. “We had to wait until the new president was inaugurated, the government was appointed and the new minister of culture was installed for the decision to be made”justifies a Source within the orientation and organizational committee of the Biennale who returns the responsibility to the previous government team, that of former president Macky Sall.

#TheOFFisON

“The former government did not respect its financial commitments, the Biennale found itself without resources”, continues the same Source. According to the Source of the organizing committee, only the first third of the budget of around one billion CFA francs (some 1.5 million euros) of Dak’Art had been paid in January, while the State is the majority contributor.

>“The Wake”, theme of the 15th edition of the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, Dak’Art.>

“The Wake”, theme of the 15th edition of the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, Dak’Art.

“The Wake”, theme of the 15th edition of the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, Dak’Art.

Some actors also point to internal dysfunctions. “The general secretariat has not done its job well, it is up to us to unite to point out the failings. We must fight to change the administrative team which has failed”estimates Pascal Nampémala Traoré, an Ivorian artist based in Dakar, who had planned to present an artistic event on the sidelines of the 2024 Biennale.

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For gallery owners, this change in calendar has direct consequences. “I have to postpone the program until November, but this will have a big financial impact because I had already paid for the plane tickets, the artists’ accommodation and the rental of the exhibition space. So many costs which will not be reimbursed”regrets Aude Minart, director of the African Gallery based in Paris.

Players in the sector spontaneously came together on social networks behind the hashtag #TheOFFiON to encourage the maintenance of “ off », as we call the myriad of private events organized by the galleries and cultural centers of Dakar outside of the official programming. They work to communicate on the initiatives maintained and offer programs online. An initiative that did not please the Dak’Art organizing committee.

Some 500 events from “off” would be maintained

In a statement dated April 30, he warned that “the graphic charter of the “off” is exclusively linked to “in” of the Dakar Arts Biennale. Any total or partial use of these elements outside the framework of the 15e Dakar Biennale is prohibited and liable to prosecution.” “The general secretariat does not have the power to prohibit cultural events. I am going to maintain my exhibition that I have been planning for a year, and for which I brought works from Burkina Faso”reacts Joëlle Le Busy from the Dakar gallery Arte, who only changed the signage and communication around her event.

Read also | Dak’Art 2016: from chaos emerges a very beautiful international exhibition

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She is far from the only one to have decided to maintain her program in May, despite the official cancellation. One Source indicates that about three quarters of the approximately 500 events planned for the “off” would be maintained. Among them, the Raw Material art center, which is holding the opening of its exhibition on May 19. “Our local and sub-regional public is waiting for this meeting. We cannot afford to cancel everything”adds Fatima Bintou Rassoul Sy, program director of this center, for whom the #TheOFFisON movement “is in no way a means of competing with or replacing the Biennale”.

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It remains to be seen whether, in six months, the public will be as numerous in Dakar, when the Rencontres de Bamako, African Photography Biennale, will open almost at the same time, from November 16 to January 15.

Théa Ollivier (Dakar, correspondence)

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