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Soly Cissé: A Lost World

New paintings and drawings by the artist from Senegal at Dany Keller Gallery in Munich, Germany.
By Hanne Weskott | Dec 2008

The artist Soly Cissé likes to laugh. And he has every reason to do so. After all, at age 39 he is among his country Senegal’s internationally best-known artists. He represents his country at major exhibitions and biennials all over the world, for example in São Paulo, Havana, and of course Dakar, the city in which he was born in 1969 and in which he still lives today. His works have also been seen several times in Europe. He has had solo exhibitions at the Luiggi Pecci Museum in Prato, Italy, at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne, at the maerzgalerie in Leipzig, at the Galerie La Trace in Paris, and currently, until December 20, at the Galerie Dany Keller in Munich, where he is showing paintings, drawings, and pastels under the title "Existences".

If one takes a closer look at this exhibition, one has trouble believing in the cheerful and happy person, Soly Cissé. What he shows us in these pictures is no longer an ideal world, but a lost, doomed world. The increase in catastrophes gives humanity a bitter foretaste of the end. Cissé is especially solicitous of the animals, because he has had a very close relationship to them since his childhood, but in accordance with the traditional rules of his religion can no longer touch them as an adult if he doesn’t want to be rendered impure. But to remain close to them anyway, he paints them, not as specific individuals, but rather as they come to his mind. For this reason, in his pictures, they often resemble fabulous creatures more than the living animals we know from biology. He paints them with their muzzles opened wide in fear and their teeth bared, so that one almost hears their wailing – for example, in the large picture "Victims of Inundation", in which masses of water sweep everything away. In this case, it was a flood with terrible consequences for people and animals in Dakar three years ago. This showed him once again that the world is moving in a direction that can no longer be steered. He wants to draw our attention to this in his art. So despite all his cheerfulness, Soly Cissé has a very serious message.

But he is not interested solely in environmental disasters. He is also concerned about the loss of what makes his own little world lovable and worth living in. This includes tradition, which gives people’s lives a rhythm and orders their living together. It sets limits, which results in respectful dealings with each other. Today, by contrast, Cissé makes out great insecurity, especially among young people. Especially in a city of millions, like Dakar, they are exposed to so many influences that they can hardly find anything to hold onto. His drawing "Lost World" shows their lack of chances. These young people seem naked, exposed, disoriented, and distorted. They live on the street like animals and have no stability.

Again and again, Cissé writes across his pictures rows of numbers reminiscent of commercial barcodes. Everything is counted, weighed, and categorized; only the human being no longer knows his place in the world. Like the "Dancer in the Mountains", he is alone and thrown back upon himself. But there he finds an audience, at least in the animals. Yet, something uncanny is brewing in nature, as well. Accordingly, Cissé’s painting has something roughened, agitated, even threatening about it. Sometimes he covers the canvas with thin paper to produce structures on the surface that seem like scars and recall the network of cracks in the varnish on the paintings of the Old Masters. But despite the weight of content that Cissé’s pictures bear due to their troubling themes, they are never moralizing, but always art. That eases some of their disturbing quality. The viewer can breathe an intermittent sigh of relief, because what seems so terrible in a picture turns out to be completely harmless. For example, in "After the Train", where the tracks lead into a void; to the right and left of them, animals tumble in a confusion. Is this an apocalyptic scenario? No, he laughs, and points to the dead fish under the crossties. Far and wide, no water – so where does the fish come from? From a market stand, because on market day the women in Senegal like to set up their stands in the track bed. When a train approaches with deafening noise, everyone flees with their possessions, and sometimes a dead fish can be left behind.

Soly Cissé thus definitely also has a sense of the comedy of everyday life. He sketches a lot, observes people and animals, how they present themselves, and the faces and grimaces they make. He thereby seeks the vocabulary, so to speak, with which he can create pictures. But his pictures are never a direct reproduction of what he sees or experiences; they are always a transformation. For Cissé, reality is always simultaneously an occasion and an excuse for creating art.


Hanne Weskott

Studied Art History; works as a freelance curator, journalist, and art critic in Munich, Germany.

(Translation from German: Mitch Cohen)

Paintings and Drawings

11 Nov. - 20 Dec. 2008

Dany Keller Gallery

Agnesstr. 47
80798 München

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