Transatlantic Connections #1 in Dakar

Creative correspondence in community practices between Africa and Latin America. About the 1st cooperation project in Ouakam, Dakar.
By Lucrezia Cippitelli | Jul 2014

When Gabriela Salgado and I met in 2013, we already knew about each other. Many people engaged in Latin America and Africa or active in contemporary art practices with a communitarian vision had told us we should meet. Gabriela curated the South/South exchange program of Más Arte Más Acción foundation in Chocó, Colombia and was active in connecting contemporary art practices from Africa in Colombia and Brazil. I was engaged in curatorial research in Colombia, with the idea of inviting artists from Africa to Cali, Medellín, Bogotá, Cartagena and involving local independent organizations in community-based projects. Both of us were interested in the practices of artists (and communities) of African origin active in Latin America whose research focuses on identity and the relationship with postcolonial critical discourse in their respective social and historical context.

As a platform to facilitate and experiment a creative correspondence in community practices between Africa and Latin America, we initiated Transatlantic Connections with the aim of joining forces and activating a field not yet fully explored, at least from a pragmatic, creative perspective. The South/South connection (cultural, historical, and critical) has in fact been evoked, stimulated, and practiced in critical discourse in the field of art since the 1st Havana Biennial (1984) and in several essays and cultural manifestos, from those published in groundbreaking magazines like Third Text or Atlántica (in the late eighties and the nineties), to the most recent analysis developed by the Decolonial Aesthetics research group. But South/South artistic cooperation, especially on the field of community-based practices, is still a convergence in need of further implementation. And only a few international institutions working on culture as a necessity of social development have started to take this into consideration.

Furthermore, both Gabriela and I were interested in the invisibility of artists of African descent in the contemporary art landscape of most Latin American countries. Being active practitioners as curators or writers ourselves in the artistic contexts and geographical problematics of what is defined as "Contemporary African Art," we felt an impetus to redefine these boundaries from a Latin American Perspective. Artists of African descent from Latin America are indeed often ignored in international events dedicated to African and African Diaspora art, where mostly French and Anglo-Saxon speaking artists of African descent are considered. A quick look at the names of the artists invited to the past editions of the Biennale of African Art Dak’Art – the main and most widely recognized international art event dedicated to Africa and its diaspora – makes it clear that artists of African origin from Latin America are almost ignored (in this last edition as in the previous ones). So it was an almost natural step for us to decide to work on a project to be developed during the 11th edition of Dak’Art (May 2014), where we presented Transatlantic Connections as a stage for this diaspora, stressing the unique South-South conceptual connections in artistic practices developed in communities and social spaces.

Transatlantic Connections #1 took place in Ouakam, a suburb of Dakar, during and after Dak’Art 2014 as part of the OFF program of the Biennale and as part of the following festival A/Ex Corps. As the first event of a series, we invited to Dakar an artist of African descent from Brazil, Benjamin Abras, to develop a series of field studies and projects in cooperation with the Association Compagnie 1er Temps in Dakar. To strengthen South-to-South connections and focus on the forgotten Latin American Diaspora, he explored the similarities and correspondences of artistic practices developed in the Global South, in this case in the territories of ancestral African roots in diasporic culture, connecting pedagogical projects with contemporary dance, performance, and video.

Born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Benjamin Abras is an actor, dancer, poet, writer, and performer engaged in connecting the territories of his inherited diasporic African culture with contemporary dance and pedagogical projects. Active as a dance and theater educator in the context of the Arena da Cultura project in Minas Gerais, he has also taught introductory music courses to actors and Capoeira Angola [1] as a form of cultural empowerment tool.

As a truly socially committed organization, the Compagnie 1er Temps has worked in and for Ouakam since its foundation 12 years ago. Although very active worldwide (the company participates and is regularly invited to international dance festivals abroad), 1er Temps has always maintained its particular focus in Ouakam and its community, with the aim of supporting and maintaining its existence and identity, promoting arts and dance as a tool for self-awareness, self-improvement, and self-expression. Active mostly with educational projects and public events for its community, 1er Temps raised young and unemployed inhabitants of Ouakam, trained by Andreya Ouamba and Fatou Cissé, its founders, to be permanent company members or choreographers.

Ouakam, the fishing village located at the foot of the African Renaissance Monument [2] on the periphery of Dakar, was the perfect stage for the cooperation between Abras and 1er Temps. Confronted with a deep social transformation, its original Lébous animist community [3] faces the settlement of the new rich from Dakar, who build their own villas near the sea, taking over the traditional village. The main issues of the area are marginality, gentrification, tradition versus "modern" capitalism, and the controversial relationship with the sea, which connects to the imaginaries of slavery and migration and is at the same time the main economy of the suburb.

Abras and 1er Temps brought their field research and cooperation to the conception of the dance and voice performance A voz da voz na voz (The voice of the voice in the voice), which was held during the opening days of Dak'Art in the market and streets of Ouakam. "Two traditions used in one contemporary experiment," states Abras, who directed the event with Andreya Ouamba and performed together with Alicia, Clarice, Bamba, and Thierno, dancers from 1er Temps. The result was a series of participatory "situations" in unpredictable conditions, such as in the middle of market day, in the streets, among the neighbors, which engaged with the environment through creativity to see what could happen.

The performance involved Ouakam and its community landmarks (related to Lébous spiritualism) after previous sessions of collective rehearsal and exchange between Benjamin Abras and the dancers. The preparations were not limited to a conversation about dance technique, but led primarily to an imaginative connection for the sake of collective creation in the specific spaces selected for the performance. The result was an event that incorporated dance and other elements like text, sound, movement, space, and the public: not the usual public of the Biennale, but the inhabitants of the area: unsuspecting spectators and actors of the happening.

 

<line>Notes:</line>

  1. Martial arts and ritual combat dance of African roots, specifically Congo-Angolan, in Brazil. Capoeira Angola is a multiform phenomenon. Capoeira draws elements from dance, fighting, ritual, and musical performance. It is a defense and a form of entertainment that traces its origins back on the 17th century, with the arrival in Brazil of the first generations of Western Africa slaves and their culturally syncretic connections with local Amerindians and "caboclos", people of Portuguese-Amerindian descent.
  2. A 49 m tall bronze statue located on top of one of the holy twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles, near Ouakam, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The monument was in accordance with an idea by former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade and built by a company from North Korea, in accordance with a Socialist Realism aesthetic. Inaugurated on 4 April 2010, Senegal's "National Day", to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country's independence from France, the sculpture has been criticized as a financial scandal: it cost 27 million dollars and Wade’s intellectual property rights to the statue entitled him to 35 percent of the profits raised.
  3. The ethnic Senegalese community, traditionally dedicated to fishing and known as the first settlers of the region surrounding Dakar. The Lébous became Muslim over the centuries, although conserving their language (Wolof, the language that became the main language of Senegal) and their spiritual and ritual traditions, related to animism, inhabited space, and public ceremonies.


Lucrezia Cippitelli

Art critic and curator. Works especially with media and conceptual artists, and process-oriented practices in the public space.

Transatlantic Connections #1
Ouakam, Dakar
May 2014

Part of the OFF program of Dak’Art 2014 and festival A/Ex Corps

Benjamin Abras
Association Compagnie 1er Temps: Bamba Diangne, Alicia Gomis, Clarice Sagna, Thierno Ibrahima Diedhieou

A project conceived by Transtlantic Connections, curated by Lucrezia Cippitelli and Gabriela Salgado


Acknowledgements:
Prince Claus Fund, Amsterdam
Association Compagnie 1er Temps, Dakar
Mòsso, Brussels
Amadou Kan Sy, Portes et Passages

Andreya Ouamba
Fatou Cissé
Ndèye Mané Toure
Babacar Diagne
Christa Meindersma
Fariba Derakhshani
Bisi Silva, CCA Lagos


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