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Senegal's Biggest Art Biennial Returns With Contemporary Exhibits

May 8, 2016
Originally published on May 9, 2016 6:24 pm
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The latest in African visual arts is now on display in Senegal's capital. Dakar is host to a month-long arts festival that's held every other year. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is taking it all in and has this report.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The Senegalese capital is buzzing with a 12th edition of the Dak'Art Contemporary African Art Biennial and playing host to artists and art-lovers from across the continent and all over the world. Simon Njami from Cameroon is the artistic director of the Dak'Art festival titled Re-enchantments. He says Africa must learn to become re-enchanted with itself through art.

SIMON NJAMI: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: The curator says Africa must have confidence in itself to dream and make things happen. Njami has selected a younger group of Africans this year among the 70 exhibiting artists from 24 countries. The wheels of time must change, he says, to mix up the stew and make sure it's not the same old soup of established artists in the cooking pot.

He's chosen an unusual backdrop for the international art exhibition. Senegal's cavernous, abandoned Palais de Justice, the former law-courts-turned-biennial space with its broken windows and light seeping in, and in a courtyard houses a display of silk, African-inspired clothing hanging on a washing line. To the right is what looks like a gorgeous, giant light shade made of transparent plastic bags.

Step across the cracked flooring to an audiovisual installation of a topical subject, migration - a raft on the water from Senegal to Paris. Artists from Algeria via Nigeria to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the heart of Africa - all are on display. And it's impressive, say these Paris-based African visitors.

SAM LAMBERT: I am Sam Lambert from Angola. I think it's a great opportunity for young artists or young African artists. Actually, I didn't expect it to be this good. And it's quite inspiring, really.

AMAH AVIVI: My name is Amah Avivi. I'm from Togo, but I live in Paris. And I'm here in Dak'Art for the biennial with some friends. And I love the vibe and the spirit this biennial brings in Dak'Art and to show different African artists' works especially because in the world, people forgot about African inspiration, African creativity. And here, in this biennial, you can see that we have more and more African creativity coming out.

QUIST-ARCTON: Biennial exhibitions and installations are dotted all over Dakar, gracing the city with its dramatic Atlantic Ocean view setting. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.