In my very first visit to Dakar almost two decades ago I stayed in Plateau in the commercial downtown area, but soon after I got the habit of renting either a room or a studio in Yoff or in Ngor, both located in the northern part of the city, and stayed loyal to these neighbourhoods by the sea ever since as my base. I guess it’s only natural to always return to the same hoods when you visit a city for other than touristic purposes as it makes your life so much easier. When you stick to a place you also become local, even to the point where you feel that you’ve become just a wee bit too local. Anyone who has spent some time in Senegal must know what I mean. So, recently I thought that it would be fun to find a new place to stay for a…
This is not only about sheep living right next to me and whom I could literally feed from my living room, but also about how crammed Ngor has become in the past 10 years. The fishermen’s village was always densely built with sandy narrow alley ways. And it still has its charm: have a walk here and you are truly in another world as there are no cars, only humans and animals. As families are not getting any smaller, this village has been and is growing upwards. Yes, you could call this a village but according to the Senegalese standards it’s rather urban: just five minutes’ walk away from Route de Ngor, a very busy artery road that connects Ngor to the Corniche in the south and west and Yoff in the east. The sheep in the photograph were on the 2nd floor of the building right next to mine…
A selection of my underwater photography will be in a collective exhibition in St.Louis Missouri (US), hosted by Barret Barrera Projects and curated by Modou Dieng / Blackpuffin in October 4 – November 23, 2019. The exhibition will inaugurate a new and exciting art space in St.Louis.
Statement by Modou Dieng:
The City on the River meets River City. Our Sister City from Africa: Saint-Louis, Senegal.
“A tale of métissage, five centuries old, sitting at its heart. A duality in colors pulsing through the fashion, the jazz, the crafts, permeating all aspects of its culture. The artists who have lived there, who were born there, or those who have simply fallen in love with her, all feel this rhythm. Past, present and never ceasing.”
I am very excited to be part of this and will share more details about the exhibition and other participating artists a little later!
Did you ever think of Sahara as nothing but a vast empty space filled with sand? Or as we were to understand at school: a space in which trans-Saharan trade routes crossed the space, leaving traces of camel caravans in sand and mirage-like images in your brain?
I have always been intrigued by the desert and fascinated by its impact on me. Living very close to the desert – and having spent time in the Saharan desert many times, I have often wondered: what is Saharanness? Who adheres to such identity and what does it mean? Does it override any national sentiments? What happens when you live on the border of two countries in this region? Suddenly even the idea of cosmopolitanism is put in practice in a new context in the lives of those people who inhabit border regions in these parts of Africa. Meaning: new to me, and meaning: cosmopolitanism outside the West. Back to the question of camel caravans: based on my recent readings, it is only logical to realize that most trade in this region was always Saharan, not trans-Saharan.
To this day, there is a relative absence of Saharans themselves from historical, economic and even ecological studies of the region. Thinking of the viewpoint from which research on Sahara has usually been done one may ask: how many Africanists think it necessary to study Arabic, for instance, and how many Arabists would seriously concentrate on any West African language? Should you be interested in questions like this, I recommend you read Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa.* It’s a book about “that other Sahara, not the empty waste of romantic imagination but the vast and highly differentiated space (…) in which Saharan peoples, and, increasingly, incomers from other parts of Africa, live, work, and move.”
Saharan cities are growing fast. I recently read an interesting article on the Guardian about cities that have been built from scratch and how they have developed more or less successfully. Every time I have been to Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, I have sensed strange unfamiliarity with how the urban space has developed there. You may know that the city used to be a village that was decided to become the capital of the country in 1958. It was never designed to host what today is approximately one million inhabitants; when you move around the city, especially in the commercial centre, you soon realize that it is rather hostile to pedestrians. In a country of former / current / temporary nomads you have a city in which walking is made nearly impossible: the pavements are either occupied by 4×4 cars, or trees have been planted in the middle of them and as they are not tall enough, at least not yet, you can’t walk under them.
Being pedestrian and not understanding how, when and in what parts of the town the informal public transport works, is the first impression that strikes the odd visitor. And there’s more once you pass this first threshold. There is interesting literature about the different developments of Nouakchott, its housing, neighborhoods and ethnic diversity so I am not done with Nouakchott just yet, quite the contrary! Every time I’ve been to Mauritania, I always documented sandy landscapes, but I am now more and more curious about the challenges of this city and so Nouakchott, with its nearness of the desert, falls very naturally to being part of Afropolis, my next photography project on urban space.
* McDougall & Judith Scheele: Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa, Indiana University Press, 2012.
This is a short series of b&w memories from our last Analogue Extreme programme in early 2019, a desert trek in Mauritania organized for artists and creatives by Waaw Centre for Art and Design. It was a week full of laughter, beautiful scenery between Chinquetti and Tergit, camels, haikus, even a sand storm and some blisters… all in all a magnificent week feeling fully connected to your environment, away from digital life.
To my surprise I realize now that my Olympus OM10 may have had its better days: it apparently leaves scratches on film that you can see in all photos. I may still have to test this and see if it’s really time to find a new solution to shooting film.
One of my neighbor’s sheep has just been immortalized on a leaf! My other “sheep on grass” anthotypes did not succeed as nicely just because after one week’s exposure under the Finnish sun the grass had started to roll instead of staying flat. I had sandwiched the grass and the positives in an improvised developing frame that just wasn’t tight enough. Nevertheless, I am excited, and in a couple of days we shall see how my organic selfies and some other photos turn out. Fingers crossed that there will be more sunny days in the coming week.
PS. In case you are wondering what “anthotype” is: it’s an environmentally friendly photo process where all you need to make a print is the photosensitive material of plants, sunshine and time!
Update on July 1 – My organic selfies were badly damaged because of a rainy night so much so that water had reached and soaked the leaves. The only hermetically closed frame that survived had the image of another sheep, see below. I really like this process and will experiment with anthotypes again a little later when back in Senegal, where the rains are not such a bother!