What is Afropolis?

Entrance to Saint-Louis market on the mainland

For long, urban theorists have considered African metropolises either failed cities with hardly any services available, or more optimistically constant works-in-progress, and recently even as areas where the existing informal economies and social networks can teach us lessons for other rapidly growing urban areas. So, how is it? I am about to find out.

Afropolis is my multidisciplinary art project in which I aim to communicate through image and sound some of the dynamics of living in Addis Ababa, Dakar, Nouakchott or Saint-Louis, for starters. The idea for this sizzled in my head for the first time a long, long time ago when I witnessed how in Dakar there was no space for pedestrians to walk safely because all the pavements had been (and they still are) taken up by massive 4×4 cars. I was wondering: Where is this leading? Are there urban planners and if so, is their ultimate goal in life to have a ridiculously big and expensive 4×4 car that they can park just about anywhere at the expense of the poor pedestrians? 

Another, more recent phenomena that also pushed me to start this project was the “satellite cities” and luxurious residential areas that are being created in numerous countries, often with foreign investments, in the outskirts of big cities, or in some cases in the very heart of them. This process of changing the city is visually very appealing to me and tickles my sense of place, and of space.

I am asking: how do these cities work? In this part of the world urban dynamics seem to have layers and layers of their own specific twists and I would like to poke those layers and document people’s views, hopes, imaginations and their own experience of the urban environment, whether they call it “home” or otherwise. Don’t get me wrong: I am not building a case against what does not work in a city, quite the contrary: with Afropolis I want to envisage and promote the amazing energies of these cities. Hopefully it will lead to reactions, suggestions, and collaborations among those of you who feel somehow connected to these places. In the long run I hope to be able to reveal stories on and by people living in urban environments and their in centres, peripheries and in-betweens.

Out of the Box

I am starting a series of beginnings through various media; alternative photography, short films and text. As far as short films are concerned, “Out of the Box” will be the first one out (of a larger box still, hahhahah) in connection with Soundscapes from the Sahel. What does this mean? It means that I am teasing out improvised beginnings of stories of fictional characters, inspired by my relatively large archive of photos. You know how it goes, when you suddenly look back at some photographs that you took years ago and you immediately reconnect with the time and place of the photo. But what if someone who does not know you nor the background of the photo would  interpret what the story behind a particular photo is. That is what I want to play with. Stay tuned!

What’s in the box? Clicking the image takes you to a mini trailer on Vimeo.

Human train

This post falls into the the nostalgia department with a few photographs from the flashmob we organized quite many years back (see my prevous post). These images were all I was able to dig up from an archive, unfortunately the video material that I shot that day is corrupted. Our external servers, flash memory cards, cloud servers, mobile phones and what not are inundated with visual material that we have documented over the years, but for how long will they remain usable, after all? The more I think of it, the more I would like to go back and promote the old school film photography and other alternative printing methods… well, that’s not news!

The railway tracks are still there, the market crowds are still there, even the station building is still there, but for how long?

Cheikh Beye

I’ve always had a soft spot for railways, trains, railway bridges and particularly that noise under the bridge when a train passes… I just love the comfort of this most beautiful way of traveling. It is such a shame that the connection between Saint-Louis and Dakar has been lost, for decades now. Some years ago we created a flash mob with local youth and wanted to remind everyone, particularly the decision makers of the municipality, that the town owns a beautiful station building that is falling apart and has been swallowed up by the local market. This beautiful building could be maintained and – ideally – put into good use with and by local cultural actors. We handed out tickets in advance to the train that would arrive on one Saturday morning from New York (!) on its way to Dakar. Then our actual human train would arrive and perform theater and dance at the entrance of the station. I remember that some market sellers were genuinely a little alarmed in advance because their mountains of onions would literally be on the tracks, right where they had always been for years. Perhaps it would be a good time to create a flash mob Edition II with something much more dramatic, as our first attempt went unnoticed by the city hall. We did have fun with the crowds at the market though.

Here’s a few more photos from the gallery space and the current exhibition: photography by Cheikh Beye. It’s so good to have the gallery open again!

Fragments of the work of Cheikh Beye

Cheikh BEYE (1932 – 2012) from Thiès began his career as a photographer in Dakar in 1950. From 1954 he was the manager of the company Euréka-Photo in Thiès.

His photographic work consists, among others, of studio portraits but also press photos of the political sphere, sporting events etc. Naturally, in the city of railways, workers and the activities around the station figure in a large part of his photos.

We would like to thank the Beye family in Thiès for allowing us to show this work.

Fragments de l’oeuvre de Cheikh Beye

Le Thiessois Cheikh BEYE (1932 – 2012) commençait sa carrière comme photographe à Dakar en 1950. À partir de 1954 il était gérant de l’entreprise Euréka-Photo à Thiès.

Son oeuvre photographique consiste, entre autres, des portraits d’atelier mais également des photos de presse de la sphère politique, des événements sportifs etc. Naturellement, dans la ville du rail, les cheminots et les activités autour de la gare figurent dans une grande partie de ses photos.

Nous remercions la famille Beye à Thiès.

Galerie Éthiopique organizes exhibitions, end-of-residency events and film screenings at Rue Potin X Abdoulaye Seck Marie Parsine in Saint-Louis of Senegal. More information: Tel. +221 77 143 88 90 or info[at]ethiopiques.gallery

Artwork, or art and work

In the recent times, co-working spaces have become more and more popular, and especially now with the Covid-19 pandemic, as many hotels have seen best to transform their venues to facilitate work from distance. Covid or not, a comfortable and well-located space for work with a wifi connection has been lacking on the island of Saint-Louis for a long time, but the wind of change has arrived!

We decided to dedicate part of the Galerie Éthiopiques to cater for those visitors who would like to sit down for a coffee, or better, who would like to stretch their coffee break or gallery visit with bright, relaxing and peaceful co-working environmement. For the purpose, one local wood workshop made us wide and solid chairs that aspire the local craftmanship. The chairs are designed by Staffan Martikainen. The new episode of our gallery is unfolding day by day!

Galerie Éthiopique organizes exhibitions, end-of-residency events and film screenings at Rue Potin X Abdoulaye Seck Marie Parsine in Saint-Louis of Senegal. More information: Tel. +221 77 143 88 90 or info[at]ethiopiques.gallery