In a life-size enclosure located in the heart of the marble hall of the Grand Théâtre National Doudou Ndiaye Coumba Rose, Alioune Diagne offers a retrospective of the history of Senegal. Through his exhibition entitled ‘And you Ker—Cour Interiore”, the artist reworks and revisits “postcards” dating from the 19th century.
Postcards look like pictures hanging on the straw walls of a family compound the same size as a person.
Alioune Diagne’s works are composed of signs – square or circular shapes – which for him are vectors of meaning and emotion. When you approach one of his paintings, you can see that these signs are actually recognizable human figures as a whole.
Since 2018, Alioune Diagne has initiated a collection of works entitled “Senegal Memory”, which represent daily scenes from the past, translated into shimmering colors.
The series is at the heart of the artist’s work and for the past year he has devoted himself entirely to the production of new paintings celebrating this theme. With a strong color palette, the artist breathes new life into old images and makes people think about how society is changing.
Alioune Diagne sees the family space, the courtyard, or “Ëttu Kërof yesteryear – as a privileged space for socialization, transmission and education. He draws a parallel with the isolation we are witnessing today, despite the advent of connected screens.
He notes that the courtyard was once a privileged space for gathering and transmitting a set of standard values. Even though people live together, there is a tendency towards isolation which is accentuated by technology, especially smartphones and social networks. These consume a large part of human activity and offer a new form of socialization but also isolation with a digital flavor.
“The works presented in the exhibition Ëttu Kër – Inner Courtyard” are conceived as a dialogue between the past and the present. Everyone is free to apprehend the images based on their own experience,” Diagne said, explaining his work.
Surrounded by a straw fence, the inner courtyard is “where family members meet, share, discuss problems, welcome their loved ones”, continues Alioune Diagne. Less present in today’s architecture, or more and more perceived as a place of passage, the inner courtyard testifies to a way of sharing and connecting with others.
“Life scenes and portraits are presented around two large metal sculptures which, from the artist’s point of view, show patriarchs looking down on their descendants from afar.”
Diagne wants visitors to reconnect with these customs and the past and value traditions. In addition to the paintings, this reconstruction shows granaries, gourds, the pestle and mortar, the focal points of the kitchen and a washing line on which are spread out traditional handmade clothes.
Living between Senegal and France, Alioune Diagne uses the 19th century as a reference for future events.
“The past is very important because the past makes the present and the coming. For me, it was ideal to represent this to Africans, especially the younger generation, so that they know that the past is important,” he explained. “It’s history, and it was important for me to share these unpublished images of Senegal Memory. All pictures are real pictures of Senegal from the 1800s.“
Alioune Diagne does not lack a touch of nostalgia. “The teaching took place in the yard. In the evening, our grandfathers would gather us together and pass on stories to us, teaching us life lessons through tales and legends. This is disappearing, and the idea is to revisit these values,” he explains.
Born in the Fatik region of Senegal in 1985, Diagne graduated from the National School of Arts in Dakar. He settled in France, where he continued his training, consolidating his visual universe around the key themes of his childhood, colonial history and memory, with a preference for portraits and scenes of life.
He has also expanded his palette to include sculpture, video, photography and screen printing.
In 2013 he created an art style he calls “figure-abstro”. It is a mixture of figurative and abstract art.
Photo credit/story: Mohammad Njim for bird story agency