It has been a fast-paced marathon into the 5-week CCA – Lagos Àsìkò International Art School program in Dakar. From the impressive Pan-African Dak’Art Biennale to conferences, presentations, workshops, OFF exhibitions, artist talks, film screenings, studio visit, Dakar has been thoroughly engaging. I have been inspired by the myriad of personalities I have encountered so far – from Cheikh-ba (a crafts vendor at Lac Rose), Mamadou Ba a young man in his first year at the University who works evenings at the Balajo bar in Point E, Ami the waitress at my favorite restaurant, to the Secretary General of the Dak’Art Biennale in one of our sessions when he came to talk with us at the Piscine Olympique Nationale. Through it all I have met more people in the art world than I would have imagined.
Bringing it to Àsìkò, I know how to present my works to interested persons – colleagues, facilitators, visitors. The didactic talks I give about my practice, I assume, have meaning for all present in the moment. Through the series of presentations about my practice a reality became increasingly lucid – that I had become good at this; that I have managed to acquire the vocabulary to articulate my thoughts and can do it several times over (not to my utmost fulfillment but to a considerable degree). I had reached the point where I distanced myself from the work and neglected the implications of this severance on the content of the work and why I felt it necessary to create in the first place.
I understand making art as presenting an argument (or set of) which partakes in a much wider discourse of related and unrelated ideas. Once the work is moved from the artist’s studio and displayed in the public context the work (which is the manifestation of the artist’s thoughts) must submit itself to interpretation and further reading. The artist’s proper disposition, therefore, must be that of open-mindedness to be able to engage other perspectives.
When the Global Crit Clinic (GCC) team arrived in week 4 I had anticipated before-hand to be immersed in dialogues rooted in cerebral language and was unprepared for the angle of attack Kianga Ford and Stephanie Cardon had prepared for the last two weeks of the program.
They came armed with The Circle – an intimate environment that questioned the participants in a significantly different way. The circle, as they defined it, was a communion of joint articulation and individual responsibility; in other words every ‘I’ was validated by and contributed to a common ‘we’. The two were inextricably relevant. We would take turns completing prompts that ranged from the serious to absurdities. During their first week they didn’t want to know about our works. Instead we would task our minds on fantasies, imagined gifts and what not. I had yet to ask myself what it truly was that I wanted from my work.
To my experience, the decision to become an artist is not in response to the pressure of arbitrarily choosing a career, neither is it of mere occupation. It is the necessary outworking of an innate conviction. Much like Dr. kąrî’kạchä seid’ou and Tehching Hsieh whose works blur the distinctions between art and life as they ultimately become the work and use time as a material in making work I cannot separate my name from my works; they go hand in hand. Therefore I needed to find what it was which fueled my passion to make work. I needed to establish what the connection was between my desire to create, what was created and the effect of this creation within the contexts they are made and shown in. When I work it is primarily to fulfill my desire to initiate a conversation on a given subject – the work then becomes the entry point into this interlocutory exercise.
A circle is a paradoxical symbol which encroaches first upon itself and then goes on to infinitely enjoin what had initially been encroached upon. It brought the group together – twelve minds from ten different cultures. We learned more about each other in these moments, I think, than in all the weeks we had shared together. When we would be silly, sensitive and direct with each other not in confrontational ways but with respect and regard is what tied in the moments before and thereafter.
Relationships are priceless. Staying in an environment together with artists, writers, thinkers for 5 weeks tests you in many ways. I have come to accept that in all of my relations there is an active decision-making process which always responds to the question “Do you will to continue this relationship giving the circumstances?” The binary “Yes” or “No” option determines its continuation or otherwise. I am grateful to have discovered friends from the other parts of the continent. The bilingual residency exposed many of our individual shortcomings. I learned that unity cannot be equated with uniformity, for the latter has connotations of imposition which may at times be undesirable. The circle taught me to accept, to address, to learn and to love. I find something profound in its symbolism now…
*M.K Asante shares a similar story in his book BUCK: A Memoir. While at Crefeld, his third school in three years, is where he finds himself and a new longing for self-expression in the written form. In the chapter “Circle of Love” Malo describes a process similar to what we have here.