News / Africa

Graffiti Coming of Age in Senegal

Unity in Diversity mural in Dakar, Senegal
Unity in Diversity mural in Dakar, Senegal

Multimedia

Audio
Amanda Fortier

Graffiti art in Senegal's capital city is fast becoming a popular and socially accepted way for a young generation eager to speak out.  Graffiti in Dakar can be considered a tool for development, rather than a pointless form of vandalism.

Below a cement overpass leading into downtown Dakar is a bright pink, 88-foot graffiti mural. Every day hundreds of cars whip by giving drivers and passengers quick glimpses of two historically renowned African figures: Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop facing opposite revolutionary leader Amilcar Cabral. Between the two icons is a white banner with the words "Unity in Diversity" written in large block letters. The bottom left is simply signed: Docta.  

Over 20 years ago, at around the same time that hip-hop culture was making its way across the Atlantic from the United States, a young Senegalese teenager started using the bleak public walls of Dakar as his personal canvas. Docta, whose real name is Amadou Lamine Ngom, is known as the "pioneer of graffiti art" in Senegal.

Docta says in the beginning Senegalese did not understand this new art form. They did not know who did it or when they did it, because like all good graffiti artists he worked at night in places, illegally, where it was really rundown, where people urinated or threw their garbage.

Docta says people were confused by his work, because at the time it was more artistic. But at one point he had to simplify the messages so that people could read and understand what he was saying.

Docta Wear signature
Docta Wear signature
Docta's work embodies the gamut of hip hop culture - from rapping, DJ'ing and dancing, to designing his own private street clothes label and founding Africa's only international graffiti festival, Festigraff.

Docta says in African countries, graffiti artists are all inspired by the same feeling and the same sense of duty. They are all living the same difficulties, socially and politically.

At his annual Festigraff festival both African and international artists have a chance to share what unites them: the need to talk to the people, to educate and to defend people's rights. Docta says they are all fighting for the population, and while doing this they are also fighting for themselves.

The images and words they use represent their history, their daily struggles, what the system imposes, and how people should behave. Docta says the true role of graffiti artists in Senegal is to use their work as a trampoline of communication between urban art and the population.

Professor Abdoulaye Niang is a sociologist and researcher who specializes in graffiti art and urban hip-hop culture at Gaston Berger University in Senegal.

Niang says hip-hop graffiti artists use graffiti and writing for an aesthetic reason, to fill some social and cultural function or to serve a political purpose. In the same way that rappers are representing the masses, or present themselves as the "voice of the voiceless," graffiti 'writers' subscribe to the same movement.

Niang says there are some artists who believe that it is not graffiti unless they steal their spray guns or paint where it is not allowed. The need to rebel is a fundamental value in graffiti, it is a rebellion against authority. But this aspect is more relevant in Western countries, says Niang. In Senegal, what is most important is that their work is visible.

Docta is combining graffiti art with health awareness, painting murals in some of Dakar's poorest neighborhoods with messages in Wolof, such as "health has no price." Local doctors are invited to come out, un-uniformed, to provide free AIDS and diabetes testing and to give consultations and medication.

Docta says that while in the beginning the goal of graffiti was to revolt, now he realizes he has to bring something to the population. They can't just say no, it is not going well. They also have to bring forward solutions. They are not doctors, but they can still help by working with those who are.

Docta says most Senegalese have an aversion to going to hospitals, because they think the medical staff is rude or the drugs are too expensive. Docta says graffiti artists can encourage the population and doctors to come together in the street, a neutral space where locals feel less intimidated.

Graffiti in Senegal, like in most parts of the world, is illegal. But unlike in many Western countries, and even some African ones, the likelihood of an artist in Senegal being arrested for graffiti is very slim.

Professor Niang says people here are more likely to accept graffiti because they see it more as beauty than vandalism. He says graffiti is a way for young people to express themselves in a society that still has strong respect for its elders, moving from the margins to the center of decision-making by spreading messages and becoming opinion leaders.

Docta says graffiti artists are actually very social people, but they are also humble and simple individuals who really just want to share and are always learning. Every fresco gives birth to another, he says. It demands that the artist is constantly on the lookout for new discoveries and new points of views. It is only by doing this that they are able to envision a future different from the one they are currently living.

You May Like

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid