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

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid