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

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs