Dakar, From the Studio to the Sidewalk — Érika Nimis

[Winter 2020]

Par Erika Nimis

Dakar, a cosmopolitan capital city and crossroads on the Atlantic coast, open to all creative currents, has grown under the gaze of its photographers. An independent field of professional photography emerged in the 1990s, and the institution of the Mois de la Photo has contributed to legitimizing an increasingly engaged scene turned to creativity1 and permeable to international influences. In this essay on the photography scene in Dakar, I build on key moments that have marked its history since the nineteenth century.2

The Precursors. As it did in other West African coastal countries, commercial photography developed in Senegal in the late nineteenth century,3 in a colonial context, and was appropriated locally in the 1910s and 1920s. Recognized as the forerunner of Senegalese photography, Meïssa Gaye (1892–1993), having travelled around the country as an agent of the colonial administration, opened his own studio in 1945 in Saint-Louis, the capital of Senegal until 1957.

Considered the cradle of Senegalese photography, Saint-Louis (Ndar, in the national Senegalese language, Wolof) has continued to host the richest Senegalese photography collections, both private and institutional, of the first half of the twentieth century, some of which are accessible at the Centre de Recherches et de Documentation du Sénégal (CRDS) and at the Musée de la Photographie (MuPho), recently founded by collector, businessman, and patron of the arts Amadou Diaw. One of the most extensive collections in the country is that of Adama Sylla, a former curator at the CRDS museum and himself a photographer.4

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1 Érika Nimis, “Dak’Art 2018. Focus sur la photographie,” Ciel Variable online, October 19, 2018, https://cielvariable.ca/dakart-2018-focus-photographie-erika-nimis/. It should be noted that the Biennale de Dakar did not integrate photography until its third edition, in 1998.
2 The idea for this essay comes, in part, from my short yet stimulating experiences in Dakar during two artist residencies (funded by the CALQ) in 2018 (at RAW Material Company) and 2019 (at Village des Arts).
3 Patricia Hickling, “Bonnevide: Photographie des Colonies: Early Studio Photography in Senegal,” Visual Anthropology 27, no. 4 (2014): 339–61.
4 Adama Sylla, “Collectionner, documenter,” interview conducted by Bärbel Küster in Saint-Louis on June 22, 2014, http://dakar-bamako-photo.eu/fr/adama-sylla. html. The website of the “Photographie et Oralité. Dialogues à Bamako, Dakar et ailleurs” project (http://dakar-bamako-photo.eu/fr) gives a closer look at the work of most of the photographers discussed in this essay. Also on that website is an interesting essay by Babacar Mbaye Diop, “Pratiques photographiques contemporaines au Sénégal,” http:// dakar-bamako-photo.eu/fr/babacar-mbaye-diop.html.

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