The contemporary African art festival returns to Senegal

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Dakar (AFP)- The 14th edition of the Biennale of Contemporary African Art, the continent’s biggest contemporary art event, opened in the Senegalese capital on Thursday with the first prize awarded to an Ethiopian painter.

After a two-year delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the event will present until June 21 the works of the biggest names on the continent in the fields of photography, sculpture, textiles and the art of performance.

“It is a celebration of visual arts, human genius and spirit, an event that has stood the test of time for more than 30 years,” said Moustapha Ndiaye, chairman of the exhibition’s steering committee.

President Macky Sall attended the opening ceremony at the Grand Theater in Dakar, which featured musical performances by Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab and Malian singer and kora player Sidiki Diabate.

Diabate, who comes from a long line of traditional storytellers, poets and musicians known as griots, interspersed his electrifying show with spoken messages addressed to Sall, who is currently the chairman of the African Union.

West African states, including Senegal, imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Mali in January after the ruling junta offered to stay in power for up to five years.

“The African griot is here this morning to entertain you here in Dakar, and to tell you that Mali and Senegal are the same country,” he said in French, to applause.

“Mr. President, I am here to show you love for Mali and change your mind,” he said, apparently referring to sanctions.

“Yes, we love you, Mr. President, and we also express our grievances so that the situation can change for my country, Mali”, he pleaded.

The international event includes nearly 300 exhibitions in Dakar and the neighboring islands of Ngor and Gorée. Exhibitions are also organized in other cities of Senegal.

The last biennial, in 2018, generated more than 8 billion CFA francs ($12.9 million at the current rate) in transactions, according to Ndiaye.

Sall presented the grand prize to Ethiopian painter Tegene Kunbi Senbeto for three of his large compositions of brightly colored geometric blocks on canvas.

Several other prizes were awarded to artists from Benin, Tunisia and Senegal.

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Reggie S. Williams