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The village des arts

During our visit in Dakar, we had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Village Des Arts. I began at the edge of the hallway, passing by open doors, some with working artists, some empty studios, and a few colorful shoppes. I reached the last studio and walked in to find a man in his late 60’s working with glass windows and peel-off paint. His pieces ranged from small and bursting with color to menacingly dark and engulfing. On the side of his door was a poem speaking on the misconception that artists and artisans are one: “Art is not artisanal work; artisanal work by essence is geographical whereas art itself is universal. All artisans of the world will know what they produce before they start working. However an artist is like a woman, who will only know once the doctor has cut the umbilical chord.” (Amadou Dieng) Before this, I too thought that artisans and artists were one. Now I feel as though my life were a lie. But come to think of it, he’s right. Since both artists and artisans create products of art, it’s easy to misidentify the two. There is always a personalized piece that comes out of working on art, but there’s a difference between the way an artist uses their work to express themselves, and how an artisan uses their work to allow the receptor to express their opinion. This relates to a larger theme of perspective. What artisan means to one, may have a different definition to another. Societal norms, personal values, government structures, and many more factors can contribute to one’s perspective.

When I finished walking down the right side of the hallway, I went back to the beginning and peered into the rooms on the left. One room was filled with mono-color masks that unveiled intricate expressions decorated with Senegalese wax fabric for hair and other accessories. The artist, a younger man in his late 30’s looked at me as he sipped on his attaya (tea). He welcomed me and offered me some tea. I remember looking around and noticing that every mask looked alive: the expressions were different and detailed to the point where you could see the indentation of the nose nostrils on each face. I felt like I was being watched; I stared back.

He introduced himself as Yakhy Ba while turning on the newest generation iPad he had in his lap in order to show me images of massive pieces of work he had sold abroad, and give me the dates to an approaching exhibit showcasing his work in Washington DC. And then Ba motioned for me to sit in the chair in front of him, and spoke to me in French: he spoke about being lonely at times and working hard to acquire respect from fellow artists and customers. He then proceeded to point at a piece of artwork that had been relatively hidden in the back of his shop, and ask: “What does that look like to you?” The sculpture, made of warped PVC piping captured a couple, what looked like two men, holding each other and leaning in for a kiss. I told him it looked like a prideful gay couple grinning widely; the fabric wrapped around their necks illuminated the feeling of pure love. He looked at me, back at the sculpture, stretched out his hand, and told me “That’s what I wish I could see. But I see two people, just a couple, in love. I see a piece of artwork seen by other Senegalese people.” As an artist myself, I make a piece of work in which I express my perspective. I feel no need to know how it makes others react. I make art to evoke emotion within myself. I’ve been discussing this with a friend who’s helped me put my thoughts into words: the art an artisan produces is usually seen as a product, something that evokes emotion within the receptor. An artist’s work portrays the artist’s mind, whether you see it or not. Yakhy Ba was asking me what I thought. This makes me wonder, why did Ba, a successful contemporary artist from Senegal, feel the need to ask me what I saw. Isn’t perspective determined by variables? Do artists expect a reaction that an artisan evokes? Have artists and artisans developed similar traits over time, in an attempt to profit? Post reflecting, I’ve narrowed my questions down to this one: what perspective should be emphasized, who are we trying to understand, the audience or the artist?