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Accepted Paper:

Dakar's biennial: between the state and the local art world   
Thomas Fillitz (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

State interests and Dakar’s local art world constitute two divergent fields around the biennial of Dakar. At several times, the State threatened the biennial of its end. The biennial, however, is central for the cultural image of the State, so it is for artists or the development of the art market.

Paper long abstract:

After a strong impetus under Léopold Sédar Senghor's presidency, the arts first suffered under President Abdou Diouf. By the mid-1980s, however, Diouf launched several initiatives for visual arts, the most important one being the foundation of the biennial of Dakar which he announced in late 1989.

With Dak'Art, the Senegalese government intended to position the city of Dakar as the 'African crossroad of cultures', Dakar as the showcase par excellence of African contemporary art, and as centre of Pan Africanism for the arts. Nevertheless, the biennial was threatened of its end at several occasions, in particular in 1992, 2000, 2008 and 2010.

In my contribution, I shall discuss firstly the reasons for these threads, but also several positive effects the biennial has on the local art world. To mention but a few aspects: it is, on the one hand, an elitist venue which mainly attracts an international art audience. On the other, Dak'Art enabled the development of a popular space for contemporary art since 2000, which encompasses the whole city-space and today stretches out to its neighbourhoods up to St. Louis in the far North of Senegal. The biennial further influenced local artistic practices as well as the rise of a local market for contemporary art and art education in schools. Finally, in contrast to the aforementioned threads, the Senegalese State officials today insist on the outstanding role of the biennial for its cultural politics, and for Senegal's cultural image in Africa and the world at large.

Panel P092
The impact of images: knowledge, circulation and contested ways of seeing [VANEASA]
  Session 1