Pursuing a poetic dialogue started with the artists’ exhibitions at Hôtel Le Sokhamon for Dakar Biennale OFF program, this exhibition carries the lyrical visions of the three artists throughout two territories, Senegal and Ivory Coast. This show extends beyond geographical borders and takes us further than the visible limits of our rational and tangible world. Les Visionnaires (The Visionaries) are these three artists spreading their message and compelling us to dive into their spiritual universe. Dalila Dalléas Bouzar, Jems Koko Bi, and Kassou Seydou are drawing from an inspiring yet perfectible contemporary reality to settle the foundations of their sacred kingdom.
These aesthetic territories are filled with faces we encounter for the first time although they seem familiar. Les Visionnaires, sculpted portraits and expressive self-portraits, are persistently addressing us; the face is always simultaneously what is seen and what we use to see. For both the artist and the viewer, exploring portraiture is engaging in an inevitable face to face with otherness. Experiences of encounters are the threshold of the sensible realms of Dalila Dalléas Bouzar, Jems Koko Bi, and Kassou Seydou. The exhibition becomes both a physical and a spiritual space filled with proteiform energy.
The three series of small-scale portraits – or « porte-traits » as Kassou Seydou refers to them, constitute a panorama of diverse singularities. Staring at us, gazing blankly into space or facing elsewhere, each of these painted beings seems to be immersed in a contemplation left for the viewer to decipher. Across the paintings flows a series of symbols and graphic lines, a sort of embodied writings, key to understanding the artist’s hermeneutics. The laughing and playful giants personify Kassou Seydou’s vision of an ideal society; a society grounded on spiritual synergy and harmony with nature.
Synergy with nature is also at stake in Jems kobo Bi’s cosmology. A series of faces emerges from the fibers of the wood; they take shape under the action of a chainsaw. From the implacable and perfect repetition of the mechanical movement arise characters with uneven and at times incomplete features, yet they are always animated by a vital energy. Part of a gallery of a timeless humanity, these bodiless faces have been spread for years around the world by Jems Koko Bi. Sculpted in reverse, their eyes give them the appearance of blind and benevolent oracles whose wrinkled skin is marked by a knowledge we do not have access to. Nevertheless, these faces invite us to join the dance of this immemorial community.
For Dalila Dalléas Bouzar, short and long narratives are occasions to explore the diversity of the self-portrait genre. This pictorial gesture stands as self-affirmation and a search for traces of not only self-existence but also the presence of a collective ‘us’ in History. Dakar Studio is a series of portraits of inhabitants of the popular neighborhoods of Dakar produced in the frame of the OFF program of Dak’art 2018. Bold and frank strokes, sometimes left unfinished transfigure these faces while also expressing their individual inner strength. Dalila Dalléas Bouzar’s characters are holding with restraints expressions molded by time passing by. The triptychs L’Atlantique Noir (The Black Atlantic) and Pardonne-moi (Forgive me) overpower and address us in a vanishing tongue; this religious iconography tied to an array of choreographed and embodied gestures unleash a forgotten resistance.
Depicting real characters and imaginary beings, this gallery of faces is confronting us with the transitory essence of portraiture as a genre. It is an aesthetic medium stuck between the act of remembering – be it someone or an idea- and the simultaneous obsolescence relevant to the realization of the representation. This incomplete property, inherent to portraiture is opening a world of possibilities that Dalila Dalléas Bouzar, Jems Koko Bi, and Kassou Seydou are populating with their stories, dreams and spirituality.