Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Open-air museum’ blooms in gritty neighbourhood of Dakar

‘Open-air museum’ blooms in gritty neighbourhood of Dakar

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Yataal Art Fair aims to use murals to salvage fading colonial-era buildings and to make art accessible to all – not just "guys in suit and ties". afp

‘Open-air museum’ blooms in gritty neighbourhood of Dakar

Mamadou Boye Diallo, an art curator with a penchant for heart-shaped glasses, calls Dakar's working-class Medina neighbourhood an open-air museum.

Flitting on rollerblades between colourful murals in this part of the West African metropolis, Diallo, who is also a guide to the area, points to works by artists from all over the world.

He heads an association which aims to use murals to save fading colonial-era buildings from destruction and to make art accessible to all – not just "guys in suits and ties".

The result is beautiful, if jarring.

Swirling tableaux of geometrical or animal motifs enliven the walls in the otherwise nondescript cityscape.

One mural features a fist raised against a hypnotic-blue background, for example. Underneath it, carpenters work steadily at wood pallets.

Another mural has two mysterious women set against brilliant indigos and azures staring into the distance. A real-life cow rummages on the ground at their feet.

Diallo and some associates started the association Yataal Art – which means "expand art" in the Wolof language – in 2010.

They were initially asking artists to decorate walls.

But now artists are coming to them, says Melodie Petit, the associations' vice-president.

She adds that artists approach families and ask permission before painting, often offering them dinner in return.

"It's not a contract with a motorway company or a commercial sign. It's really a human contact," Petit said.

The group is also seeking to protect Medina's old colonial-era buildings from a construction boom that is transforming the face of Dakar.

The neighbourhood has its roots in Senegal's colonial past, when in 1914 French authorities moved black people from central Dakar's Plateau neighbourhood, according to historian Ibrahima Thioub.

Since then, the tight-knit community has nurtured artists across generations and has retained its identity even as new migrants moved in from the countryside.

"While the Plateau was sleeping at night, Medina was waking up," Thioub said.

World-renowned Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour is from Medina, for example, and painter Kre M'Baye kept his studio there.

But change is coming to Medina, as rents skyrocket and large retailers set up shop.

Sociologist Djiby Diakhate says residents at one time all knew one another and shared strong values.

"Nostalgic people can't find their way around now," he said.

Guide Diallo wants to save the soul of the neighbourhood from "certain groups of elitists" who come as developers.

Painting the walls of old colonial buildings is meant to save them. "We started little by little, now there are nearly 90 murals," Diallo says.

In many settings, murals are likely to cause hostility as well as popularity, but in this case, the majority of local people interviewed by AFP said they liked the art.

Abdoulaye Bop, 34, a postman whose uncle owns an eatery in the neighbourhood, said that "everyone here likes the art, even if not everyone understands it".

Nidiawar Kan, 47, a carpenter who himself lives in an old Medina house, agreed.

"It's very pretty," he said. "It's better than dirty walls. And it brings changes to the neighbourhood. We see foreigners taking photos," he added, speaking in a mixture of French and Wolof.

More and more tourists are visiting now, he says, but their presence is not entirely trusted either.

"We want to keep our originality," Diallo adds. "We are not on TripAdvisor."

MOST VIEWED

  • PM orders immediate action against ‘sexy’ live streamers

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered immediate action against women who live stream their sales pitches on Facebook wearing revealing clothing. The prime minister said the practice erodes traditional Cambodian values and disgraces women. Hun Sen gave the order to officials attending the Cambodian

  • Trump tweets praise for Kingdom docking ship

    Cambodia continues to earn praise for its humanitarian act of allowing the MS Westerdam cruise ship with more than 2,200 passengers and crew on board to dock at the Preah Sihanouk port. The praise this time comes from none other than US President Donald Trump. “Thank

  • Tourist area greenlit in Sihanoukville

    The National Committee for Coastal Management and Development will coordinate with relevant ministries over the establishment of a billion-dollar tourist area named Neak Reach in Preah Sihanouk province after it was proposed by the Ministry of Tourism. The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and

  • Organic vegetable retailer unveils QR code scheme for origin source

    Organic vegetable retailer Natural Agriculture Village has introduced QR codes on its product packaging, which will allow consumers to see where their produce comes from. Natural Agriculture Village president Bun Sieng, who is also a member of local distributor Green Gold, told The Post on

  • Mine kills military officer along border in Preah Vihear province

    A military officer died on Friday after he stepped on a landmine in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district, near the Thai border. Chin Hat, a 45-year-old warrant officer, died instantly as a result of the explosion. He was attached to the K-398 unit

  • Private sector, unions ‘regret’ EBA decision

    The private sector and workers associations have expressed disappointment at the EU’s recent decision to partially withdraw the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme awarded to Cambodia. The Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, the European Chamber of Commerce, and the American Chamber of Commerce, together with