Artist on a Mission
“The task of an artist is not to create a beautiful piece of art to decorate a living room, but the mission of an artist is much more relevant; it’s about improving things in society by raising public awareness. In my case I want to get messages across about public spirit regarding protection of the environment and social involvement and responsibility.”
Mady Sima is a young and energetic Senegalese conceptual artist. He graduated from the art academy in Dakar in 2009 and creates art to make people reflect on issues in society. Most of his creations are assemblies and performances in which he involves his audience.
Performance biennial Dak’Art
He staged a performance during the biennial Dak’Art 2014 in which he wrote a question on his white boubou (traditional man’s costume) during a performance in a rural area in Senegal. He wrote: ‘What do you think of the biennial?’ He had a pen attached to his body and asked the audience to answer his question by writing a response on his boubou and also on a big black plastic wall that functioned as a guestbook at his exhibition. The answers were diverse. A visitor stated: “Dakar and Saint Louis should not be the only exhibition spaces and highlights of the biennial, rural areas should also be included, why not involve regional cultural centres in the biennial?“ And someone else wrote: “Exhibiting artists must further improve their speech and refine concepts; this is a great initiative!” Others have difficulties understanding what is going on:“I do not know what the biennial or Dak’Art means..” and “The arts are not easy to understand, it is for a small circle of people.”
Strong Concepts & Ideas
Mady Sima was satisfied with the outcome of his performance in this small rural community of Keur Samba Kane. It is exactly the reason why he wanted to bring the biennial Dak’Art outside the Senegalese capital to a society where people only know the phenomenon from TV or have never heard of it at all. But at the same time he found it very sad that people just outside of Dakar have never heard of such a big event as the biennial.
Mady: “To my surprise almost the entire local population came to the opening of my exhibition. It was really one big art event! Before the exhibition opened people had ideas and assumptions about what art, the biennial, an exhibition and the need for visual arts in general are, but there were people who told me that they had learned a lot.” He says with a sparkle in his eyes: “Someone said to me: ‘Mady really, I did not know what it was all about, the arts, but now I’ve seen your work and what you’ve explained and your motives and concepts and now I see that it’s interesting’. And people said: ‘I thought that art and design only consists of drawings, but now I see that it could be something else: ideas & research’.” He concludes: “That’s why I’ve organised this performance and exhibition, to bring people in contact with it and thus understand the biennial and visual art.”
According to Mady expositions are very important: “Because strong concepts and ideas can be transmitted to a large audience and during the opening the artist can explain his ideas and confront people.” He stresses: “The first step as an artist is not to make money, but to follow your passion. It is a means by which society perpetuates a culture and can transmit it to a younger generation. It is a means of value creation. In other words, it’s a set of positive things that need to be preserved.”
Plastic bags for Life
The city of Dakar looks like a garbage dump because everyone throws their waste everywhere and especially plastic bags cause a major problem. The works that Mady displayed at several exhibitions throughout Dakar are a reaction to this problem. The works consists, among others, of a canvas with plastic bags tied to it. He explains: “Plastic bags are everywhere on the streets in Dakar and elsewhere, each time people buy something they wrap it in plastic and just throw it away at home. A real waste and nobody seems to care or do anything about it.” He hopes that people realize that plastic bags are also a commodity and that it takes centuries before they degrade. And thus he buys new plastic bags in order to display them as a commodity with their own importance and value. Mady: “It is my reaction to what people seem to do carelessly. I want to show that this is what I’ve consumed and here I present it. The work remains with me my whole life because it is made of plastic and thus last very long even if I do not protect it. That is the problem I want to address, because we, as a society, definitely need to find a solution.”
Beauty in a trash pile
Mady also has a fascination for the street vendors in Dakar. The way they manage their spaces: “In order to assemble all the products onto a piece of cardboard you must organize your space very well. It’s beautiful to see how someone can use a minimum of space but make most out of it as possible. They become extraordinary installers, engineers. For example, they have 1000 pairs of shoes but they manage to install them in a very small space. They are very good organisers. This is important because without organisation development is not possible. Organization is the condition to live a reasonable life.”
“At the same time there seems to be a paradox. How do the street vendors in the informal sector behave in relation to their merchandise? They have certain affection towards their goods but not towards the public domain which functions as their workspace… after the products are sold; they throw the packaging on the street. It is a strange paradox because they use their own workspace (streets) as a trashcan.”
Mady created his own cardboard stall as a street vendor and attached empty ballpoint pens to it, to raise public awareness towards the throwaway culture. At the same time all these useless objects are presented in a very beautiful way, as an engineer. “I hope that I can educate people, to make them aware so that they look at things in a different way; not just accept the way things are but consciously think about it.”
Mady is convinced that careless human behaviour towards the environment and other issues is the result of a lack of knowledge and education. Besides his work as a visual artist, Mady works as an art teacher at a secondary school outside Dakar in the rural area of Keur Samba Kane.
Mady explains: “Since I am an art teacher I urge my students to go and look at exhibitions, to enable them to develop a different way of looking at the world. Even if they are decorating their house later on or dressing themselves, then they understand things better, such as colour or how to use space. They develop a taste in life. If you do not get the chance to attend school and receive artistic training, you just become a passive consumer.” He continues: “I also encourage students to visit exhibitions. Nowadays you just see white people with their whole family, even with their kids, but unfortunately there are very few Africans who go to exhibitions with their family. Many people say: ‘Art is something for white or rich people’. That’s because of a lack of information and knowledge.” Mady finds it important to inform his students: “I explain them that an art exhibition is a place where you can encounter new ideas; where you can meet artists and talk with them and exchange views.”
Informing and educating is something he also did with his biennial Dak’Art exposition in the rural community of Keur Samba Kane. Mady: “Now when people from the village see the biennial on TV, they understand what it is and they can, if they are in Dakar, also visit exhibitions. You need to inspire young people by informing them about art; if they don’t know, how can they care? I would not like to be an artist who works in his studio, sells his work, and buys a car and so on. No, that’s not it! I am an artist to raise public awareness and to develop myself with continuous research; that’s my passion.”