Power, transition and the African dream
Pappe Ibrahim Niang is named after his grandfather and combined his names together to become Piniang. A serious, calm and mature artist who works with different media: sculpture, paintings, installations, video and animation. He addresses weighty themes such as refugees and people whose lives have been uprooted. “I’ve always felt drawn to situations in which people are forced to move. Those are things that have a major impact on a society.” He addresses these themes to raise awareness about social responsibility and social engagement in society, a recurring theme among artists in Dakar.
Power of the media
A theme Piniang uses to address social responsibility is the power of the media to create images and clichés and thus its persuasive influence on humans. He experienced it himself when he was in Europe: “I watched TV and the only thing I saw about Africa was very negative and clichéd: hunger, disease and HIV. So every time the media shows the African continent, they make people see things that do not appreciate the value of our continent. I asked myself: how do the people in Europe see Africa if they have never travelled and vice versa?” Piniang finds it very sad that Africans risk their lives in small fishing boats to go to Europe because all they see of Europe in the media is the good life. “It is really about clichés, because the media is not interested in ordinary life. Humanity and human life is not what we read or see on TV.”
In one of his installations he shows reporters and focuses on their responsibility of what they do and don’t show to the public and how the public can interpret these images. “…because, when the media reports, they are not thinking about their social responsibility.”
Power of the government
Piniang also address social responsibility when questioning the power of the government. Currently he is conducting research in a poor suburb of Dakar where floods occur each year during the rainy season. “People that live in the areas where the floods occur can’t do anything about it and have no choice but to live there. Each year their houses crumble and collapse, they have to move out and rebuild their houses… And the government doesn’t do anything to develop these poor suburbs; the state does not invest in places outside Dakar.” Again, Piniang hopes to raise awareness about the unequal distribution of power that affects many people in society.
Piniang makes collages with paint, pastels and paper in which he creates buildings, birds, cats, sheep, toads, hands, texts and many antennas. All these elements have a symbolic meaning and show the disorder of the urbanisation of Dakar, a result of uncontrolled building. According to Piniang many people in Dakar try to show off their wealth by constructing monumental houses. “People keep wanting to dominate by the size and height of their buildings and mostly I paint a bird on top of it all, to show that the bird or nature doesn’t need technology or money in order to gain status. Wealth is not visual but spiritual.” Thus the birds in his paintings stand for the power of nature above humans, just as the toads do. They are always present in fertile areas and symbolise water, a necessity for people to survive.
Texts are also used as symbols in his disordered cityscapes. “I cannot paint without using words… We are in an environment where there is always noise. Absence of noise does not exist in our lives. We have lost silence, words are everywhere.” The texts focus on all sorts of behaviour by people in Dakar. For example, the words ‘patriotism & king’ can be read in one of his paintings. Piniang: “When people come back from Europe, they wear new clothes and behave like kings; they want to show that they are doing well, because they have been abroad. To me, it’s not a good message, because patriotism is also important, you need to feel where you come from and be connected. Abroad is not always better than here!”
Wanting versus achieving
According to Piniang, even the buildings are ‘talking’, although they don’t use words. The colours fade, in order to show that a building has lived. In his white and black series Piniang refers to certain periods in his city. “During the many power failures in Dakar, people find themselves in the dark. I often use dark colours and when I work with white, it represents the presence of light.” Other symbols that he uses are hands and arms that are sticking out of the buildings. They look like hands that are appealing for help. Piniang explains: “There are many people who say: ‘I have no job and I’m doing this and that’, but if you look closely, they do not really act. They want something, but they do not want to put any effort in to getting it. And often you hear people complain, but they do nothing to change it, that is what I try to show with these hands in my paintings.” It symbolizes the contrast between what people want and what they do to achieve it.
Piniang’s dream lies in Africa and not abroad. “Recognition begins here in Africa. Life is not just about success, life consists of many things that come together. The current African artists have to show the younger generation that it is OK to stay in Africa because this continent has its riches, and we have to appreciate what we have.” By initiating projects, together with Senegalese artist Armin Kane, such as an art project in the psychiatric hospital and the development of an African animation studio, he shows youths that possibilities for the future are also available in Africa. People just have to put effort into finding it…
English subtitles available, click on the cc-button in the video.