Universe of Women

“I am a woman, I am an artist and it is beautiful!”  Kine Aw is one of the few female Senegalese visual artists. She works with paint on large canvases and creates her perception of reality which consists of the universe of women in the Sahel: round shapes, beauty, tradition versus modernity, themes inspired by her own life as a woman.

Kine Aw
Kine Aw


Most of Kine’s paintings and sketches clearly show a cubist style. The geometrical and organic forms are deconstructed and sometimes become very abstract. She uses strong outlines in different colours but always refers to the universe of women. She works purely from her imagination and intuition without limiting herself in any way. When she needs advice about her work, she discusses it with other artists in and outside the ‘Village des Arts’ where she works.

Kine Aw

Like a family

Kine’s studio is one of the fifty studios of the visual arts community ‘Village des Arts’ in Dakar. The village was set up in the sixties by the first president of Senegal to promote African visual arts and help the artists to survive. The community is still very strong today. Artists work individually, exchange ideas and exhibit their work in an adjacent art gallery.

Kine Aw 'Le Dialogue des Opposées'
Kine Aw ‘Le Dialogue des Opposées’

Since Kine graduated from the art academy in Dakar she has had a studio in ‘Village des Arts’ where she works almost 24 hours a day. “It’s my home, I love being part of this community, and it’s like a big family.”  She gets inspiration by exchanging ideas with other artists: “We help and inspire each other and that’s what I love about Africa: the community spirit.”

Human warmth

She considers herself a modern woman as she uses a smartphone, computer and other conveniences of modern society, but at the same time she doesn’t want to forget African tradition and in particular the ‘human warmth of the African community’. Her work reflects a vision of the modern and traditional world in one.

In her work ‘Femme Modernité’, one can see women using computers and smartphones but at the same time Kine has depicted these women together instead of in isolation. This is a reference to communal life in Africa. Kine explains: “The modern world has become a global village but one should not forget the richness of one’s culture.”

Kine Aw ‘Femme Modernité’
Kine Aw ‘Femme Modernité’

She finds it important that people benefit from the advantages of modernity but believes we should strive for a balance between traditional and modern values. “One forgets one’s own beauty. Africans want to be like Europeans, they desire a Dior bag because they think that Europe and the US are El-Dorado. That I find very sad. They forget to be proud of who they are … because a society without culture is an empty society.”  Kine sees herself as a counsellor and as an ambassador of her culture and feels a responsibility to raise awareness through her paintings. “My paintings show that Africa is beautiful and that people should invest in Africa. That needs to be done in Africa itself.”

Kine Aw 'Civisme'
Kine Aw ‘Civisme’

Contemporary African art

Sometimes Kine’s artworks are labelled as typical African art, due to the fact that one can trace African women and objects such as traditional instruments like the ‘Kora’. For Kine something like contemporary African art doesn’t exist: “We are all contemporary and of course everyone’s creativity is influenced by their surroundings. That’s something that creates an enormous wealth, a cultural diversity”. Kine laughs: “But of course a winter landscape with ice and snow is not likely to come from the African continent!”

Afraid of differences

Kine loves to inform and share thoughts about different aspects in society. As a critical reporter she tries to encourage people to reflect on themselves and she mainly focuses on women. According to Kine, Senegal is a modern, yet traditional society in which women have their place. This means it’s not always easy being a woman. There is always social pressure, many women do what is expected of them, they choose the professions they think that are respectable and give them dignity.

Kine Aw

Kine explains that most women are afraid to do something unusual, to stand out and follow their passion. Because others might look at you and think you are different and thus fear you. Kine: “When people are afraid of you, you are on the side-line. And when you are on the side line, you are considered crazy. But who is the one who is really crazy? Is it the people who do things because society imposes it, in order to have a certain status? Unfortunately society is afraid of differences. But women should stand up for themselves and crawl out of their shells.”

Kine Aw

Kine not only shows differences in her artworks by depicting, for example, women in bikinis on the beach in a traditional Muslim society, she is also different herself since she is a female artist.

Follow your passion

When it comes to being a female artist in Senegal, it’s even more difficult. Kine: “It is a taboo for a woman to pass to the side-line and become a painter. Being an artist is seen as marginal. People have not yet understood, because our society does not have any intellectual culture, or notion, regarding the artistic doctrine… Women should not cultivate the prejudice that visual art is only for men.” For Kine it’s always been clear what she wanted to become in life. “Since I was a child I loved creating my own imaginary world and I don’t care what others say or think about me. It’s my personality; I am a person who does what she wants. I stop for no one, for no one in the world. I will always do what I do now, I love it. It’s my destiny to follow my passion.”

English subtitles available, click on the cc-button in the video.