It is with a title of diverse inspirations that the Senegalese-Italian artist Binta Diaw welcomes us to enter the exhibition.
“Toolu Xeer – [the stone field]” in Wolof is an emblematic and demanding space where Binta Diaw clings to the material that encompasses her to make the world. “Toolu Xeer – [the stone field],” is important for a tactful, yet fundamental exchange with the subject of the Dakar Biennale, Ĩ Ndaffa/Forger. Here, Binta Diaw shapes our gaze through a discreet play of references to Senegalese history and art history.
In the spring of 2021, famous uprisings erupt in Dakar, testing what their leaders describe as harassment against the opportunity of civil society.
Pandemic-related delay, whatsapp correspondence control, vague alterations to the rules: this rush of fights will cost the existence of 13 individuals; 13 spirits embodied in the installation “Strange Fruit (2022)“. A ball gauges, suspended like a motionless clock that sounds the mark of the end of the agreement. Under the bright green-yellow-red aegis, the stones of outrage are effectively kept intact… Until they shatter. Upon entering the solid and flawless form provided by Binta Diaw, the submersion is absolute. If one stretches one’s ear, beyond the respectful quietude of the exhibition, one hears the din of a stone air whose plans for future struggles stop, sharpened, for their time. A ball hangs, like a motionless hanged man, echoing the notes of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a jazz regret about subjection.
In the next piece, another objection, this time wonderful and resonant, is heard. With an economy of innuendo that describes her training and picks up the trend of moderation and arte povera, Binta Diaw transports us to a crossroads of never again, that of the Thiaroye massacre.
In December 1944, the Senegalese riflemen returned to the military quarters of Thiaroye, in the suburbs of Dakar. The revolt rumbled on the grounds that these soldiers, who had come from the French states, had not accepted their indemnity. For having contested, they were killed by the French armed force in conditions that are still painful today. Where are the remains of these men killed by France? The “1/12/44 (2022)” is a field of earth where the stones of the graves are absent. A rich field, however, where the seeds of our food, millet and corn, grow. Entering the space in the names of the departed, walking on the ground involves facing history and its voids, but also assuming the obligation to compose new narratives.
The textural exchanges, held on the wall like pages in a book, are made of recorded images that Binta Diaw pulled from the stores of the Dakar Armed Forces Museum. Records of the Thiaroye pre-trial hearings, the terms used at the time and stacked with the remnants of philosophy, cohabit with authentic images in an ephemeral creation. The reading and the comprehension are deserved, the work of the eye must be equivalent to the complexity of the set of experiences.
Then, in Terere’s Wooden Pestle, (2022), the drafts of it, that set of experiences over and over again told by others than oneself, are crushed with a now quiet fury in the light fog of the room. The installation is a performance center of habit where the main job is female, conveyed bare and crushed. Binta Diaw‘s vision is discreet, with a balance of power. Without brutality, she represents a presence: that of the occupation of ladies always. The social dresses are like symbols, the red of the champion and the light blue of a delicate evening of consolation. To plant the seeds of the field, to hammer the thoughts of the world, to make a space for them to happen. The Senegalese shooters were joined by their wives who followed the daily existence in the camps. In 2021, the ladies of Dakar also dissented.
“Toolu Xeer – [the stone field]” is a circular exhibition where living installations respond to, associate with and complement each other. By examining key crossroads in Senegalese history, Binta Diaw welcomes us into a beautiful and delicate reflection on the meaning of personality and the political uses of the public man over time.