Traditional wrestling is a west African past time. In Senegal laamb, as it is known by its Wolof name, has risen to epic heights. It’s top wrestlers are kings of the arena and modern day celebrities. The legends they create, winning purses (190 ~ 300K) they garner, mixed in with animist and muslim mysticism makes laamb an aerie for heroes, and the enterprise of many a young Senegalese boy. Internationally renown photographer Denis Rouvre’s portrait series, Lamb, brings these larger than life athletes from one of Dakar’s seventy some stables front and centre.
© Denis Rouvre. Lamb. Courtesy of the artist.
Historically, laamb was played during the harvest though in recent decades it has become a national televised spectacle of urban life more popular than soccer. The contest places two loin clothed and gris-gris (juju) amulet wearing opponents into a sandy arena. Before stepping in however, each wrestler meets his marabout. His seer, a Sufi spiritual practioner who recites koranic verse and provides sarafas potions, of milk and other properties which the wrestler will pour over his head and body for added courage and divine protection. Cloaked with magical protection, the wrestlers skillfully jostle until the winner brings his opponent crashing to the ground in matches as short as several seconds or lasting up to several minutes.
Unique to laamb is that in some matches, wrestlers are allowed to strike and punch their opponents. These are the epic battles that draw throngs of spectators, shamans, musicians, sponsors, media outlets and promoters to feverish matches where legends are born.
Lamb in addition to other series by Denis Rouvre will be shown in the exhibition ‘Kanak’ held in Paris at Hélène Bailly Gallery in Festival Photo Saint-Germain-des-Prés from Nov 7 ~ 23, 2013.
Denis Rouvre (b. 1967, Epinay sur Seine, France) lives and works in Paris. He is a portrait photographer with a large and impressive portfolio. He has photographed an extensive amount of internationally known celebrities throughout the years, but works on many other series, personal and editorial. These series have been exhibited extensively around the world. He has also released several books and monographs. The series Senegalese Wrestling won the second prize in the Sports features stories at World Press Photo in 2010. In 2012, Somogy éditions d’Art published the book Lamb: Lutteurs du Sénégal.
Written by Missla Libsekal.
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All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.