At the antipode of countryside mythology and suburbian utopianism, the imaginary cities of Mamadou Cissé burst forth from their colourful grids across the landscape of the creative spectrum.
© Mamadou Cissé, Untitled, 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Bernard Jordan Paris/Zurich.
Pondering the inevitable changes of modern society, Cissé condenses his bewildering perspectives by laying on the canvas the groundwork of his ongoing contemplation of future cosmopolis.
An autodidact in the purist sense of the word, Cissé is a commanding artist whose had to pay the kind of dues that are all but unthinkable to most pupils emanating from art schools today. His art career was by no means a smooth sailing one. Gazing at the apparently chaotic path which ultimately lead him to recognition, one can almost see it as a messianic journey, especially in view of the bounty of critical acclaim the artist is currently receiving the world over.
Part real and imaginary, Mamadou Cissé’s urban grids are always depicted as if viewed from a helicopter hovering above the cities of Paris, New York, Sydney, Chicago or Addis Abeba for that matter.
© Mamadou Cissé, Untitled, 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Bernard Jordan Paris/Zurich.
Revealing the core vitality and density withheld inside each of these phantasmagoric hubs, Cissé’s artwork reflects an innate forte for planning and optimising surfaces; a sort of colourful tongue-in-cheek to Jacques Tati’s cinematographic architectural anthem, ’Playtime.’
Cissé’s ethos as a self-invented urbanist, aborts the need to claim more urban space as residential alternatives; instead his ambition is to build upwards in order to avoid spreading out any further onto an increasingly scarce and precious land.
The art of Mamadou Cissé is visionary in the sense that it offers a glimpse at a possible cultural fusion, unearthing futuristic abodes where fulfilling and creative urban lives can thrive. Often romanticised and fantasist, Cissé succeeds in raising concepts that are as thoughtful as they are insightful.
Operating a sort of ideological paradigm shift for the incredible power of human endeavour, Cissé’s oeuvre probes us to reflect on man’s ability to re-create his environment, hopefully for one that is better, safer and far more harmonious than its precedent avatars.
Another Africa recently met with the artist in Paris to talk about his current projects, dreams & aspirations and above all his optimistic vision for a joyful “Urbis et Orbis”.
© Mamadou Cissé, Untitled, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Bernard Jordan Paris/Zurich.
Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray | You were born in a small village called Baghagha near Zigninchor (in Senegal), what triggered your move to Paris at the tender age of 18?
Mamadou Cissé | My uncle who already lived in Paris since the 60’s, was in charge of my welfare. Naturally he arranged for me to join him.
JBC | You’ve previously been involved in a string of jobs as varied as: tailor, construction worker, apprentice in a wallpaper manufacturing company, but also as a baker for nearly 18 years. Lately you’ve been earning a living as a security guard. How has this seemingly chaotic career evolution influenced your ethos as an artist?
MC | It is not so much the jobs that I’ve had to assume but rather living in large cities and later traveling which has greatly influenced my vision as an artist. However, my last position as a security guard marked a big turning point, because as I was working at night. I drew so that I would not fall asleep.
JBC | Your art seems to celebrate if not sublimate the incredible power of human endeavour; the almost fearless desire of men to expand and conquer uncharted territories. Where does this fascination comes from?
MC | I’ve always been fascinated by human ingenuity and our ability to devise solutions to the problems posed by our own development. Strangely, this makes me very optimistic for the future.
JBC | African artists in general, even those emulating from the diaspora, are still too often stereotyped in such derogatory terms such as so called “primitive artists” or “naïve artists”; although it is clear the vast majority of contemporary African artists do not fit into these limiting categories. Do you think an artist – African or not – should be evaluated based only on his geographic origin or better yet based on his cultural background?
MC | Creativity has no origin and knows no boundaries. To me categories are mere simplifications.
JBC | How would you describe your own work and to what artistic current do you feel closest to?
MC | My only source of inspiration is the city itself and more so the architectural urban landscape. I am neither an architect nor an urbanist, but I do feel close to them. I do not necessarily feel close to any artistic movement.
JBC | There is an obsessive attention to detail pervading throughout your body of work. It is difficult to imagine that some of your drawings are actually achieved freehand. What technic do you use?… and approximately how much time is required to complete a piece?
MC | First I build a grid by defining the perspectives, then I start playing on the heights and depths. The grid is executed freehand with a pencil, then I fix it with an ink pen before applying colour with various types of markers. I need approximately ten days to execute a design in a size of 24 x 32 cm.
JBC | Apart from “urbanism”, “futurism” seems to be an other predominant theme of inspiration.
MC | Through my drawings, I’m inventing a future that will be able to house and feed our ever so increasingly expanding world population. I believe it is the core responsibility of a city to do so; to host, to feed and bring together its community. At least, that’s the kind of city I aspire to reinvent.
JBC | What is your take on the evolution of African cities and do you think they should follow the blueprint of western megapolis?
MC | Megacities already exist in Africa. The main issue resides in the fact that African cities are growing very rapidly and tend to spread too fast. We must learn to build upwards in order to preserve the land. We must learn to manage space.
JBC | What is your position regarding ecology and do you think there is a real chance for modern day society to wise up and incorporate greener solutions in order to reduce pollution; for example regarding the emissions of carbon monoxide?
MC | The technologies that help us reduce pollution already exist and a lot is already done to put them into practice. As far as urbanism, making ecology part of the equation will give us the ability to build better, safer… and greener. It is just as much the responsibility of scientists and creatives-thinkers to articulate these modules, as it is for politicians to implement them effectively, and for us citizen of humanity to fulfil our duty by putting them into pratice on a daily basis.
JBC | Many of your drawings strangely resemble the beautiful, intricate and colourful tibetan mandalas. Is there an element of spirituality hidden inside your work ?
MC | I believe that every work of art holds a kind of spiritual dimension. My work glorifies human endeavour and the cities that I reinvent are places of joy.
Mamadou Cissé’s (b. Senegal) inaugural artistic exhibition took place for the first time in 2007 at the Maison d’art contemporain Chailloux in Fresnes. Drawings by the artist were also presented in 2009 at the Salon du Dessin Contemporain; an exhibition organized in collaboration with the Espace d’art contemporain Camille Lambert, in Juvisy-sur-Orge and Maison d’art contemporain Chailloux in Fresnes which also dedicated a solo exhibition to Mamadou Cissé. In 2012, his work was shown at 10th Dak’Art Biennale, Dakar and in the group exhibition, “Histoire de Voir” at Paris’ Fondation Cartier.
He is represented by Galerie Bernard Jordan, Paris.
Written by Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray.
Senegal| Doing our part to combat immappancy
All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.