Remnants of an urban poster campaign can still be found wheat pasted throughout the city of Dakar. Ten portraits of unknown Senegalese youth jostled for space and visibility during the Dak’Art Biennale 2014 and alongside Dakar’s municipal elections. An artistic intervention, deliberately timed to garner both local and international visibility implanted these individuals in the visual language of the city, and its cultural, social and political discourse.
This interposition is the brainchild of artistic collective Les Petites Pierres and collaboration with London based photographer Nina Manandhar. For almost 10 years, Les Petites Pierres has been initiating music and artistic projects throughout Senegal to promote and encourage social change. Their latest endeavor turned its attention towards marginalized youth through the development of the Heroes Residency, which encourages artists to engage with Dakar’s youth and urban environment by responding to the ‘hero’ theme.
As the first to participate in the residency Manandhar worked closely with Les Petites Pierres to debunk sensitivities around youth, by documenting their vitality, style and potential to create social change. Titled “Ndawi Tey; Fecc Rekk?” (All They Do is Dance?) uses a pejorative Wolof expression to dissect the discordance between youth culture and the older generations perception of Senegalese youth as perpetual “tea-drinking, lazy, dancers.”
“With regards to the project, I got a huge number of phone calls from people who had seen the posters and wanted to know what exactly the project was about. So it really reached the population. The poster idea created a lot of buzz, but simply by looking at the posters a lot of people didn’t really understand. On a personal level the project allowed me to get to know the other heroes, particularly those who aren’t in the domain of urban cultures. It also allowed my family to understand that I’m not messing around with my work as a photographer and cultural activist, that for me it’s a real job.”
– Ina Thiam, cultural activist and head of documentation at Africulturban.
At the heart of this multifaceted project are portraits of 10 unsung heroes, selected in collaboration with youth workers and cultural producers across the city. A diverse and reflective combination of Dakar’s current realities, the portraits were taken in the everyday environments of each hero, and correspond to their general state of anonymity. The local talents, diverse in their skills and creative offerings, range from Dakar’s first female DJ, a children’s’ rights activists, to a computer entrepreneur who never attended school. By highlighting the creativity and innovations of tomorrow’s leaders, the project points towards the cultural shifts in how we view, respond, practice and produce in a digital era.
Entering into a new phase of the project, Les Petites Pierres has developed both The Heroes website, to provide an archival platform for each hero’s profile as well as an audience participation section, titled ‘engage’ where people are encouraged to submit their own heroes. Lastly, the organization is in the process of establishing partnerships with local radio stations to incorporate a “hero” minute every week, as well as local centers for runaway children to promote workshops around the hero theme.
Les Petites Pierres contributes to Dakar’s creative scene through the production of artistic projects. Active since 2005, the association has given life to an artistic laboratory and incubator which has incorporated ateliers, residencies, exhibitions and a diverse set of events that welcome a cosmopolitan public. Beyond its walls, Les Petites Pierres is committed to a creative process that connects art and social issues, where the city’s life is interrogated and implicated in artistic interventions. Les Petites Pierres federates individuals who contribute to achieving a small part of utopia; changing the world, Petite Pierre par Petite Pierre (brick by brick). The heroes residency is funded by the Artists International Development Fund (AIDF).
Nina Manandhar is a photographic artist living in London. Inspired by the vibrancy of youth and the dynamism of city life, her celebratory photographs and mixed media projects examine the use of style and culture as tools for iden- ti␣cation and belonging in Global youth cultures. Her work has been exhibited at Tate Modern and the Institute Of Contemporary Art.
Written by Stephanie Baptist