The first work exhibit you come across at the Prête-moi ton rêve (lend me your dream) exhibition in Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations might be one of giant matchsticks by Senegalese artist, Mansour Ciss Kanakassy. The matchsticks, some of them lit, others yet to be ignited represent the Berlin conference of 1884-1885 and the eventual Scramble for Africa.
Le Laboratoire Deberlinisation (Laboratory of Deberlinization) reminds the visitor that the journey of reimaging the continent’s future is also about digging into its past and shaking off the shackles – an ongoing process for the continent.
Billed as Africa’s first traveling exhibition moving through the continent itself, Prête-moi ton rêve, brings together the work of 30 artists from around 20 countries and will move through seven African cities: Casablanca, Dakar, Abidjan, Lagos, Addis Ababa, Cape Town and Marrakech. The year-long exhibition displays works of various forms including paintings, sculpture, photography, fabric installations etc.
The Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, allowed for a dialogue between the new and the old by incorporating older artifacts from its collection e.g. 200-year old bronze sculptures from Benin, side by side with similar pieces from the contemporary artists. This all ties together the idea of pan-Africanism and a collective history and origin of Africans together—a concept that the borders drawn after the Berlin Conference came to disrupt.
Ivorian artist Siriki Ky’s, Têtes précieuses (Precious heads), sculpted bronze heads piled on a regal red pillow, laments how the continent has forgotten the wisdom from its griots—our own cultural historians. The work thus encourages us also to look to the past for guidance of what type of future we want.
And while reimagining Africans’ future, they must first confront the geographical, economic, political and mental
boundaries that exist in the present. Migration across the Mediterranean is the theme depicted in Ivorian artist, Jems Koko Bi’s, giant wooden sculpture of a boat with two chairs in it named Two Similar Worlds.
The same theme is repeated in Moroccan artist’s, Mahi Binebine’s bronze and leather sculpture, Le Migrant, with the subject’s torso replaced by a suitcase that weighs them down.
Migration from the continent, including taking the perilous route across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean continues to be a risk many are willing to take to escape ever-rising unemployment rates and economic issues in their countries.
The metal and plastic sculptures of Ivorian artist, Siriki Ky’s L’Afrique face à son destin (Africa facing its destiny), confronts the viewer with the irony of the continent’s poverty: Five Africans carrying tins bearing gold and other minerals, while begging from two Caucasians carrying briefcases with loans and aid to extend to the continent.
Some of the works draw inspiration from urban cities and have a futuristic feel to them. An example would be Congolese artist, Chéri Samba’s, Le Secret d’un Petit Poisson Devenu Grand (The Secret of the Little Fish who Grew Big) with the artist drawing inspiration for his works from daily life of people in Kinshasa. Also fascinating is the photography by Cameroonian artist, Angèle Etoundi Essamba’s which depicts African women in non-stereotypical ways showing them as strong, self-aware and with an aura of greatness.