Senegal Censors Homosexual Art

Artist speaks out following crackdown.

Andrew Esiebo, Who are we (from untitled series) Photo: Courtesy Raw Material Company, © Andrew Esiebo
Andrew Esiebo, Who are we (from untitled series) Photo: Courtesy Raw Material Company, © Andrew Esiebo

The Senegalese government has ruled that exhibitions, which address the issue of homosexuality must be closed or canceled, according to a report by Le Monde. “Ultimately, fear of the Other has struck once again,” Berlin-based artist Kader Attia told his network of friends in an email. The government’s drastic move was prompted by attacks on a group exhibition in which Attia’s work was shown at Dakar’s much-lauded art space Raw Material Company. The show, titled Imagerie précaire, visibilité gay en Afrique (Precarious Imaging: Visibility and Media Surrounding African Queerness), also featured works by Jim Chuchu, Andrew Esiebo, Amanda Kerdahi M., and Zanele Muholi and was a collateral event to the Dakar Biennale, Dak’Art.

According to Attia,  a group of religious fundamentalists stormed Raw Material Company on the evening of May 12th, breaking its windows and knocking out lights on its exterior. The mob threatened to come back and continue their destruction. But the Senegalese state closed the exhibition before they had a chance.

According to Le Monde, the charge was led by Mame Mactar Guèye, vice-president of Senegal-based Islamic organization, Jamra, who went on TV to demand the closure of all exhibitions related to homosexuality. In a further interview, Guèye went on to say, “This event is supposed to promote our culture, but proves to be propaganda for unions which are against nature. Undeniably, this edition of Dak’Art has been detrimental to our morality and to our laws.”

Andrew Esiebo, Who are we (from untitled series) Photo: Courtesy Raw Material Company, © Andrew Esiebo

Andrew Esiebo, Who are we (from untitled series)
Photo: Courtesy Raw Material Company, © Andrew Esiebo

Dak’Art’s secretary general, Babacar Mbaye Diop skirted association with the controversy-inducing show, saying that the biennial was “not responsible for collateral exhibitions,” only the works in Dak’Art itself.

Across much of the African continent, anti-homosexual sentiments are becoming increasingly formalized. “In terms of a continental movement, most of the legislating is occurring on the conservative side,” journalist J Lester Feder told Monocle24 over the weekend, speaking broadly about the trends in LGBT rights in Africa. In Senegal, open homosexuality can warrant prison time. At the end of last year, Nigeria and Uganda passed strict anti-homosexuality legislation, joining 37 other African natures with legally formalized discrimination against the LGBT community.  “It’s tempting to talk about it being a global polarization where you have the Americas and Europe moving in one direction, Africa, Russia, and other parts of eastern Europe moving in the other direction,” Feder continued.

Last month, Raw Material Company director Koyo Kouoh told Le Monde that although Senegalese society was very conformist, she didn’t believe that exhibitions like Imagerie précaire, visibilité gay en Afrique would fall outside the realm of possibility within the country. Rather, she explained that she hoped art was a field within which Senegal’s norms could be productively transgressed.


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