My piece is a multimedia sculpture piece, which explores the relationship of the fisherman culture and the story of Mame Coumba Bang, a protective spirit in the river of my mother’s hometown on the Island of N’dar in Saint Louis, Senegal. The main part of the sculpture is a boat, known locally as a pirogue, painted in the iconic style of a fisherman’s pirogue in Senegal, with a handmade fishing net hanging out of the boat. The piece also shows a Calabash which was used in everyday life traditionally in Senegal. Now it is mainly used to make offerings to the river goddess in exchange for the town’s protection.
In Senegal, oral tradition is an invaluable part of the culture and has played an essential role in keeping important histories and legacies in the country. This tradition being carried on is also a main way that I have kept a strong connection to the country despite having never lived there. This is reflected in the piece as two sound pieces which are recordings of my mother recounting the story of Mame Coumba Bang in Wolof and French. Whilst I was initially concerned about the language barrier with a mainly Anglophone audience, to translate it to English would detach the story from its origins significantly. I also felt that it may not necessarily be a hindrance to one’s experience with the piece. I experienced a similar cultural barrier with the piece Memory by Dale Harding and Jordan Upkett, a mural which represents stories that their aboriginal community can only partly share with outsiders. Having to listen to a story in a language one doesn’t understand can create a common experience of figuring out how to engage with an unfamiliar culture. Thus, the piece creates a different relationship depending on whether one can engage with the language or just the visual aspects of the piece.
This was quite a challenging piece to make as I don’t have much experience with woodwork. I wanted to explore sculpture as a curating module I took on my study abroad in Monash in Australia made me want to make work where I could experiment more with the curation and create a more interactive piece as compared to my paintings from last year.
This was a personal piece about reconnecting with my heritage whilst living abroad but was also a tool of sharing a cultural experience and story with an audience that may not necessarily have encountered it otherwise. My experience of making the piece resonated with the work of 3 artists from the African diaspora in the article Going Back Home in a recent Frieze magazine, whose work was about revisitation, the power of personal histories, the practice of archiving and the legacy of colonialism, as “Many born as a consequence of colonialism and mass displacement embark upon similar journeys of ancestral discovery” (Morris 2019).
Morris, Kadish. 2019. “Going back home.” Frieze 195-198.