Artist Statement

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).

Bibliography

Morris, Kadish. 2019. “Going back home.” Frieze 195-198.

 

Display for the final exhibit

The current ideas I have considered about the curation of my pirogue:

  • Front of the boat will be slightly elevated, to look like it is coming from a wave and make it more of an active piece
  • Going to lay some fabric on the floor to make it seem like it is coming out the waves
  • A fishing net will drape off the pirogue, either from the back or the front of the pirogue
  • Keeping the same 2 audio pieces from my Week 8 exhibition
  • Headphones will be placed on the pillars on either side of the pirogue

Curating with the exhibition committee

I signed up for the exhibition committee as part of the curatorial team, this was a really exciting but challenging role to undertake, but with the proposals on hand, we managed to effectively place all of our coursemates.

My piece was placed in Spur F, it will be displayed alongside four other sculptural floor pieces placed around the middle of the room.

Pirogue painting

After creating my pirogue, I had to update my initial design idea to one which would fit the proportions of the structure I had built and this was the final version:

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As most pirogue’s have their designs on a white background, I started off by painting a white base

I then went onto to drawing out the design I planned to paint, this proved rather challenging as the shapes were quite organic so quite difficult to try and measure out, I mainly had to do it by freehand.

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Below is the first stage of completing the painting, I now plan to make some of the edges smoother and to add a few layers of paint in some areas

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After some refinement this is what the pirogue looks like, I’m quite happy with it although the lines are still not quite as clean as I would’ve liked, in future, I would perhaps have used masking tape in order to prevent this.

Building a pirogue

For my piece, I decided to be a bit ambitious and go out of my comfort zone as from the start I was drawn to the idea of creating my own version of a pirogue. As I wanted to create a physical object that the audience could engage with that I felt was a significant symbol of the fisherman’s culture in Saint Louis.

After figuring out the maths behind the measurements, I started off by cutting out the external shape of the pirogue.

After this, Adam recommended I create an internal frame to give strength to the structure as seen below:

Once the frame was built, I attached the MDF boards to it:

This process was quite a lot more difficult than I expected, I hadn’t built anything in the workshop since my first year at university so going in with this idea at first was a bit daunting. Although some of the measurements didn’t come out perfect, I’m glad I dove in headfirst and took the risk of trying as I am really proud of the structure that I have managed to build over the Easter break.

Pirogue design

After doing my research I played around with the idea of creating my own design for a pirogue, which would be in homage to the spirit of Mame Coumba Bang. From the video I had watched, I decided to incorporate personal aspects to the design of the pirogue. Like many pirogues, I incorporated the colours and design of the Senegalese flag, but I also incorporated the colours of the Norwegian flag.  I thought this was important as these are the two countries which have influenced my identity and upbringing the most as both my parents are from Senegal but I was born in Norway and spent most of my early years there.

I also found it quite significant to name the pirogue after Mame Coumba Bang, most fishermen do tend to give their pirogues a female name but also significantly the video I watched of the pirogue painter mentioned that it was important to have an emblem which brings luck to the fishermen. As the protector of the town and the waters, having the pirogue named after Mame Coumba Bang was my way of symbolising the luck needed.

Zineb Sedira

Mother Tongue 2002

“Sedira’s video work “Mother Tongue” looks at three generations of the artist’s family, each communicating in their own ‘mother tongue’, but unable to communicate directly through words. “Mother Tongue” features documentary-style interviews that the artist conducted with her mother and her daughter. The multilingual nature of the dialogues—in Arabic, French and English—connects past and present, revealing bonds that are subtle yet resilient. About the work Sedira states:

“Lack of communication is also a way of conveying meaning. My mother never learned French properly because she wanted to show her rejection of the French language and behaviour after the war of independence, even though she and my father lived in France for economic reasons—North African immigrants were used as cheap labor. They experienced a lot of racism, and my parents felt a sense of failure that they had to bring up their children in that culture. They were angry that the French had managed to divide their Arab identity too, setting Algerians against each other by giving French citizenship to Algerian Christians and Jews but not Muslims, so that Arabs and Algerians would turn against each other.”

—Amy Brandt, Exhibition Assistant, Global Feminisms

https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/zineb-sedira

I really resonated with this piece in relation to how language and the mother-daughter relationship is portrayed. The dynamic of being multilingual is something which plays out in most of my family experiences and I think this is something prevalent in my piece through my recordings with my mother. Personally English is the language which I am most comfortable with but I felt that by having my mother tell the story in English, which isn’t her mother tongue, it would make the piece detached from its origins in Senegal. Initially, my mother chose to tell the story in French and I think this is partly due to my younger sisters who were also present for the recording not being able to speak Wolof, which was the language my mother was told the story in. French is also colonial language deeply integrated into Senegalese society, and I’ve found that dissimilarly to Sedira’s mother, she didn’t reject the language. Instead, I feel she takes ownership by using the colonial language in order to convey a narrative relating to Senegalese heritage.