Five towering wooden figures dwarf visitors to the “Lend Me Your Dream” exhibition at Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilisations. The sculptures of fire-darkened cedar stand in a circle, as if deep in conversation.
The imposing work by Ivorian artist Koko Bi is meant to show the strength of Africans outside their homelands. It also echoes a central goal of the ambitious traveling show: to forge stronger cultural understanding between Africans within Africa.
To this end, organizers amassed what they say is an unprecedented number of works by around 30 prominent contemporary African artists for the first pan-African art exhibition to tour the continent.
“Too often, the trajectories of artists from Africa have been built through exhibitions in Paris, Berlin, London, New York … ,” senior curator Yacouba Konate says in the introduction to the show.
In contrast, this project launched in the Moroccan city of Casablanca last June and will end in Marrakech later in 2020, after touring south via Dakar, Abidjan, Lagos, Addis Ababa and Cape Town.
The drive to redraw the map of contemporary African art comes as African governments step up pressure on Western museums to return artifacts seized during the colonial era. Around 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is believed to be held outside the continent.
The more than 100 artworks in “Lend Me Your Dream” are in a range of media, from photography and collage to painting and sculptures of wood, metal or salvaged materials.
Some tackle issues including migration and the legacy of colonialism. Burkinabe artist Ky Siriki’s sculpture “Africa facing its destiny” shows a white couple offering briefcases of loans to a group of black people in exchange for raw commodities.
Other pieces are more abstract, such as Algerian Yazid Oulab’s untitled paintings of tendril-like black, white and gray lines or the works by Senegal’s Viye Diba that incorporate vivid scraps of traditional wax cloth.
The artists’ countries of origin are not mentioned in the descriptions next to their work, as if encouraging the viewer to see the art in a continental rather than national context.
Senegalese painter Soly Cisse, whose oils are also featured, said he liked that the exhibition was adding works of art as the tour progresses.
“It is a journey that we are doing together. That is the dream actually,” he said. “We are in an idea of seduction, of dialogue, of communication, of sharing.”