Painting a bigger picture: Senegal’s pioneering ‘first lady’ of graffiti | Global development


When Dieynaba Sidibé found graffiti, it was love at first sight. She was 17 and had already begun experimenting with portray and drawing.

“​​It was on TV. I used to be sitting in my lounge and I noticed folks doing large partitions and I assumed, ‘That is what I would like’,” the Senegalese artist says, one hoop earring shaking as she laughs. “I don’t like small issues. I used to be doing large canvases, and I stated to myself: ‘A wall is a bigger floor for expression’.”

Her mother and father wished her to give attention to her research, however Sidibé, who adopted the identify Zeinixx, sought out Senegal’s budding graffiti group, discovering her method to the Africulturban cultural affiliation – a nonprofit in Dakar’s Pikine suburb that promotes city tradition via festivals and abilities coaching.

There, she persuaded one of the nation’s pioneering artists, Oumar Diop, AKA Afia Grafixx, to mentor her.

“I already had my primary drawing abilities as a result of I used to attract Mickey Mouse, McDonald’s logos, and issues like that, and I drew on the partitions of my room,” Zeinixx, 31, says. “Grafixx confirmed me what graffiti was – how one can write, how one can do lettering – and I began to get all in favour of hip-hop tradition. Now, right here I’m, 14 years later.”

Zeinixx is Senegal’s first feminine skilled graffiti artist and a core member of its male-dominated hip-hop scene. She can also be a slam poet, singer, and entrepreneur. In August, she launched Zeinixx Leisure, organising visible arts workshops for younger folks.

“My chorus is to inform younger folks: ‘Don’t let others select for you what you wish to do tomorrow’,” she says from the Africulturban centre, the place she runs communications and is getting ready for her subsequent challenge at a women’ highschool in Dakar.

“For me, it’s important to have the ability to make your individual choices,” she says.

People walk past a graffiti mural in Dakar, Senegal
‘I feel we discovered our microphone, to get messages out’: artwork work created by Zeinixx’s college students throughout a graffiti workshop in Dakar, Senegal, December 2021. {Photograph}: Man Peterson/The Guardian

Senegal is in some ways a conservative nation, but additionally has a lengthy historical past of artwork, music and poetry. Historically on this half of west Africa, the creative caste of griots have been liable for storytelling via music, spoken phrase, and dance. Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a poet. And final yr, a Senegalese author, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, received the distinguished Goncourt literary prize.

“All that is the widespread level that unites us, that brings us all collectively,” says Zeinixx, who colleagues confer with because the “first woman” of graffiti. “It’s this want to specific ourselves, this must share issues and to do lovely issues, whether or not it’s audiovisual or one thing bodily like dance, or one thing else.”

Hip-hop took root in Senegal within the Eighties with some American affect. Nevertheless it has maintained its personal distinctive flavour.

“It’s a tradition that has a lot of virtues and ideas, like peace, love, and concord,” Zeinixx says. “Right here in Senegal you’ll discover [the traditional Wolof and Pulaar oral poetry] tassou, kebetu, and pekan – these genres should not hip-hop however they’ve similarities.”

Graffiti, one of the 4 fundamental parts of hip-hop tradition, is extra accepted in Senegal than in another nations.

“In the USA, for instance, there’s a particular brigade that tracks down graffiti artists. We’re not like that,” she says. “Right here, it’s a nation the place you do graffiti and a policeman stops to say ‘Respect man, that’s good!’ […] So I feel we discovered a method to make it our factor, our microphone, to get messages out.”

Senegalese graffiti is usually socially acutely aware messaging, Zeinixx says.

“You converse on to the folks with messages like, ‘Cease throwing garbage within the streets,’ or one thing like ‘thiono dou reer’ [hard work always pays off],” she says. “They’re really messages of hope.”

Sidibé in her studio in Dakar, 9 December 2021
Zeinixx in her studio in Dakar, 9 December 2021. {Photograph}: Man Peterson/The Guardian

She and her fellow graffiti artists as soon as got here throughout a dilapidated wall, coated in garbage and urine, in Dakar’s Colobane neighbourhood. They cleaned it up and coated it with the message: “Be the protector of your surroundings.”

“For a very long time, the wall remained clear,” she says.

Zeinixx’s messages are sometimes for and about ladies. Final month, she participated in a campaign as half of the annual UN initiative 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. At her first workshop, Graff’All, in October and November, six of the 14 contributors have been ladies.

“It was essential that they might see me within the room very, fairly often, and it was essential that they might hear from me,” she says. “We’re nonetheless in a very masculine surroundings … and the uncommon ladies we discover on this surroundings, most of the time, they don’t actually assert themselves.”

What she is doing is big, says Fatou Warkha Sambe, a distinguished Senegalese feminist and journalist. “We want ladies all over the place, in each area. And he or she’s a pioneer, so I like her.”

One other current workshop, Taaru Mbedd (magnificence on the street), paired 15 younger artists with mentors for 4 days of discussions earlier than they painted the partitions of the French cultural organisation the Institut Français du Sénégal à Dakar. Impressed by the theme djoko, which implies connection or communication in Wolof, their work might be exhibited there till April.

Artworks in a studio
Art work created by Zeinixx’s college students throughout a workshop in her studio in Dakar, December 2021. {Photograph}: Man Peterson/The Guardian

Zeinixx requested the trainee artists to deliver their households to the exhibition’s opening. In her speech, she pointed to her mom within the viewers and stated, “If what we’re doing is a dangerous factor, my mom wouldn’t be right here.”

She advised them that, as Senegal’s first lady graffiti artist, she has travelled to Australia, Belgium, France, Switzerland and the US. “I’ve represented Senegal everywhere in the world, and it’s graffiti that obtained me there,” she stated.

Afterwards, she says, a number of mother and father referred to as to thank her for reassuring them.

“Recently, the actions she has been main, the workshops – we see younger women all in favour of graffiti as a result of she has began to essentially affect women,” says Babacar Niang, AKA Matador, a graffiti artist, dancer, rapper, and early member of Senegal’s hip-hop group, who based Africulturban.

“It’s nice, as a result of it’s not a man’s area: in case you have it in you, you need to be capable to do it. Her challenge should proceed as a result of the women want these areas to specific themselves, to blossom,” he says.

Zeinixx stands in her studio next to boxes of spray paint cans
Zeinixx stands in her studio subsequent to containers of spray paint cans that she makes use of for her graffiti. {Photograph}: Man Peterson/The Guardian

Niang has recognized Zeinixx since she was a teenager and says she at all times had expertise.

“At first, we needed to insist that she give attention to her research, however as soon as she had completed faculty and we couldn’t ask her to not come, she started to combine extra with us,” he says. “Graffiti wasn’t very developed in Senegal on the time, after which to have a woman who wished to do it, it was large.”

Zeinixx has a simple message for younger ladies.

“It’s to inform the women to be centered on what they need to do, what they need to turn out to be … to set objectives that they’ll obtain,” she says. “Don’t ask, ‘Can I do it?’ When in your head you say, ‘I’m going to do it,’ usually you possibly can.”

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