N'goné Fall: 'Governments are the last parties you want to cooperate with'

April 2008 -

The fact that relatively few artists are able to exhibit their work in the North is primarily due to the fact that the wrong partners are chosen, according to N’goné Fall, architect and curator from Senegal, during the Unlimited curiosity conference held in Rotterdam on 31 March 2008. "Both development organisations and cultural institutions first seek contact with the governments of African countries. And that is precisely where they do not need to be. In Senegal, no one wants to cooperate with the government, so why should a Dutch organisation?"

Fall talked about erroneous presumptions in Europe about art and cultural institutions in Africa. "Unlike in the Netherlands, for example, there is no cultural infrastructure in Senegal. The only museum of modern art closed its doors in 1998. The government considers art to be elitist entertainment. When the government is approached by European institutions inquiring after artists available to participate in international exchanges, they send the minister's shoeshine boy who also paints in his spare time. Thus this is utterly useless. It is useful to approach artists or others involved in art, who know other people in turn. But they are extremely hard to find."

New media have made things easier in recent years, Fall says. She personally established a virtual office in Dakar on the Gaw web site, where artists in various disciplines work together in the common ground of visual art and new media. The local art academies consider that discipline 'too Western'. "That is ridiculous, because you can do anything you want with it, just like with paint and brushes." Internet also made it possible for Fall to organise a large exhibition in the National Museum in Mali together with colleagues from Nigeria and Tunisia. "But the meetings in person generated from the virtual contact are what enable you to grow as an artist and a curator. Meetings are inspiring, generating new ideas. This means that international cultural exchanges are extremely important, not only to the individual artists but also to the cultural infrastructure, in Senegal for example."