– Summer 2014

Brothers in Arms: Laboratoire AGIT’art and Tenq in Dakar in the 1990s

Clémentine Deliss

Performance of the Laboratoire AGIT’art, Dakar, 1989. Photograph: El Sy

In the beginning, in the mid-1970s, the Laboratoire AGIT’art was a fluid, free group of men and women. There was no formal organisation, no president and secretary or proper membership system. Instead people were called to meet. These meetings would take the form of an atelier or a workshop. Originally, they were held behind closed doors. The first theatre workshops happened in 1974, at Cap Manuel, and then much later in the courtyard of Gérard Chenet, the Senegalese writer and dramaturge of Haitian origin. But they also took place in public locations such as the Musée Dynamique or on the stage of the Centre Culturel Français of Dakar.

Initially the Laboratoire AGIT’art was connected to an experimental theatre group called Les Tréteaux (literally, ‘The Sawhorses’, or ‘The Trestles’), directed
by the late Yussufa John. His troupe offered an antidote to the official productions presented at Dakar’s Théâtre National Daniel Sorano, which centred around Aimé Césaire and other proponents of Négritude. A subsequent relationship brought theatre and the visual arts together with notions of madness, deviance and mendacity.

However, the specific interdisciplinary focus of the Laboratoire AGIT’Art, which soldered its alliance to the visual arts, actually originated with Tenq,
the project space that I ran

  1. El Sy in conversation with the author, November 2013. All quotes from El Sy are translated from the French by the author.

  2. Tenq is Wolof for ‘ankle joint’, ‘articulation’ or ‘connecting point’, and translates in this context
as ‘Meetings between Artists and Audiences’. Tenq started as a gallery and project space, where El Sy and Ali Traoré organised experimental situations and exhibitions of artists’ works between 1980 and 1983. It was later recast as an international workshop project, curated by El Sy and the Tenq group of artists in 1994 in Saint-Louis (as part of ‘africa95’) and in 1996 in Dakar (as part of the Dakar Biennale).

  3. Huit Facettes Interaction is the original name of this artists’ grouping, but it is often abbreviated
to Huit Facettes. Established in 1996, members included El Sy, Kan-Si (also known as Kane Sy),
Fodé Camara, Cheikh Niass, Jean Marie Bruce, Abdoulaye Ndoye and Mor Lyssa Bâ. Their first event took place in 1996 and was called ‘Les ateliers d’Hamdallaye’ (‘The Workshops of Hamdallaye’).
The group worked with local craftspeople and developed alternative activities for the villagers during the winter season, initiating a specific relation between urban and rural aesthetic practices. The project was supported financially by a Belgian NGO and complemented by the investment of the artists themselves. Additional events organised by Huit Facettes include: ‘Carrément pour la paix’ (‘Directly for Peace’, 1997), ‘Téléfood Dakar’ (1998), the workshop ‘Ici et maintenant’ (‘Here and Now’, Joal-Fadiouth, 1998) and the performance-exhibition ‘National Summit on Africa Washington DC’ (2000). In 2002, the group took part in Documenta11 in Kassel.

  4. The following list details curatorial work I initiated between 1994 and 2003, which involved
the participation of El Sy and Issa Samb as well as Fodé Camara, Kan-Si and other artists in Dakar: ‘Tenq 94’ (international workshop in Saint-Louis, as part of the ‘africa95’ festival, 1994); ‘Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa’ (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London and Malmö Konsthall, 1995—96); ‘Tenq 96’ (Chinese village, Dakar Biennale, 1996); Fama & Fortune Bulletin, no.17 (1996); Metronome (1996—2007, of which nos.0, 1, 3 and 7 include texts by Issa Samb and photographs by El Sy); ‘Tempolabor: A Libertine Laboratory?’ (a meeting behind closed doors with the participation of Issa Samb and Kan-Si, at Kunsthalle Basel and Kaskadenkondensator, Basel, which preceded the publication of Metronome No.3 Tempolabor: A Libertine Laboratory? (Basel) 1998); ‘Bureau d’Esprit’ (Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Cittadellarte, Biella, 1999, with El Sy, as part of Metronome No.4–5–6 Backwards Translation (Edinburgh, Bordeaux, Frankfurt, Vienna, Biella) 1999); and ‘The Timing of Transaction’ (think tank that included Issa Samb and Abdou Bâ, co-produced by Arteleku/Consonni, Donostia-San Sebastián).

  5. For instance, in 1996 I was commissioned to create the seventeenth issue of Fama & Fortune Bulletin, published by Peter Pakesch and Johannes Schlebrügge in Vienna, and I used this platform to bring together conversations taking place in Dakar around the Laboratoire AGIT’Art and similar dialogues circulating around the work of the late Joshua Compston and the events of Factual Nonsense in London.

  6. For further information on local organs and periodicals, see Clémentine Deliss (ed.), Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa (exh. cat.), Paris and London: Flammarion and Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1995

  7. El Hadji Moussa Babacar Sy and Friedrich Axt (ed.), Anthology of Contemporary Fine Arts in Senegal, Frankfurt a.M.: Museum für Völkerkunde, 1989. The contributors include Léopold Sédar Senghor, Anne-Jean Bart, Issa Samb, Kalidou Sy, Ousmane Sow Huchard, Djibril Tamsir Niane, Ben Mouhamed Diop, Pierre Lods, Aissa Djionne, Sérigne N’Diaye, Friedrich Axt and El Sy.

  8. In 2015—16, the Weltkulturen Museum’s exhibitions will focus on this seminal collection of African artworks produced prior to the ‘global turn’ of 1989.

  9. ‘Magiciens de la Terre’, Centre Georges Pompidou and the Grande Halle de La Villette, Paris, 18 May— 14 August 1989. In the 1990s the private collector Jean Pigozzi commissioned the curator André Magnin, who was responsible for the African selection of artists in ‘Magiciens de la Terre’, to create
a comprehensive collection of works by artists from the African continent. Magnin’s high purchasing power engendered heated debates at the time, and certain artists felt pushed to produce work that displayed signs of traditional aesthetic forms. See ‘Contemporary African Art Collection by Jean Pigozzi’ [website], available at http://www.caacart.com (last accessed on 16 March 2014).

  10. See Revue Noire, no.7, Dakar, December 1992.

  11. See C. Deliss (ed.), Seven Stories, op. cit.

  12. The series also included presentations by curators and artists from the Black Arts movement, such as 
Sonia Boyce, Eddie Chambers and Rita Keegan. Gavin Jantjes and Sarah Wason presented their early concepts for Iniva, London, and artists such as Pitika Ntuli from Johannesburg connected the African continent to its London-based diaspora.

  13. I was the artistic director of ‘africa95’ between 1992 and 1995. The festival took place over several months during 1995, with two workshops held in Africa the previous year: a visual arts workshop in Senegal curated by El Sy (‘Tenq 94’) and a dance workshop in Zimbabwe. ‘africa95’ was triggered by a team connected to the Royal Academy of Arts in London and ended up involving over sixty arts institutions in the UK.

  14. According to El Sy, underground tunnels linked the former army barracks where the Village des Arts had its base to the sea, the main market and the presidential palace in the centre of town.

  15. In the 1960s, Senghor invested 25 per cent of the Senegalese national budget on arts infrastructure:
he commissioned the building of the Musée Dynamique, which André Malraux opened in 1966;
created a music conservatory and an art school; and greatly supported the development of culture.
This initiative was quashed by his successor, President Abdou Diouf, who, after coming to power in 1981, closed the Musée Dynamique and evicted the artists from the studio spaces in the Village des Arts.

  16. Georges Bataille and Carl Einstein’s Documents, published between 1929 and 1930, together with
the ethnographic expedition Mission Dakar-Djibouti (1931—33), formed the material for my fieldwork in 1986 — not in Africa but in the library of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. See C. Deliss, ‘Exoticism and Eroticism: Representations of the Other in Early French Anthropology’, unpublished doctoral thesis, London: University of London, 1988.

  17. ‘Poussière’, in Documents, no.5, October 1929, p.278.

  18. The relationship of higher echelons of political power, espionage and art practice suggested by the
roles and methodology of the Laboratoire AGIT’Art is discussed in C. Deliss, ‘The Parallax View’,
in Metronome No.4–5–6 Backwards Translation (Edinburgh, Bordeaux, Frankfurt, Vienna, Biella) 1999; reprinted in Afterall, issue 1, Autumn/Winter 2000, pp.53—58. During this time, there was a short-lived attempt to turn the courtyard into a restaurant, a transformation that provoked a period
of ‘anarchitecture’ on the part of Samb, which I write about in C. Deliss, Écran-Mémoire I: Lyrical Criticism Interaction, Laboratoire Agit-Art/Factual Nonsense, Fama & Fortune Bulletin, no.17, 1996.

  19. Issa Samb, ‘Mediums of Change’ (trans. C. Deliss), in Metronome No.0 (Dakar) 1996. This publication also includes the manifesto of the Laboratoire AGIT’art, written in London in 1995.

  20. ‘Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa’, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 27 September—26 November 1995, curated by C. Deliss together with El Sy, Chika Okeke, Salah Hassan, David Koloane and Wanjiku Nyachae. The exhibition travelled to Malmö Konsthall (27 January—17 March 1996).

  21. El Sy in conversation with the author, February 2014.

  22. As M’Bengue, fondly nicknamed ‘Professeur Virgule’ (‘Professor Comma’) because of his insistence on proper punctuation in the French language, wrote the manifesto for the Tenq workshop in 1996.

  23. Sadly, several of these members have since passed away, including Djibril Diop Mambéty, Libasse Thiaw and Mamadou Traoré Diop. Other members at the time included the film-maker Johnson Traoré, the psychiatrist Aby Bâ and the theatre director Seyba Lamine Traoré. Mamadou Diouf, former director of CODESRIA in Dakar, is a long-time member of the Laboratoire AGIT’Art. Today he is the Leitner Family Professor of African Studies and the Director of the Institute for African Studies at Columbia University in New York.

  24. Published as Les Trottoirs de Dakar, Paris: Éditions Revue Noire, 1994.

  25. El Sy in conversation with the author, February 2014.

  26. Hubert Fichte, Psyche. Annäherung an die Geisteskranken in Afrika, Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Verlag, 1986, pp.20—21. Translation the author’s.

  27. ‘Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s—1980s’, Queens Museum of Art, New York, 28 April— 29 August 1999; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 19 December 1999—5 March 2000; Miami Art Museum, 15 September—26 November 2000. See Philomena Mariani (ed.), Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s—1980s (exh. cat.), New York: Queens Museum of Art, 1999. The exhibition was directed by Jane Farver, Luis Camnitzer and Rachel Weiss. They were joined by a team of eleven international curators, who provided specialist knowledge on specific geographic areas, among them Okwui Enwezor, who was responsible for the African continent.

  28. See C. Deliss, ‘The Parallax View’, op. cit.

  29. I. Samb, ‘And this time that chases after us’, in Metronome No.1 (London) 1997, pp.50—53.

  30. Mamadou Traoré Diop used this term during a workshop I organised called ‘Magnetic Speech’, 
held in Dakar in 2000.

  31. The organisation Man Kenen Ki was run by Omar Sall and the late Moustafa N’Doye.

  32. For an interview with Issa Samb and an elucidation of his quasi-animist and alchemical theoretical 
position, see Antje Majewski’s film La Coquille: Conversation entre Issa Samb et Antje Majewski (2010). The text of her interview with Samb was reproduced in ‘Object Atlas — Fieldwork in the Museum’, curated by C. Deliss, Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt a.M., 25 January—16 September 2012.

  33. Even the attempted reconstruction of the courtyard scenario for dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel in 2012 failed to ignite the specific relational and methodological dynamic of the Laboratoire AGIT’art as a conceptual and physical meeting ground.

  34. The core group of artists involved in the Tenq workshop in 1994 included El Sy, Fodé Camara, Souleymane Keita, Moustapha Dimé (deceased), Kan-Si, Guibril André Diop, Djibril N’Diaye, Khady Lette, Amédy Kré Mbaye (deceased), Jacob Yacouba (deceased), Musaa Baydi (deceased) and Pape Macoumba Seck. Guest participants included David Koloane and Sam Nhlengethwa (South Africa); Dasunye Shikongo (Namibia); Ndidi Dike (Nigeria); Atta Kwami (Ghana); Yacouba Touré (Ivory Coast, deceased); Flinto Chandia (Zambia); Agnes Nianghongo (Zimbabwe); Mohamed Kacimi (Morocco, deceased); Damy Théra (Mali); and Yinka Shonibare, Paul Clarkson, Anna Best and Clémentine Deliss (UK).

  35. Anna Kindersley, who organised the 1994 Tenq workshop together with El Sy, also assisted Robert Loder in disseminating the philosophy of the Triangle workshops, which had previously taken place in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia.

  36. Norwegian artist Gardar Eide Einarsson explored this link in Metronome No.4–5–6 Backwards Translation (Vienna, Frankfurt, Bordeaux, Edinburgh, Biella) 1999. His conversation with the artist Kan-Si and Superflex was subsequently reproduced in the catalogue of Documenta11, where Huit Facettes presented work in 2002.

  37. In ‘Laboratorium’ (various venues, Antwerp, 27 June—3 October 1999, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Barbara Vanderlinden), for example, the group’s work centred on the activities of the seminal anthropologist, physicist and politician Cheikh Anta Diop (1923—86), who ran the radiocarbon laboratory at the University of Dakar.

  38. In 2003, I invited Issa Samb and Abdou Bâ to take part in a think tank called ‘The Timing of Transaction’ in Donostia-San Sebastián, which I curated together with Hinrich Sachs, Frank Larcade (Consonni) and Santi Eraso (Arteleku). The results of this week-long meeting, which included Catherine David, Maurizio Lazzarato, Manuel Borja-Villel, Adam Szymczyk, Charles Esche, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Christos Papoulias, Leire Vergara, Peio Aguirre and others, were never published.

  39. C. Deliss, unpublished notes, August 2002.

  40. El Sy in conversation with the author, February 2014.

  41. An earlier version of this essay was presented at the symposium ‘Artist as Curator: Collective Practices’, organised by the MRes Art: Exhibition Studies, Central Saint Martins at the Whitechapel Gallery, London on 19 April 2013. Video recordings of the event are available at http://www.afterall.org/online/artist- as-curator-collaborative-practices-symposium-videos-online#.U2EoTce6AXw (last accessed on 16 March 2014).