– Spring/Summer 2017

Tendencies and Confrontations: Dakar 1966

Cédric Vincent

Installation view, ‘Tendances et confrontations’ (‘Tendencies and Confrontations’), Dakar, 1966, showing work by Christian Lattier. All images courtesy Panafest Archive Collection, Paris

From 1–24 April 1966, following three years of intensive preparations, Dakar hosted the Premier Festival mondial des arts nègres (First World Festival of Negro Arts). This huge event was organised by the Senegalese state and the African Society of Culture, an international network structured around the influential Paris-based journal Présence Africaine, and backed by UNESCO. The objective was ambitious: the festival wished to provide a forum for the expression of a new society grappling with the promises of independence in Africa. A diverse range of art disciplines was represented, in dance, theatre, cinema, visual art, handicrafts, literature, poetry and music. And

  1. It is still difficult to confirm the number of artists and delegations that took part. Some uncertain areas remain that prevent the cross-checking of the archives and the catalogue; the latter can’t be claimed as a reliable source of information.

  2. Léopold Sédar Senghor, ‘Fonction et signification du premier festival mondial des arts nègres’, Liberté 3, Paris: Seuil, 1977, p.58. All translations from the French by Catherine Petit and Paul Buck.

  3. On these issues see David Murphy (ed.), The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016; and Anthony Ratcliff, ‘When Negritude was in Vogue: Critical Reflections of the First World Festival of Negro Arts and Culture 1966’, Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.6, no.7, 2014, pp.167–86.

  4. 4 For example, the project of a festival of Black culture to be staged at regular intervals on the African continent was first launched in 1959, at the Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists held that year in Rome.

  5. Premier Festival mondial des arts nègres. Colloque sur l’art nègre, t.1. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1967, p.6.

  6. For more about that exhibition and the building of the Musée dynamique, see Cédric Vincent, ‘“The Real Heart of the Festival”: The Exhibition of L’Art nègre at the Musée dynamique”, in D. Murphy (ed.), The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar, 1966, op. cit., pp.45–63.

  7. John Povey, ‘The First World Festival of Negro Arts at Dakar’, Journal of the New African Literature and the Arts, Autumn 1966, p.5.

  8. Donald H. Louchheim, ‘African artists disappoint viewer at World Festival of Negro Arts’, The Washington Post, 9 April 1966.

  9. L. Senghor, ‘Fonction et signification du premier festival mondial des arts nègres’, op. cit., pp.60–61.

  10. For example, Elizabeth Harney, In Senghor’s Shadow: Art Politics, and the Avant-garde in Senegal, 1960–1995, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004; and Joanna Grabsky, ‘The École des Arts and Exhibitionary Platforms in Post Independence Senegal’, in Monica Blackmun Visonà and Gitti Salami (ed.), A Companion to Modern African Art, Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013, pp.276–93.

  11. According to the catalogue, those present were: Brazil, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville (the present-day Republic of Congo), Congo-Léopoldville (the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo), Dahomey (present-day Benin), Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Gambia, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, the United Arab Republic (UAR), Senegal, Togo, the United Kingdom and the United States.

  12. Iba N’Diaye, ‘La jeune peinture en Afrique Noire. Quelques réflexions d’un artiste africain’, oeuvres africaines nouvelles, Paris: Musée de l’Homme, 1970, p.34.

  13. Léon Fylla had the honour of having his painting Joueur de sanza (1963) reproduced on a stamp of Congo-Brazzaville at the time of the festival. Of the stamps printed for the occasion, it is the only representation of a contemporary artwork; the other delegations opted for traditional art objects.

  14. See Ben Enwonwu, ‘The African view of art and some problems facing the African artist’, in Premier Festival mondial des arts nègres. Colloque sur l’art nègre, t. 1, Paris: Présence Africaine, 1967, pp.417–26.

  15. Sydney W. Head and Gebre Kristos Desta, ‘A Conversation with Gebre Kristos Desta’, African Arts, vol.2, no.4, 1969, p.20.

  16. Eddie Chambers, Black Artists in British Arts: A History since the 1950s, London: I.B. Tauris, 2015, p.42.

  17. In Africa’s contemporary art and artists, Sekoto is, in a way, put in his rightful place – in South Africa.

  18. Richard F. Shepard, ‘10 painters Quit Negro Festival in dispute with US Committee’, The New York Times, 10 March 1966.

  19. Spiral was active from 1963–1965. The group included, amongst others, Charles Alston, Emma Amos, Romare Bearden, Calvin Douglass, Norman Lewis, William Majors, Richard Mayhew, Earl Miller, Merton D. Simpson and Hale Woodruff. See Jody Blake, ‘Cold War Diplomacy and Civil Rights Activism at the First Festival of Negro Arts’, in Ruth Fine and Jacqueline Francis (ed.), Romare Bearden: American Modernist (exh. cat.), Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 2011, pp.45–58.

  20. Charles Alston, Norman Lewis, Richard Mayhew, Raymond Saunders and Hale Woodruff joined him. Others (Jacob Lawrence, William Majors and Charles White) only withdrew some of their works.

  21. Tobias Wofford, ‘Exhibiting a Global Blackness: The First World Festival of Negro Arts’, in Karen Dubinsky et al. (ed.), New World Coming: The Sixties and the Shaping of Global Consciousness, Toronto: Between the Lines, 2009, pp.179–86.

  22. See Jeanne Siegel, ‘Why Spiral?’, ARTnews, September 1966, pp.48–51.

  23. Donatus Ibe Nwoga (ed.), Critical Perspectives on Christopher Okigbo, Washington DC: Three Continents Press, 1984, p.33.

  24. J. Grabsky, ‘The École des Arts and Exhibitionary Platforms’, op. cit., p.28