Wading against the currents of family dictatorship and low art patronage, Senegalese artist Adama Ndoye remains steadfast in his resolve to toe the path of his calling. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
No artist could have produced all these. About this fact, Adama Ndoye had no doubts whatsoever. That day, when the Eureka! moment came, he was contemplating the seething and surging seascape from his seat on a beachside concrete bench. Meanwhile, an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of images of rocks and all kinds of soil, as well as of the diverse flora and fauna, took turns to flicker in the inner recesses of his consciousness. These joined forces with the several childhood years’ priceless memories of hunting expeditions in the forests and outings to the beach – for a swim or to catch fish – to inwardly prepare him for this moment.
Above all, there was his recognition that there is indeed a Creator behind all these wonders. This recognition dawned upon the young artist and ultimately forged a lasting bond between him and Mother Nature. For in nature, he discerned the expressions of beauty and life, possibilities of interaction and well-being and, essentially, the need to maintain a balance.
The mind-altering experiences also led him to reexamine the hitherto known definitions of art. This was before he finally settled for a definition of art as “the personalised reproduction of our perception of what has already been created.”
Meanwhile, nurturing his artistic aspirations in the ethereally dense and suffocating ambience of his upbringing was a struggle. For apart from his mother, who continually encouraged him, no one else in the extended family setting understood him. “I was forbidden to produce works,” he recalls. “People made fun of me. I never had a chance to delve directly into art practice, because my other activities took all my time and energy away, leaving me with only a few weekends of respite. This was until my friends and a handful of good people around me supported me.”
Back in his primary school years, Ndoye used to help his classmates with their drawing assignments. Later, in secondary school, he moved on to making sketches of manga-style theatre scenes in a scrolling notebook. This was what led some friends to advise him to enrol in the local art village for training. But he rejected the idea, informing them that art was just his part-time passion, not a vocation for the future.
But over time, as his growing needs asserted themselves, he gradually warmed up to the thoughts of producing artworks for sale. Before long, he was taking tutorials on the internet and was often gratified by the astonished and approving expressions on the faces of the admirers of his efforts. Taking this route, he soon discovered, gave him a platform, on which he could fearlessly express himself. This was a right that had hitherto been brutally denied him by people who brooked no contrary opinions.
Of course, nothing else could have been expected in a family setting that suppresses all expressions of individuality. With his supportive mother divorced while he was still in primary school, he was forced to wage his battles alone. Because the father, who was a successful building contractor, footed all the bills, he understandably called the shots. Then, there were also the uncles who, arrogating the role of surrogate “fathers” to themselves, added their burden of oppression to the already stifling environment.
In this conservative paternalistic extended family, nothing could be more deterring than the fear of being ostracised just for disagreeing with these “fathers”. Even though Ndoye’s father sits at the centre of a spider’s web of family investments, his home in the Senegalese capital Dakar’s commune Ouakam is not only a meeting place but also a breeding ground for intrigues, jealousy and vindictiveness.
The 27-year-old Senegalese artist sees himself as living a paradox – between a rich dad and a poor mum. Poor, because she was forced to give up her studies to get married only to be finally divorced after giving birth to more than six children and this at an age when she can no longer do much for herself. “I have three older brothers and a sister from the same father and mother, a little sister, also from the same mother and father. Then come the six siblings from different mothers, four of them boys and two girls.”
He has since left the family home and moved in with a friend, who used to be a secondary school classmate, in the Ngor commune of Dakar. For him, it was a choice between following his passion and joining the family business, where he was being persecuted by the other “fathers” as the son of the chief, who should under no circumstances inherit privileges.
In this self-chosen path of renunciation, he says, he had never had any funding or a sponsor. “All my creations I had to produce them with my own income or loans that I got from my brothers and sisters or neighbours or cousins but no longer with friends. I even invest my food budget from time to time to buy materials. It was only during this last period (October-November 2021) that a collector and cultural actor offered me the opportunity of a workshop and a free exhibition in his gallery near Dakar called Galerie Lamp Fall.
“Personally, my experience had made me lose all belief in the pure humanity of men. This is because behind every support hides an interest and this is why with my volunteering work, I had kept my challenge secret at the beginning to avoid being corrupted by the corrupters’ money with the approach of the municipal elections.”
Before his recently-opened exhibition in Dakar, Ndoye has previously held a solo exhibition and a group exhibition with some young up and coming artists, whom he had joined and left the same year “due to sabotage”.
“My first exhibition on the theme of creation in raw art was a success because it was during the inauguration of a building of the Order of Malta in Senegal with several guests, including the Minister of Health and other dignitaries,” he narrates. “I had to sell only one painting out of six and donated the other five. I was happy and fulfilled to see such enthusiasm from them. The second time was with the JAA (an acronym for young up and coming artists) in the virtual exhibition as my first outing in ecological art. With COVID and the political problems, we had to stop the exhibition. And the third represents the one that is currently in progress. I have had a lot of feedback on my organic painting so far. I am offered the opportunities to hold private and public workshops with my Lakka.”
Lakka? It is the language or the forms that his work take, he says. They are more like cave paintings or hieroglyphic writings. Since his national language Wolof was not a written language in the pre-colonial era, he sought to fill this vacuum with a writing system that is both childish and basic.
With even the local authorities showing interest in what he is doing and reaching out, he has high hopes for the future. But his present reality seems to suggest that he has been left to fend for himself. Not even the requests he made for state subsidies during the COVID-19 lockdown yielded positive results. This is even when despite he has an artists’ national identity card.
Nonetheless, he has reasons to be thankful. He still relishes his best experience the day of the inauguration of the Order of Malta building, which made his “fathers” recognise his talent. They beamed with smiles and enjoyed photo-ops, even when they still thought he should abandon his art practice to return to the building sites.
Meanwhile, he remains resolute in his resolve to toe the path of his calling. On a typical day, he wakes up around 6 a.m., takes a shower and says his prayers. Subsequently, he drives or cycles down to his workshop at Lamp Fall Gallery. He soon retires upstairs to his temporary workshop after breakfast and exchanging pleasantries with people around. There, he works until 4 pm, after which he goes out to the beach to design his eco-friendly street art or land art. He works until sunset and often leaves the place satisfied with the work done. After briefly hanging out with friends, he returns home by 9 p.m. to shower eat and sleep.
Ndoye has quite a lot of ideas on his bucket list for the next 10 years. Among the first things that he hopes to check off the bucket list are modifying the aesthetics of his country with his street art, kickstarting the production of his prototype fishing gadget, training the youths on his kind of art and visiting Nigeria to hold exhibitions and meet his beloved. In addition to these, he also dreams of establishing reception and support centres for destitute young people, travelling around the world, participating in the preservation of the environment and producing his already-scripted films and documentaries. “Ultimately, I will live my life according to what the situations dictate.”