In the hustle to cover elections in Senegal two weeks ago, there was a story about graffiti I would have loved to have pursued, but didn’t have time to. What I do know about the graffiti scene in Dakar is that it grew up around the same time in the early 90s as hip-hop was arriving on West African shores. Senegalese groups like Positive Black Soul were restoring the political-social context and content to the genre in Senegal that American-born hip-hop in the US was no longer moored to. Graffiti artists did the same thing with the spray-can aesthetic, imbuing it with political meaning. And the lively rap and hip-hop community in Dakar has in turn used graffiti as an expression of their musical identity. It’s also been an inexpensive form of publicity, getting your name out there in the form of an outrageously large tag.
Last year, journalist Amanda Fortier wrote this great piece on Dakar’s graffiti scene, including a solid introduction to the doyen of the art there, Docta. Docta is Senegal’s original graffiti man, and has also founded the annual Festigraff conference in which the full potential — educative especially — of graffiti is explored among participants who come from around the world. As background to the pictures that follow, from Ms. Fortier’s article:
Graffiti in Senegal, like in most parts of the world, is illegal. But unlike in many Western countries, and even some African ones, the likelihood of an artist in Senegal being arrested for graffiti is very slim.