1998 – 1999, Cibachrome
40 x 60 in (100 x 140 cm)
The slender figure melts into the mud speckled backdrop, grasping at her dark stained braids.
Ousmane Ndiaye Dago ( 1951 - ).
Tonight at the Doree de Gala in Senegal, West Africa you sit in a lush dining area packed with patrons. The house lights dim and a hush spread through the audience. A calm, ethereal musical score pipes up from the PA speakers. Two statuesque African women carrying large clay bowls above their heads step barefoot onto the lit stage with its dark cloth backdrop. They wear tie die wraps of pink and blue around their breasts and waists. They place the bowls at their feet and face the audience. You notice for the first time that their thick Rastafarian locks conceal their faces. They reach into the bowls and scoop up fistfuls of muddy gruel, applying the earthy soup to their own skin and to each others, turning their dark complexions into the color of wet clay.
The stage lights morph to cobalt and out walks a figure of medium build fashioning steel rimmed glasses, a black sport coat, and blue jeans freckled with paint. Slung over his shoulder the way a soldier carries his rifle is a professional grade digital camera. Immediately, he systematically applies pulverized pigments of greens and reds from a black bowl onto the women’s wet skin like a highly skilled surgeon. Now he takes up a second bowl containing paintbrushes and surgically slathers white paint across their bare midriffs and the dark backdrop behind them. The music intensifies through the speakers and your surroundings vibrate with a primal urgency.
The models unexpectedly freeze into suspended poses, when the painting has ceased their heads down and arms bent. The figure departs the stage and rushes back several feet away, aims his telephoto lens, and snaps off a photo of the newly transformed women. This is the artist Ousmane Ndiaye Dago.
Photography arguably represents only the surface of reality. It is three dimensional, yet it’s displayed on a two dimensional plane. West African photographer, painter, and designer Ousmane Ndiaye Dago embraces this concept rigorously and propels it into daring new territory. His series entitled Femme Terre or Woman Earth infuses painting, sculpture, and photography to create striking images drenched in a haunting, yet bold sensuality.
Born in Nidiobene, Senegal in 1951, Ousame Ndiaye Dago, is a graduate and professor of Graphic Arts of The Senegal National Institute of Fine Arts and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. He has worked as Art Director at Lifa Magazine (a fashion publication based in Senegal), and designed numerous covers for Novelles Editions Africanes du Senegal (a Senegalese publishing house), and United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Publications. He’s also designed album covers for West African musicians: Youssoun Dour, Thione Seck, and Alioune M’Baye Nder.
His work has been exhibited at the Biennale of Dakar (Capital of Senegal) and the Biennale of Graphic Arts in Brno, Czech Republic. In 1996 and 1998 he participated in Festival dei Tre Continenti a Nanes (The Festival of Three Continents; Africa, Asia, South America) that also published an entire volume of his photographs, entitled “Odes Nues.”
In 1999 during the annual event “Mese della Foto” or “Month of Photos” held an exhibition of his work at the Mostra Fotografica di Cartagena in Spain.
In 2001 he was invited to the Biennale di Valencia and presented his works at the Galleria Galicia in Milan. He’s also performed a live exhibition of his work during a special event sponsored by the Porsche Company in Italy.
The artist has stated himself that he doesn’t follow conventions and has always relied on his intuitions to create his art. This artistic philosophy first planted its seed during a class project in photography.
Each student was assigned to choose a piece from the great Belgium novelist and poet Hugo Claus and reinterpret it into a physical, three dimensional space and then photographed. The young artist arranged a set piece using shapes and letters cut from cardboard. Each time he proceeded to snap a photo the display would topple over and create something else entirely from his initial concept. Eventually he accepted in his life and he embraced it wholeheartedly and in a 2011 interview he explained, “I like the element of chance. Chance accounts for 30% of my work.”
It is important to note that Senegal’s population is approximately 90 percent Muslim and any individual displaying public sensuality and/or flagrant eroticism within the country is strictly taboo. So, it is here that the women are depicted in the photos are always concealed by their long hair.
This also serves another purpose in the work. It grants permission to the women to role-play various interchangeable identities such as goddesses, warriors, queens, and carnal angels that appear as though they’ve just risen out of the primordial soup.
The artist admits to approaching his work with a slight air of naiveté while habitually remaining intuitive and very hands on. He personally smears each female model with dry earth, mud, paint pigments, beads and other elements. Private areas however, are always applied by the models themselves, respectively. All of this combines to create this remarkable ‘living sculpture’ aspect that’s as powerful as it is intoxicating.
To quote an old Muslim proverb: “The eye does not see, it is the spirit that sees…”
A pair of women flirt with a bushel of dried grass. Their arms are raised with a casual flourish and their skin is the color of ancient sand.
The clay varnished model stands before a cloth backdrop speckled with paint, adjusting her translucent garment.
Four Senegalese women covered with the dried earth and paint of their native homeland playfully standing close together. Their braided hair conceals their faces.
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