A Song to Cross a Big Stream

a solo exhibition at the Arts + Literature Laboratory, Madison, WI, January 7- February 9, 2019

In November I was an artist in residence at Waaw in Saint Louis, Senegal, located in West Africa. Saint Louis is a coastal city that borders marshes, the Senegal River and the Atlantic Ocean. Its landforms include the narrow island, the spit called the Barbarie Tongue and the mainland, Sor. Crossing the bridge from the mainland to the island each day, I walked through a stream of people, greetings, goats, vegetable stands, horse-carts, taxicabs and dirt paths to arrive at my studio.

Language, ever a preoccupation in my work, was an animal in Senegal. While French is the official language, Wolof is the lingua franca, and there were times I felt vulnerable or foolish as a non-speaker. Other times I was elated to hear words as verse and voice, as when I passed by chants, day and night, from the more than twenty mosques in town. Translation of common words between English and French uncovered exciting differences in attitude; for example, compare “sunset” to the wordier ‘le coucher du soleil’—literally, laying down of the sun.

In this exhibition, I have brought together past projects with similar themes—moving water, the fleeting moment, and the animate quality in inanimate objects—with recent projects inspired by or made in Senegal. The soft chairs, for example, were made by a tailor who cut a pattern from a sketch I gave him. The book, Cinema Palace, depicts an abandoned theater in Saint Louis and the films I watched at the residency. In addition, I was inspired by the way that so much is still made by hand, often of salvaged parts and materials, maintaining life in what otherwise would be discarded.