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  • Writer's picturePaul G. Chandler

ArtSpeaks: Africa #3 – Dakar, Senegal: “A Pilgrimage of Return”

Updated: Jun 9

Exhibition - “Pilgrimage” by Aliou Diack – hosted by OH Gallery at Maison Ousmane Sow

"I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days."

- Hafiz c. 1320-1389

While the mystical and lyrical Persian poet felt that the best way for him to set out on pilgrimage was to “sit still for three days,” I felt a need to journey back to my roots, in order to reorient, renew and restore. Having grown up in Senegal, West Africa, it meant returning to spend some time here - three weeks, as opposed to Hafiz’s three days.

Senegal is a country familiar with spiritual pilgrimage. The majority of the population are Muslim, affiliated with one of four Sufi orders, and up to 3 million adherents visit the Senegalese holy city of Touba each year. For those of Catholic Christian heritage, thousands annually pilgrim to the Black Madonna on the country’s beautiful Atlantic coast.

The door through which I have entered my pilgrimage to Senegal has been the arts, as there is a special focus on the arts during this period of the year when the Dakar Art Biennale is usually held. One of the exhibitions that drew my attention entailed 15 new works by the Senegalese artist Aliou Diack titled “Pilgrimage.” Hosted by OH GALLERY, it was held at the late renowned Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow’s home (see photos of Sow and a few of his sculptures), who was one of Diack’s idols. The paintings were textured and colored with the pigments of burnt oranges, indigo blues and auburn browns that seep into each other.

One couldn’t rush through this exhibition. It required a state of contemplation to enter into each painting most fully. When doing so, figures seemed to emerge from the canvas. As a reviewer of the exhibition wrote, “[Diack] takes us on a physical path [around the sculptor Ousmane Sow’s home] and into the rhythms of spirituality and one of the deepest mysteries of existence, humanity itself.” Diack is a Muslim affiliated with the largest of the Sufi orders in the country, known as the Mourides. In the exhibition, he is exploring how the visuals arts can enhance pilgrimage.

I found the art writer Dulcie Abrahams Altass’s comments on Diack’s exhibition profoundly relevant for my own situation at this time. She writes, “. . . [the exhibition] reminds us of the importance of the notion of return for the realization of our wholeness. Sometimes we must go back in order to go forward. Back to sites of importance for our understanding of the world, the cosmos and our own existence.”

Diack’s work in “Pilgrimage” requires intentionality from the viewer…in order to benefit most fully from their spiritual dimension. In so doing, one enters that paradoxical state of increased clarity and deepened mystery.

While viewing the exhibition, a poem from the Book of Psalms (referred to as the Zabur for Muslims) known as the “Pilgrim Psalm” (Ps. 84) came to mind. Right in the middle of the poem it says, “Blessed are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” May we all seek to be pilgrims, to enter into a deeper spiritual dimension of existence, leading to a new awakening. I am grateful to artist Aliou Diack’s “Pilgrimage” exhibition which helped viewers on that journey, if they give it permission to do so.

By “Pilgrim” Paul G. Chandler

Note: Special thanks to Dulcie Abrahams Altass for her excellent write-up on the exhibition.

For 4 photos of artwork - copyright Viyé Diba

Morel Donou Photography (via OH GALLERY)

Below - Sculptures by Ousmane Sow


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