Amadou Seck, born on January 10, 1950 in Dakar, is a painter from the first generation of the Dakar School. With his semi-abstract style, incorporating elements associated with the school where he developed his practice, Amadou Seck is an important name of the epochal artistic group formed in Dakar around 60 years ago.
Between the mid-sixties and mid-seventies, Seck attended the school of arts in Dakar under the teaching class of Pierre Lods. Lods’ instruction relied heavily on the study of traditional African artifacts, based on his belief that modern art (1) in Africa should be seen as a continuity of traditional African art, free of European influences. The work of Amadou Seck is often celebrated as one of the most prominent examples of this artistic group.
However, the school was not free of controversy, one of them being Lods’ essentialist subscription to the notion of an “African” creativity, especially in the context of his own role as a European instructor:
“In the 1960s, when most African countries gained independence from European colonial powers, the artistic expression of renewal became a matter of urgent concern – and controversial discussion. Debates centered around the need to accommodate African art histories and visual traditions while reconsidering the role of European methods in arts education on the African continent. Through its special structure and constellation of people, the art school in the Senegalese capital Dakar came to be the site where these issues manifested themselves most clearly.” (2)
Growing in a newly free Senegal, influenced by the cultural ideology of President Léopold Sédar Senghor, artists within this cultural movement embraced Africa’s postcolonial engagement with the rest of the world. Working primarily with paint, and in an overtly abstract and decorative manner, the group of artists under the umbrella of the Dakar School enjoyed for several years the support and patronage of the government and international recognition.
Amadou Seck joined the school from 1966, upon introduction by Ousmane Faye (3), and remained actively involved there until 1974. In 1977, he took part in Festac ’77, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, the major international festival held in Lagos, Nigeria. In the 1980s, Seck painted significant large-scale works and exhibited internationally. During his time at the school he also produced some examples of “tapisserie” (tapestry) works taught in the workshops, most of which are now held in the Senghor collection.
Although he never ceased in artistic production, the last international exhibition of his work was during the 1980s, in expositions organized by the Senegalese Committee for Exhibitions Abroad:
“In order to promote art abroad, Senegal created a particular institute; The Committee for Exhibitions Abroad. The first large exhibition took place at the Grand Palais in Paris from 26th of April till 4th June 1974. It was an event for a Europe ignorant of modern African art, enchanted with its own conception of Africa as a continent whose works of art, taken up by Picasso and his followers, culminated in sculptures and masks.
The Committee aimed at making Senegalese art known in Africa and beyond its borders. Finally, it was aiming at an inter-cultural dialogue, a principle of the Senegalese cultural politics since independence. Poet-President L. S. Senghor arranged the annual Salons for Senegalese artists. After two Salons and strict selection, the national art collection was compiled and exhibited in the Grand Palais in Paris. This was the inauguration of the “School Dakar” in the international art scene. The Paris media welcomed the young artists whose average age was 26. Senegalese art has ever since been represented in many of the world’s largest and most important galleries and museums.” (4)
For his first solo exhibition in Germany, Seck created several new black ink drawings on paper, constructing an imagery around African mythology and cosmogony. The drawings depict elaborate motifs referring to traditional rituals, religion and myths in West African cultures. Seck’s rich visual vocabulary details various traditions in West Africa such as Ashanti fertility figures or the gods and natural spirits of the Yoruba people. Recurring figures in the drawings have multiple heads, limbs and wings, suggesting animal-human hybrids whose faces and bodies are adorned with delicate ornamentation. Double masks representing marriage or twins, animals such as buffalos, antelopes, sharks and hippos surface in his magically layered and emblematic portraits.
“I made my bones by drawing with charcoal on the walls of Colobane, my district,” says Amadou Seck. The artist’s drawings, incredibly refined and varied, reflect his own creative process as formed by a constant inner intuition and inspiration, in which the drawings come together to construct a fascinating language.
We would like to extend a special thanks to Fatou Seck, daughter of Amadou Seck and Mohamed A. Cisse for their help and support in coordinating the realization of the exhibition.
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Laura Croci (1949 – 2020), whose life circumstances led to this encounter.