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Senegal: Graffiti school in Dakar gives youth new form of expression

Drawings at RBS Akademya, Senegal   -  
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CARMEN ABD ALI/AFP or licensors


Ibrahima Soumaré has a hesitant hand. Pencil and eraser in hand, he carefully places a few letters on a blank sheet of paper. Not very satisfied, he erases and starts again. His exercise of the day: drawing a graffiti with the word "top".

"It's not easy, especially for a newcomer like me," says with a shy smile this 26-year-old Senegalese who abandoned his studies to enroll two months ago in a graffiti school in Guédiawaye in the suburbs of Dakar, the RBS Akademya.

Serigne Mansour Fall, alias Madzoo, one of the 25 members of the founding collective, assures that the school created in December 2021 has no equivalent in Senegal or in Africa. It wants to be "a place to meet, exchange and share know-how", he explains.

The objective, "is to bring our share of heritage", "to train young professionals" so that they are "useful" to society and to help people "become aware of the issues of their time".

Graffiti is part of the scenery in Dakar and its suburbs, where hip-hop culture fascinates many young people.

Graffiti appeared in Senegal in the late 1980s along with a spontaneous youth movement, "Set-Setal" (literally "clean and make clean"). These young people fought against insalubrity in the capital and its suburbs and, after having cleaned the neighborhoods, drew on the walls images of marabouts in order to dissuade the inhabitants from throwing their garbage in the street again, says Madzoo.

Once considered a "lazy profession that doesn't make a living," graffiti is now gaining recognition, Madzoo believes.

Paintings and graffiti compete in beauty and color in the corridors of the two-story building that houses the school. A painting of an old man with a white beard captivates the eye, a small plant with flowers made of shells sprouts from his shaved head. "He symbolizes pan-Africanism," explains Madzoo, the author.

The classroom, a space with a long work table and a wall chart, is no less variegated. Large pink and green characters decorate the wall at the entrance. The word, hard to decipher, is "style," Ibrahima Soumaré decodes. "I also had trouble reading it before," he smiles.

- Patient and strong -

The day's class is based on "concept art" - how to express, materialize an idea - and colors, explains Chérif Tahir Diop, known as Akonga, graffiti artist, designer, and now teacher. "We're not in a conventional school. Everything is done in a light spirit," he says to the sound of reggae melodies playing on his computer.

Libasse Sarr, 18, and Maurice Diouf, 25, also quit school to enroll in RBS Akademya (RBS for RadiK-L Bomb Shot). They will receive three classes a week of theory and practice for six months. There are four of them in all, making up the school's third class. They will leave with a certificate, not recognized by the State of Senegal.

"We decided to take a small number of students to work in the best conditions," Madzoo said.

Students pay a registration fee of 25,000 CFA francs (about 40 euros) and pay 15,000 CFA francs (about 23 euros) each month.

RBS Akademya, which is very active on social networks, also serves as an artistic residence. According to Madzoo, some foreign artists stay there from time to time to participate in exhibitions or share their experience.

Initiated to graffiti at the age of 7 by elders in his neighborhood, Madzoo, 36, black glasses on the eyes, is among the Senegalese figures of this street art. He calls himself a pan-Africanist, committed to the "side of the people", and does not hesitate to take a stand.

In 2021, in the aftermath of riots that left a dozen people dead, a mural bearing the signature of his collective was widely shared on social networks.

It depicted President Macky Sall, wearing a suit in the colors of France, shooting a young man at close range. The drawing had quickly and mysteriously been deleted. Madzoo claims to be under political pressure from the government.

His students enrolled in the school out of passion, aware of the lack of opportunities for their activity. They hope one day to be as successful as he was and dream of traveling to express their talent. But they "will have to be patient and strong", warns Akonga.

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