Academic journal article African Studies Review

In Senghor's Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960-1995

Academic journal article African Studies Review

In Senghor's Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960-1995

Article excerpt

LITERATURE AND THE ARTS Elisabeth Harney. In Senghor's Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960-1995. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004. 316 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $26.95. Paper.

Elizabeth Harney's In Senghor's Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960-1995 provides a historical survey of intellectual and artistic accomplishments in postindependence Senegal. It is a detailed and innovative study of the period that spans two presidencies: that of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of postindependence Senegal from 1960 until 1980, and that of Abdou Diouf, who succeeded him from 1981 until 2000. Harney analyzes the profound impact Senghor's patronage and philosophy of négritude had on Senegalese arts. While the creation of the Ecole de Dakar represented Senghor's aesthetic of Africanness, the author explains how it has been characterized as a derivative of European primitivism. She also highlights the downsides of such a patronage system and eventually how it ended.

In the first chapter, "Rhythm as the Architecture of Being: Reflections on Une Ame Nègre," Harney retraces the birth of the négritude movement in the early 1930s in Paris, locating its origin in the pan-Africanism that took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century with W.E.B. Du Bois. At the same time, she expands her analysis of the movement by examining how Paris became the center of a fascination with primitive art. Although Harney acknowledges Senghor's contribution to the blossoming of arts in Senegal, she also notes that his patronage policies were criticized by prominent figures such as Wole Soyinka.

The second chapter, "The Ecole de Dakar: Pan-Africanism in Paint and Textile," surveys the work of a range of Senegalese artists, including painters, muralists, sculptors, and performance-based groups, who worked during the period at the height of Senghor's patronage system. With the 1966 Premier World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, the Ecole de Dakar gained the status of an art-culture system and spearheaded the first debates on the role of art in postindependence Senegal. …

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