The painter, sculptor, actor and playwright Joe Ouakam is one of the most well-known artist in Senegal and a sort of living-legend. Ouakam (his real name is Issa Samb) was born in Dakar. He studied at the National Arts School in Dakar and graduated as well from the University of Dakar in law and philosophy .
His high profile as artist stems from his non-conformist attitude and behaviour. In 1974 together with other artists Ouakam launched the so-called Laboratoire AGIT-Art. The experimental art group took position against the cultural policy of President Léopold Sédar Senghor and the strict formalism of the “Ecole de Dakar” that was inspired by the movement of Negritude: an attempt to assert a distinctively African voice in the arts.
For Senghor Negritude became a foundation upon which to build a national aesthetic. As a guideline for artists he advocated the fusion of African artistic tradition with techniques from Europe. With installations and performances the Laboratoire AGIT-Art put into question Senghor’s concept of art.
For more information on Senghor’s art policy and the Laboratoire AGIT-Art see Elizabeth Harney’s book “In Senghor’s Shadow”.
Instead of participating in exhibitions Joe Ouakam has always preferred to show his art works in the yard of his house in Dakar’s district Plateau. In this busy administrative and business center of the city “Issa’s garden” – how Ouakam’s yard is called – is a real oasis of calm and a mystical place.
“Issa’s garden” in Dakar by day and by night:
Learn more about Joe Ouakam and Issa’s Garden.
Joe Ouakam / Issa Samb at the documenta 13 in Kassel
Very rarely, the artis agrees to participate in external exhbitions. So he responded positively to a request of the documenta in Kassel / Germany. He created an installation with the title „La balance déséquilibrée” (“Out of balance”) in the Karlsaue, one of Kassel’s main parks: