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REPHRASING THE COLONIAL PAST:

THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF ADJI DIEYE

23rd February 2022 | Guest Writer: Marianna Capelli

Memory (Culture Lost and Learned by Heart), 2020-2021, image courtesy of the artist.

In recent years, people have questioned the validity of history viewed from a colonialist and imperialist lens. This phenomenon gave way to the growing process of decolonisation in academia, institutions and other practices. The decolonisation of cultures and minds creates a shift of power, benefitting formerly colonised people. However, even after the reach of political independence, colonisation continues to have severe effects on society and individuals. Like most violent, traumatic events, it is rooted in collective memory, and it is tricky to eradicate.

As Emmanuel Idama, theorist and winner of his category in the C/O Berlin Talent Award 2021, argues: “[…] as previously colonised people, what makes us a community is that we share a desire for self-conception. But in what ways can we conceive of self-conception? What are its paradigmatic demands?”[1]

Memory (Culture Lost and Learned by Heart), 2020-2021, Adji Dieye, © C/O Berlin Foundation, David von Becker

The strive for self-determination is evident, for example, in the reclamation of the culture appropriated and corrupted by colonisers, the resistance to its misrepresentations in institutions, the rewriting of history from neglected perspectives and an updated use of language. Such precious contributions let us discover another part, an authentic, non-whitewashed version of history, and in our case, art history. This is the aim of Adji Dieye’s solo exhibition Culture Lost and Learned by Heart, showing now at C/O Berlin until April 21, 2022: it questions the contents of colonial archives and the counterfeited narratives of the past, unveiling a history of violence still perpetuated by and through archival institutions.

Adji Dieye, Culture Lost and Learned by Heart, C/O BerlinTalent Award 2021, Installation view at C/O Berlin, 2021-2022, image courtesy of the artist

C/O Berlin is a non-profit foundation and exhibition space dealing with photography and visual media in the heart of Berlin. Every year they present the C/O Berlin Talent Award to two under-thirty-five individuals who distinguished themselves in the categories of art and theory. Artists are selected by a committee of international experts, led by C/O Berlin’s curator Dr Kathrin Schönegg, and awarded a cash prize, a solo exhibition and a personally designed publication. Considering C/O Berlin’s fondness of photography, the art Award currently focuses on New Documentary Strategies, for which Dieye proved to be the perfect candidate.

Untitled (Culture Lost and Learned by Heart), 2020-2021, Adji Dieye, Archives Nationales du Sénégal, Iconographie. © C/O Berlin Foundation, David von Becker.

Adji Dieye (b. 1991) is an Italian-Senegalese artist working between Zurich, Milan and Dakar. She completed a Bachelor degree in New Technologies for Art at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan and a Master of Fine Arts at the Zurich University of the Arts. Her artistic practice challenges the role of photography as a medium while also investigating the nature of the representation of west-African and diasporic identities. Her art adopts a post-colonial approach through the reinterpretation of imageries from the previously mentioned cultures, by that highlighting their political paradoxes. Since 2017, her work has been included in several international exhibitions, such as Lagos Photo Festival, Kunsthalle Wien, the African Photo Biennale in Bamako, Mali, and FOAM Amsterdam.

Untitled (Culture Lost and Learned by Heart), 2020-2021, Adji Dieye, Archives Nationales du Sénégal, Iconographie. © C/O Berlin Foundation, David von Becker.

The artist's preferred medium is photography, but she never chooses to display in frames, as is usually expected. Instead, she steps out of conventions by transforming photos into large installations she calls “photographic experiments”.[2] Culture Lost and Learned by Heart challenges colonialist history with reinterpretations of media materials from the National Archives of Senegal, as well as images from the artist’s personal records. The exhibit consists of room-sized sculptures of silk fabric mounted onto forged iron frames, where Dieye transposed photographs onto dotted bitmap grids used as templates for screen prints. Such materials are a conscious choice as they depict the act of printing press and its result: an updated, corrected newspaper, reporting what was missing in the archives. It also features the video installation Memory, which recreates a game of Memory (a children card matching game) with passport-sized photos of people and other scenes. Through that, she creates new connections between the pictures while revealing the concealed violence of history one piece at a time.


By juxtaposing the French colonial period to visions of today’s Senegal throughout the exhibit, Dieye also questions the idea of history as something linear or a series of circumstances happening in chronological succession. This brings the past into the present, and the present into the past and establishes very personal storytelling.
Truly, putting oneself back in the narrative as the active subject - and not the object - of photographic history creates a renewed dialogue between different eras, presented through Dieye’s personal lens.

Untitled (Culture Lost and Learned by Heart), 2020-2021, Adji Dieye, Archives Nationales du Sénégal, Iconographie. © C/O Berlin Foundation, David von Becker.

The art world’s push towards exhibitions that centre the self-determination of formerly colonised people (or other marginalised groups) is still a work in progress. However, it is refreshing to see how realities such as C/O Berlin actively advocate putting young talents like Adji Dieye in the spotlight.


You can still catch Culture Lost and Learned by Heart at C/O Berlin until April 21, 2022.
References:

[1] Press release. Culture Lost and Learned by Heart, Adji Dieye. C/O Berlin Talent Award 2021. https://co-berlin.org/en/press/press-material-adji-dieye. Last checked 20/02/2022.

[2] Interview for Damn° Magazine by Silvia Anna Barrilà. Published online on October, 23, 2019. https://www.damnmagazine.net/2019/10/23/adji-dieye/. Last checked 20/02/2022.

About the Writer
Marianna Capelli was born in the middle of nowhere, Northern Italy. She moved to London in 2015 to study Asian Art History and Mandarin Chinese at SOAS University of London and fell in love with the contemporary art world.

Temporarily back to the provincial life, she spends her days burying her nose in a book (or multiple books, mostly). The rest of the time, Marianna likes being opinionated about things and writing about art, culture and everything queer.

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