White chalk on architectural structures in public space,
Saint-Louis, Senegal, 2013

After travelling through Senegal in 2005, I visited the city of Saint-Louis at the mouth of the river Senegal and from the first day I was very impressed by the intense atmosphere and the complex history of the city. In particular, I was interested in the colonial history of Saint Louis which is still very present in the architecture and urbanistic structure of the city: It was Saint-Louis where European and African economies, political structures and cultures met for the first time in sub-saharan Africa. 

As the European perception of Africa has been an aspect in my work for a few years, it felt logical to come back to West Africa and to develop an artistic project in dialogue with local people. 

During an artist residency at Centre Waaw in Saint-Louis in July 2013 I decided to work directly on walls, structures and places in public space. By not using a canvas, but the surroundings as backgrounds, the whole city was turned into a painter‘s studio. The result was a network of temporary drawings, made with simple white chalk and stencils — fragile works — that disappeared after some time due to the humidity and windy weather of Africa.

The motifs I used refer to The raft of the Medusa by French painter Théodore Géricault (The raft of the Medusa, 1818, oil on canvas, 491 x 716 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris). 

In 1816, the frigate Medusa was on its way to Saint-Louis, the former capital of French-West Africa to repossess the territories south of the Sahara desert. On their way, the French shipwrecked close to Mauretania and a lot of people rescued themselves on a self-built raft. During the following days only a few survived and their mission failed. Other images also refer to the failure of colonisation, the relationship between Africa and Europe and to the subject of travelling in general.

To introduce the work to a wider audience, the project was presented at the RAW MATERIAL COMPANY in Dakar in July 2013.            

Matthias Moravek