Saidou Dicko, a Senegal-based Burkinabe painter of sun-scotched plains in which shade-thirsty cows search for pasture, has turned to photography to capture secret truths of a different kind. As a photographer he uses a different technique to tell the story of his life. Unlike many, he tells stories using photographs of shadows which are captured in Le voleur d’ombres (The Shadow Thief). This 112 page book is a collection of 85 photographs selected out of a choice of more than 5000 taken between December 2005 and June 2007 taken in Dakar, Ouagadougou and Deou village. Belgian journalist and critic Roger Pierre Turine and Senegalese artist and art teacher N’deye Rokhaya Gueye interpret the work of this amazing artist whose forceful personality still surprises many. BETHSHEBA ACHITSA writes.
This book is all the more significant because publications about art in Africa are few and far between. It marks the starting point for a collection about photography and African photographers and bears witness to the desire of publisher Africalia to pursue and promote a campaign which is already underway in the field of visual arts in Africa.
Dicko creates pictorial interaction between photographs and paintings. Through a skillfully measured play of shadow and light, he transforms the depiction of forms and brings life to visual phenomena, to events and graphic signs, to morphological and gestural expressions, with a flexibility which is sometimes surreal, sometimes real. All his works were produced during 2006 with the aim of taking part in the biennial Dak’ Art, his first ever exhibition. By the time of this exhibition, Dicko had been a photographer for six months.
Dicko uses the exteriors of houses, boutiques and shops, even vehicles, to capture the passing shadows. Everything with volume is stripped of its shadow thus he creates a bridge between the visual arts and his expressions of imagery, with photography as his preferred medium. He takes full advantage of the physical and psychological aspects of light in his productions.
Art educationist Gueye comments that there is natural and spontaneous harmony in the work of Saidou Dicko, whether in terms of shooting angles or camera shots, composition or visual communication. Through his work, Dicko speaks of union, equality and maternal love and finds pleasure in bringing together extremes: habits propres, sales ou dechires, Ce sont tous des acteurs de la vie (clean, dirty or torn clothes are all life’s actors). He brings to life a genuine living organism while uniting two extreme values at the heart of the black and white contrast.
Dicko’s work dazzles and entices by simplicity, naturalness, originality, luminosity, poetry and the hardness of images projecting surprising strengths.
Born in 1979, Dicko, one of 11 children, was initially a herdsman in his village near Deou. He invented his own alphabet while in the bush before starting school in town. It was here that he discovered his first artistic “shadows”. He knew the shadows well, having tamed them endlessly while watching his herds and perfected his first form of expression: shadow plays. At fifteen he took some painting classes and became a painter of shadows and ten years later he is still painting.
On paper, he paints landscapes of his native Deou: mountains, plains, the dry, taut Sahelian trees, horned beasts always viewed from behind because this is how the shepherd sees animals as he drives them ahead of him. He paints invariably in darkened tones- browns, ochres and blacks- against which clear, light areas are subtly picked out. He uses only natural pigments, ashes, even cow dung, as he says “dung is all that is left of a peul village once man and beast have gone to seek their livelihoods elsewhere.” Sometimes he cuts out his paintings, following the outline of the surrounding mountains; sometimes he mounts them on naturally treated canvas. Landscapes, village scenes, Koran classes are all captured in his pieces of work; he thus tells as about his life and the life of those around him.
Dicko’s photographs are not all about the scenery, but about looking; everything is about tenderness, humour, mood and the moment. Conscious of colors, materials, of both organic and human life, of presence as well as absence, of the said and the unsaid, Dicko always finds the place that will serve as background for his fleeting interpretations of the passage of time. He captures and distributes; holds and releases.
His amazing ability to talk about day to day encounters in life is realised through the various shadows he has captured. One of his photographs Le voleur vole (The stolen thief) tells it all, he tells us the story of a passer-by whose shadow he captured while this shadow put its hand in his pocket!
The true story of Dicko is both beautiful and simple. His photographs tell it line by line, light by light, borne by shadows that move, shift, sing, lighten or darken, astound our imaginations with truths caught on the fly, truths stolen in the time it took to adjust the trigger mechanism, in time with materials, guided by a poet-shepherd’s eyes for sudden images of a ‘shadow thief’ in cahoots with the sun, generous and malleable soul that he is. In photographing his beloved shadows, Dicko transformed himself into a shepherd of souls unknown to one another.
Read in one sitting, this book ‘whose text is in French, Dutch and English’ captures the attention of all with a passion in photography whether young or old. His different technique leaves a lot to be desired; why shadows and not real photographs? The shadows captured tell of everyday struggle to survive, social ties, the livelihood and the way of life of the people of Burkina Faso. Their love for cattle cannot be ignored; it is well captured!