Cheikhou Bâ: Migrations

12.01.2017 - 15.02.2017


Cheikhou Bâ created twenty-one pieces for his solo exhibition Migrations at Semaphore: fourteen paintings and seven sculptures.

Bâ uses techniques such as collage and the application of bright colours on large-scale canvases to celebrate Migrations, the theme of his exhibition.

According to the Senegalese artist, migration – ’living beings moving from one point to another’ - is above all a ‘natural phenomenon’. The causes of these movements may be ‘conscious or instinctive’. Bâ highlights the role of instinct since he partly identifies the human desire to discover and populate other shores with the migratory movements of animals.

In a world divided by borders, human migration is restricted by policies that stop free movement, whether that movement is voluntary or automatic.

The artist points out:

Words such as emigration, immigration, exodus, exile could have associations of joy but more often than not are reminders of the unhappiness associated with migration.

However, Bâ’s work does not exemplify a critique of such policies but rather magnifies what is good about migration and its effects.

The paintings are ‘hybrid and mixed’ works. Strips of canvas are juxtaposed and / or superimposed on the original structure. Bâ paints in both oil and acrylic and makes markings with oil pastels.

He explains:

All the paintings are made of mixed elements, different parts being grafted to the ‘original’ to enrich it and each other. This results in a kind of optical illusion that reminds one of uni-polyptychs.

Not polyptychs – works made of several distinct panels joined together - but ‘uni-polyptychs’: unified works assembled from multiple parts, whose diverse elements are difficult to differentiate from each other and divide into categories of belonging. This is analogous with modern societies enriched by migrations of all kinds, where individuals and communities are more than the sum of their separate identities.

The use of pointillism also references the theme of this series. The various-coloured particles are reminiscent of groups or crowds. In some paintings, bundles of bright dots wash up against areas of solid colour. Are these areas terrains that will be populated bit-by-bit, forbidden domains or hostile deserts? According to the artist, ‘beyond a purely compositional role, they are a representation of global demography and cartography.’

With this upbeat festival of colour and shape, Bâ could be one of those happy people he describes in the following terms: ‘[they] draw light from darkness, joy from bitterness, hope from loss [and create] equanimity in disappointment, generosity in destitution...’

Bâ’s sculptures reflect on the experiences of migrants with biting humour and poetry. Le prince des nuées is a reference to Baudelaire’s L’Albatros. Migrants, like the albatross, only know freedom and their full capabilities when they take off for new horizons. On the other hand, L’anonyme, with no feathers on its puny and twig-like members, is earthbound in a country that is unaware of its identity and being. Aimé Césaire had 'under the reserve of [his] uvula […] a wallow of boars'*; Bâ places the wallow of boars under the wing of his sculpture. Both celebrate their vitality and energy in spite of historical uprooting or loss of identity.

*Translation by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith.