Marabout on the Street

Project Name: Stencil of Amadou Bamba

Medium: Poster board

Summary: The essay by Roberts and Roberts carefully dissects the origin of one of the most widely circulated images of Amadou Bamba. The image in question is a terribly exposed photograph, but nonetheless espouses the key role the saint plays in “transcolonial” Senegal:

The saint stands for hard work, perseverance, and both resistance and accommodation in today’s circumstances of difficulty and want, bringing his promise of miraculous transformation to bear upon the most intractable problems of everyday life. (p. 37)

Scrolling through the images accompanying this essay, though, I was struck by how true the phrase “everyday life” resonated. The images of Amadou Bamba – whether painted, printed, or silkscreened – were rarely done in places exclusively reserved for art. In fact, most of the locations of the images would more commonly be described as “street” art – on the sides of stalls, on public walls, on t-shirts at a soccer game.

In general, that category is commonly defined as art in a public location and not sanctioned by any authority, but its application to the images of Amadou Bamba seem out of place. What Roberts and Roberts present to us is indeed graffiti in the literal sense of the word, but it is also spiritual iconography, images meant to bring protection and mysticism into the everyday, not for mundane purposes like claiming territory. This is at odds with the prevailing tradition in the West, in which street art is seen as not “real” art, but rather as having a practical purpose in the poorer neighborhoods where it arose (though this is being supplanted by newer street artists like Banksy).

For this project, I wanted to tie together these two different traditions of street art while maintaining the deep respect for Amadou Bamba that still prevails in Senegal today. I took the original photograph of Amadou Bamba, enlarged it to the height of a normal man, and transferred the image to posterboard. The result is a stencil, a common technique in modern street art, but in Senegalese form. The white and negative space also harkens back to the original photo but also allows for the artist to choose their own color, or way of portraying the saint. Finally, the reusability of the stencil speaks to the motif the saint has become in his own city.