Who Said It Was Simple focused on archives as a basis to question how minorities or expressions in the margins are treated in Senegal and in Africa today. The title comes from a poem by the African-American writer and activist Audre Lorde. The exhibition was built as an open critical platform comprised of a hundred documents among 2500 articles published over the past 10 years, internet and radio archives, academic research archives, visual and statistical representations of figures and textual data, cartoons, and a library including academic essays, artists’ catalogues, penal codes, etc. The exhibition included a screening and debate program and a two-day seminar which brought together social workers, scientists, historians, religious leaders, lawyers, artists, writers and journalists to discuss the current situation in multiple sessions. By presenting this large body of research we wanted to discuss difference, minority and margins with an emphasis on sexuality and raise a more specific question: how can we defend human rights and regain a structure that corresponds to the needs of the society (and not an imposed or imported one) when conceptions of personal liberties are determined by the colonial legacy as well as by new contemporary forms of Western conditioning? The exhibition intended to testify to the increasingly radical trend in the African public opinion since the 1980s and aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of the origins of this situation. In fact, the current radicalization seems to arise from the tension caused by the generalized use of contemporary Western notions designed to define marginalities and minorities, while at the same time some of the traditional structures which ensured peace and social well-being are obliterated. These sophisticated structures, now forgotten or diverted, have been discredited by colonial and religious thought. However they are known by African and Western researchers and experts and might be the right context for the reinvention of a pacified sociability. It seemed difficult to me to discuss human rights in Africa within an imperialist scope that imposes categories and creates identity where there used to be only practices. History, sociology, and anthropology of sexuality therefore have an important role to play in the rediscovery of traditional social structures. The media play an essential part in the interpretation of the current situation and could help to make it change. The archives and documents presented in the exhibition intended to participate in the re-Africanization and decolonization of culture, gender and sexuality. In this regard, the exhibition was also a reaction to the global tendency to iron out these historical and social complexities through easy and superficial anti-homophobia discourse and policy as soon as it concerns non-Western countries. Rather than trying to import artworks promoting this discourse, my choice was to work on a local scale and to use the status of the exhibition to create social dialogue. Open to the local community, to the researchers and artists of the city as a think tank space, the exhibition welcomed impromptu meetings and artistic propositions for two months, including « La Mariée » (“The Bride”), a performance by Senegalese artist Issa Samb, that had never been presented in Senegal.
Photo credit: Antoine Tempé