13th Gwangju Biennale — Minds Rising Spirits Tuning

Sign up for minds rising journal

Seyni Camara

As a child, Seyni Camara once ventured into the forest with her brothers to look for dead wood, a task their mother, who was a potter, asked them to do every day. All four children were about ten years old: a sibling group of quadruplets who surrounded Camara with a fertile abundance of life. On that day, Camara disappeared, and despite the search by the whole family and then the whole village, she was nowhere to be found, alone in the middle of the great forest, only to miraculously emerge a week later with a piece of clay in her hand. With time and infinite care, Camara has distilled through the language of clay the secrets that the forest entrusted to her during this mysterious excursion, translating her ancestral and sacred land into majestic cosmic creatures.

Camara’s work forms a cosmological narrative constructed according to a precise and specific grammar that articulates the universe. A symbolic alphabet of forms and images of ancestors and descendants, paternal and maternal figures, elder and younger brothers, human, nonhuman, and super-human beings, the deceased and unborn offers a notion of family in its widest conception. This language reveals a prosperous and joyful world unified by a solar maternal principle that embraces the abundance of life in its bosom. It tells of the existence of a celestial and sacred “we” at the origin and end of everything.

The largest sculpture depicts a super-human grandmother, a nurturing ancestor, founder of the universe, and emblem of the land of fertility and abundance that is the artist’s native Casamance region. The smallest symbolizes a super-human mother. Her character is double, multiple, and indivisible: at once a father and mother, a future grandmother, and descendant of the grandfather in her womb. In both pieces, growing up with several siblings appears as a fraternal principle in which arms, hands, and feet interlock with each other in precise patterns like tree bark or fruit, methodically linking each particle within a unified whole. Imbued with village life, Camara pays powerful homage to the women of Casamance, emblems of strength and generous fertility, singular emanations of the primordial feminine principle to which she gives body and soul through her work.

Maya V. El Zanaty