When a Baobab Meets a “Bavard”: Interview with Senegalese Association “Les Baobards”

As the Cultures United Festival is approaching, we continue our series of interview with the communities that will be present next June. Today we turn our attention to a Western African association based here in Brussels.

We have interviewed Ms Anja Detant from the Senegalese association Les Baobards to have the chance to get some insight on culture and art from Senegal.
Ms Detant started by explaining to us where does the word Baobards come from as it is a portmanteau of two words “baobab” and “bavards”: the first “it is the biggest tree of the African continent, symbolysing the community and the ancestors. The second word is French for someone who speaks a lot”, said Ms Detant.

Baobards is probably the youngest association of our Festival, as it was born exactly one year ago. Despite their young age, their mission is as clear as if they were a full grown up association. It all started as a factual group (meaning an association with no formal structure) of Senegalese and Belgian citizens interested in arts and cultural activities, who had decided to organise different types of theatre and painting ateliers during the Biennale of Dakar: all the projects were linked by the concept of “Tougeul” or the myth of the West and Europe as an eldorado. As it was a huge success, the same group of friends wanted to repeat the experience of the Biennale in Brussels and decided to create Les Baobards, giving it a formal and stable structure.

What they wanted to show by “exporting” this outstanding Senegalese experience was the positive impact of Senegalese immigration on our society, by exposing the Belgian public to the rich and ancient Senegalese culture.

We continued the interview discovering Senegalese paintings and more specifically, the typical Senegalese painting technique of “sous-verre”.
Originally coming from Europe, this technique gained high popularity in Senegal already in the XVIII century, becoming nowadays a tradition of the Westernmost African country.
The peculiarity of the painting sous-verre is that it is a reversed way of painting as it is painted on a piece of glass and then, in order to view the image, the glass has to be turn over; “this is why with this technique the background is always painted last”, said Ms Detant.

detail of a senegalese sous-verre painting

What is usually portrayed in sous-verre paintings is ordinary-life pictures as well as mythological stories and Senegalese heroes. However, recently, in order to meet touristic tastes, it is not so uncommon to find sous-verre displaying satirical and comic figures.

While asking Ms. Detant further questions on the relationship of Senegalese people and art in general, she told us that music is very important and that it plays a major role in their lives. She also explained a peculiarity tradition of Senegal and Western African countries in general: the storytellers, also known as les griots”. They are the true holders of oral tradition and are often seen as a societal and authoritative leaders. As Ms Detant said, they are “the critical voice of society” and as such are “respected by the vast majority of the population”. Among les griots, we can find world-famous singers like Youssou N’Dour and Ablaye Cissoko who, with their music, brought the tradition to a bigger and more international audience.

Les Baobards will be present at our Cultures United Festival next June where they will have a stand showing the richness of Senegalese culture. If you want to attend sous-verre atelier de peinture performed by Les Baobards do not miss this extraordinary opportunity and come join us June 5th and 6th !