‘WORD! WORD? WORD! Issa Samb and the Undecipherable Form’

Office for Contemporary Art Norway , Oslo, Norway
04 May 2013 - 23 Jun 2013

‘WORD! WORD? WORD! Issa Samb and the Undecipherable Form’ is the first solo exhibition in Europe by the seminal Senegalese artist Issa Samb.

It brings together a selection of emblematic works made by Samb over the past 25 years, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, assemblages and installations, as well as objects, artworks made by others and diverse materials he has amassed in his studio in Dakar’s rue Jules Ferry. They will be accompanied by performative actions presented during the opening days – all these elements coming together to reflect Samb’s vast galaxy of interconnected universes, in which everyday signs are transformed into altars to personal obsessions.

In the early 70?s, along with filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety and a group of artists, writers, musicians, actors and filmmakers, Samb founded the Laboratoire Agit’Art. Its multi-disciplinary actions were directed against the formalism of the École de Dakar, an object-bound movement developed at the National Art School of Dakar and shaped by Léopold Sédar Senghor’s philosophy of négritude. Aiming to depart from this conception into experimentation and agitation, ephemerality rather than permanence, and political and social ideas rather than aesthetic notions, the Laboratoire Agit’Art developed a distinct ‘aesthetic of the social’. Audience participation was paramount to the group’s work, as was the privileging of communicative acts over the physical object. Neither utopian nor self-referential, it grounded its actions in the immediate sociopolitical situation. Today many of the early members have passed away, but the group’s spirit persists, materialised in all of Samb’s work.

From the time of the creation of the Laboratoire Agit’Art, Issa Samb has produced a graspable, yet cryptic and evanescent body of work. It is a body of work that, despite its avant-garde nature, is firmly rooted in African traditions of artistic multiplicity and simultaneity of forms and actions, where the spoken word and performative actions are highly regarded. And in keeping with Samb’s readings of Marxist philosophy and aesthetics, many of his sculptural assemblages take the paradigm of revolutionary movements as their subject matter, suggesting the possibility that the energy of the visual arts can be harnessed in support of the struggles of the weak and disadvantaged.

‘WORD! WORD? WORD!’, curated by Koyo Kouoh, brings to Europe a selection of works focusing on Samb’s multifaceted individual production, in a performative installation that references Samb’s home studio in Dakar, referred to as ‘La Cour’ or ‘The Yard’. The display will create a fluid system of exchange between the objects, the artist and the audience. The exhibition is organised in collaboration with Raw Material Company in Dakar, where it will travel in late 2013.