The practice of Italian Senegalese artist Adji Dieye (b. 1991), based in Zurich and Dakar, Senegal, is dedicated to the themes of postcolonialism and nation-building. From an Afro-diasporic perspective the artist examines how language and the urban landscape function in the writing of history, whose linearity becomes the focus of her critical enquiry. At the centre of Dieye’s exhibition is the video-based work Aphasia (2022), newly produced especially for Fotomuseum Winterthur during an artist residency of several months in Dakar. The work allows Afro-diasporic communities and Black identities to express themselves as living archives by giving them agency and a voice.
The loss of language is the conceptual starting point of the cross-disciplinary work Aphasia. In a speech-based performance in different public spaces in Dakar the artist attempts to express herself in French, the official language imposed by a former colonial power that only parts of the population can actually understand in its institutional form. A seemingly neutral language, French continues to operate as a language of business, politics and education in Senegal – even after the country’s decolonisation –, holding on to the space on the country’s history shelves that it gained by gradually replacing vernacular tongues throughout the last century.
As the urban settings of the video-based work continue to change, so does the sound of the artist’s voice, whose tone audibly changes several times until it is no longer the artist’s own voice reading sentences out loud but rather multiple voices of friends and people with a similar background that Dieye added during post-production. Dieye’s artistic study therefore invites us to actively listen to the deeper truths and subjectivities of the diasporic and native community the artist is closely connected to because of her own background. Although Aphasia takes the loss of language as its conceptual starting point, it unfolds into a soundscape that gives agency and voice to both the Afro-diasporic community and the artist’s Senegalese kin ultimately emerging as a polyphonic canon and therefore allowing Black identities and spiritualities to express themselves as living archives.
This exhibition project was developed within the framework of Photographic Encounters, a a biennial format with which Fotomuseum Winterthur and Christoph Merian Verlag accompany a photographer or artist in the realisation of an exhibition and a publication, thereby supporting the production and presentation of a long-term photographic project. Adji Dieye was selected for the first edition.
The Photographic Encounters format was initiated by the Christoph Merian Foundation, enabled by the Geissmann Scholarship for Photography.