Issa Samb: From the Ethics of Acting to the Empire Without Signs

Born in Dakar in 1945, Samb founded the Laboratoire Agit’Art with a group including filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety, painter El Hadj Sy, and playwright Youssoufa Dione in 1974. From its inception, the Laboratoire was a revolutionary and subversive artist collective that brought together many creative disciplines from painting to performance.

Samb actively worked on the deconstruction of Leopold Sedar Senghor’s (the cultural theorist and first president of Senegal) aesthetics and views of Senegal’s artistic production that promoted a naive and fetishized idea of African symbols, decoration and beauty. With his actions, Samb has developed a recognisable approach of provocation, collective action and improvisation that is rooted in modes of contemporary art and theatre, the role of the artist in the society, and the interactivity of traditional African performance. This comes together in sculptural form at the courtyard of his atelier in the Rue de Jules Ferry in Dakar, where found and transformed objects and materials including threads, fabrics, clothing, branches, stones and other ephemera are installed around a tree. A total artwork, this dynamic arrangement provides an entry point into the spirit of Issa Samb as an artist as well as the Laboratoire Agit’Art as a collective.

The gallery installation at Rivington Place will include materials and works shipped from Senegal as well as found elements collected in London’s street markets. Central to the exhibition will be fragments of the artist’s writings and footages and videos as well as short films from the oeuvre of French director Jean Michel Bruyère in which Samb plays the role of an actor at the service of Bruyère’s durational performance-installations. An archival display of material will also position Samb’s work in relation to his engagement with Laboratoire Agit’Art and to Senegalese art and politics.