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Xaadim Bamba Mbow — Emotive art from the heart of Dakar

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Named after Ahmadou Bamba Mbacke, the Sufi saint and religious leader who lived from 1853 to 1927, Xaadim Bamba Mbow was born in Guédiawaye in 1988. After bagging a master’s degree in Law, Xaadim laid down the certificates, picked up a full-time career as an artist, and he’s never had to go back. “It’s not easy at all to leave your degree and focus on art,” he admits. “I knew I took a big risk, but what is life without risks?” The voice pouring out of the WhatsApp voice note fills the night with the melody of his intonation. Listening to Xaadim Bamba Mbow speak reminds me of popular social media content creator Father DMW.

“Art is my life. It’s all I love doing. I think it’s my destiny.” Xaadim was born into an environment where creativity flourishes. His father is an artist and while growing up he was always in the midst of art. Despite leaving his degree to be an artist, his time and experience as a Law student helped him to become a practicing artist in some way. “School was very important in my career. I think I’ll not be doing the art I’m doing today if I was not at school.” But is this a profitable adventure? The transition from the legal world to the art world, especially in a country like Senegal? Xaadim approves of the growth and development of the art scene in Senegal. Contemporary African artists keep rising with irresistible art outputs but the foreign voice – museums, collectors, galleries, and auction houses – still seem to be the validator of African creativity. Xaadim is however positive that this narrative is changing. He believes that the art scene in Senegal is becoming more vibrant. For example, 59 artists from across 16 African nations will be featured in the Dakar Biennale of African Contemporary Art. This event is only one of the hundreds set to take place in Dakar and across Africa over the next month. “Art is living here,” Xaadim declares, although he thinks there is still more work to be done to encourage deeper art appreciation by Senegalese locals.

Xaadim Bamba Mbow

“The human condition is the centre of my art. I like to deal with existential questions of time, religion and justice.” Xaadim tells me when I asked what topics he likes to explore in his works. Beyond passing cultural messages, he wants his works to share real human emotions. He uses words like emotive and heartfelt when describing his work to me. 

Syncretism 1 © Xaadim Bamba Mbow

To the viewers experiencing Xaadim’s work, they might have relative interpretations of his works, and to them, there might be features of his work that make it unique and different. However, from the creator’s perspective, I wanted to know what intentions Xaadim has towards making his work unique and different. He had not particularly been intentional about creating unique work but he maintains that he creates work that is true to himself. This makes much sense because he agrees with the fact that every human is unique and so their creative outputs will likewise be dynamic. Therefore Xaadim’s individual essence brings a difference to his works. “It’s a matter of choice,” he said, “It’s left to the artist to choose to stay true to himself or to follow the trend and lose himself.”

© Xaadim Bamba Mbow

Xaadim’s art practice revolves around painting and photography. He gives me a snippet of his creative process. Starting from creating a mental model of what he wants to achieve, to researching symbols that will make the message pop. This process is usually followed by a materialization process whereby he brings together items to design accessories and props that will make the work pop. Photo capture and editing come after. The postproduction process involves the addition of elements from his digital collage technique. “I confess that I never felt my work was complete. It’s like the man’s life being shaped as long as he is alive,” Xaadim says.

Syncrétisme 3 © Xaadim Bamba Mbow

In 2021, he created a series named Syncretisme Culturel et Religieux in which he questioned how in Africa, different cultures, religions, and languages have mingled to form a successful multi-family household despite its apparent contradictions.

© Xaadim Bamba Mbow
© Xaadim Bamba Mbow

Xaadim operates two Instagram pages. On one he showcases his artist’s digital collages. The other is a pallet of street photographs documenting the Senegalese neighbourhood. Select work from his collection is currently on display at the Dak’art Biennale in Dakar till the 15th of July.

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