Story of a residency: WAAW Senegal

The entrance of WAAW.

It can take more time to reflect on what you have seen, learned, heard, experienced and felt coming back from one particular place than from any other.

That is what happened to me after my short visit to Saint-Louis, Northwest of Senegal, 320km from Dakar, as part of a residency with WAAW. I met wonderful and very inspiring people, I have seen unique places and I learned so much through the conversations I had with everyone. 

The WAAW residency viewed from the terrace.

I want to start this much belated series of posts about my residency in Senegal by presenting you the WAAW residency space and the people behind this wonderful endeavour.

From the terrace.

I have to thank two very special people for making this residency possible: Jarmo Pikkujämsä and Staffan Martikainen, the founders of WAAW. Two very passionate and knowledgeable professionals about Senegal and West Africa, they both traveled a lot in the region and have organised many tours throughout Africa and the Middle East with Harmattan Tours.

Jarmo holds a Ph.D. in African Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies (UK). He has a strong interest and knowledge of coffee (he is the owner of Aksum Coffee House in Brussels) and in promoting cultural production. 

Staffan is a translator at the European Commission in Brussels. He is fascinated by West African music, languages and crafts. After importing African craft and design to Finland and Belgium he founded the Yelema association for the promotion of artisans.

And they are among the friendliest people I have ever met. 

The view from the WAAW terrace.

WAAW is situated in the heart of Saint-Louis, called Ndar in Wolof. 

Saint-Louis is a former colonial town, it was the capital of the French colony of Senegal from 1673 until 1902 and French West Africa from 1895 until 1902, when the capital was moved to Dakar. The city, which I will tell you more about in a later post in this series, is truly fascinating and filled with architectural gems.

The view on the street from WAAW entrance door.

A very important component of a residency at WAAW is exchange. You don't come here to be alone and do your thing, WAAW is a place for encounters between all kinds of people working in different areas. The place itself is surrounded with local cultural traditions including music, dance and various crafts, and you will see many local artists and makers coming to say hello to the residents. Jarmo and Staffan also organise events at WAAW itself as well as with local partners. 

Musician and instrument builder Abdoukhader Diop is getting ready inside WAAW to share his passion and knowledge.

The programme that was prepared for the one week residency was very intense - one of the reasons why it also took me so long to dive back into it all and have a serious reflection about this experience. So I met local writers, musicians, artists, weavers, a festival organiser, a village chief, a calligrapher, university students, filmmakers, business owners... and a lot lot more, many of these encounters I will also write about in later posts. 

The terrace at WAAW.

I can without any doubt say that Saint-Louis has stolen my heart and that WAAW is most certainly one of the main reasons why.

The entrance of the terrace of WAAW

I am now experiencing this journey again, through all the material I have collected during my residency, starting with these images of the residency space, which I hope will be an invitation for you to apply for this residency

Studio space at WAAW

Some practical information about WAAW:

  • Waaw is open to representatives of all artistic and academic disciplines, but especially professionals in visual arts, crafts and design are encouraged to apply.
  • The residence comprises 6 bedrooms; shared kitchens and bathrooms around a common courtyard.
  • 2 larger rooms are available for work, exhibitions or other work. Work space for special purposes, such as dance/performances can be rented cheaply outside the centre.
  • Tools, musical instruments, space for dance/performances can be rented cheaply outside the centre.

For further information, visit the WAAW website  

and most importantly:

Stairs going up to the terrace (and the beautiful Bougainvillea peaking from above)

In my next post of this Senegalese series, I will dive into the city of Saint-Louis. But without rush, I told you some visits need - and deserve - more time. 

Les Murs d'Avignon

C'est la première fois que je suis allée à Avignon. Pourtant, j'en rêvais depuis très longtemps, surtout pendant mes années de théâtre. Mieux vaut tard que jamais dit-on. J'ai vu quelques spectacles du OFF, que j'ai fort aimé : Isabelle 100 Visages, Tschüss!! Bunny, Il était une fois les langues... Et bien entendu, mon choix a été déterminé avant tout par une affiche... 

Les murs d'Avignon sont richement décorés pendant le festival. C'est coloré, mélangé, parfois effrayant, mais souvent fascinant à observer. Au milieu des murs aux centaines d'affiches, on pouvait trouver des affiches solitaires, sous une fenêtre, accrochée à un lampadaire, emprisonnée mais visible...   

Tandis que je photographiais ce mur ci-dessous aux affiches doublement placardée aux couleurs jaune, rose et bleu - les couleurs me plaisaient et j'aimais le contraste avec le mur, une jeune femme qui passait dans la rue m'a dit "C'est un très beau spectacle, je vous conseille d'y aller", je l'ai remerciée en souriant, elle a ajouté "Vraiment, il est magnifique". Alors je n'ai pas hésité. Je suis allée voir Isabelle 100 visages le soir même. Je n'ai pas regretté (je vous en parle dans ce billet). 

C'est assez fascinant de voir la créativité avec laquelle les festivaliers contournent les interdictions d'affichage ou arrivent à se faire remarquer parmi ce flot d'affiches. Et je les comprends, c'est assez difficile pour un visiteur de choisir. Le bouche à oreille est ce qui fonctionne le mieux m'a-t-on dit. Les rencontres aussi. Et puis les affiches aident. C'est en voyant celles de Tchüss!! Bunny et Il était une fois les langues que j'ai décidé d'aller voir ces spectacles. Dans le premier, le titre était écrit en plusieurs langues, et le titre du second était assez explicite : les deux spectacles avaient pour thème principal les langues... impossible pour moi de les rater.  

J'ai trouvé les murs d'Avignon magnifiques. Les moindres détails, les fissures, les ombres d'affiches ou d'arbres que j'ai tenté de capturer sous une chaleur parfois intenable.  Et il n'y avait pas que les murs... 

Et parfois pas plus d'explications que ça... 

Une simple fissure suffit pour qu'émerge une invitation... 

Et à deux pas de chaque interdiction, des affiches, des affiches, et encore des affiches... 

Mini Instagram Projects from France

I got back from France today, where I spent 10 days traveling between Lyon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. You can see some of my journey captured on my Instagram feed. As usual, next to my iPhone camera, I took hundreds more pictures with my Sony RX100 III, which will need further work on... categorising, editing, publishing/archiving. Taking pictures is a real joy and I realise more and more how much I love Instagram and how much it allows me to do, such as mini projects I come up with on the spot. 

Two "mini" Instagram projects I want to share with you now are #TypographAix and #lesMursdAvignon, which you can see pictures of below. 

While in Aix-en-Provence, I got inspired by the typography of the various businesses, old and new, some still working, some long gone, as well as some writings appearing in places where you wouldn't expect it. So I captured a few and tagged all such photos as #TypographAix. And in Avignon, I looked at the walls, which were covered by posters of the Avignon OFF (Fringe festival) throughout the city, which can be really overwhelming. There are few of those shots under #lesMursdAvignon.

I find this process really useful in my research of how languages and text is depicted in public space, while Instagram allows immediate sharing, I keep a more detailed catalogue of this ongoing research of mine through capturing it with the SONY camera. And while the first approach is about immediacy, the second one needs more work and reflection, so you'll have to wait a bit to see more of that. But for now, I hope you'll enjoy these few shots.

Show Your Work

Many of you may be familiar with Austin Kleon's excellent book Show Your Work. I've read it a while ago and took it back from the shelf recently.

I've always been more or less comfortable sharing my writing or translation, after all, it is what I do for a living. And I have no difficulty calling myself a writer and a literary translator. But when it comes to other kinds of explorations, such as drawing, doodling, collage or more... I have more trouble sharing, because I always feel, it is not part of my expertise, that's not what I make my living from and I'm probably not good at it. But then I realised lately that I have a large amount of creative visual work I have been doing to help me in my thinking about translation, writing, curating, editing and the many things I do for a living or just to evolve as a creative individual. So I decided that I will be more generous in sharing those processes too. I have added a visual section to my website. This is mostly to give an idea of what my processes of working and thinking can lead to, it tells a bit about my tastes and also how I can apply visual elements into my everyday thinking. It is also just to develop certain skills, such as observing better the worlds that surround me. It is also to have fun, as simple as that. So I hope you will enjoy these explorations, which I also share on my Instagram account

And to celebrate the joy of sharing, here's a collage of mine:

Danser sa vie. Mixed Media collage (paper and acrylic on paint board), 2014

La chaise

Je me suis amusée sur le catalogue 2015 du KunstenFestivaldesArts (le papier est vraiment agréable au toucher), avec mes marqueurs Sakura Koi et mes Pigma Micron (que j'adore !) Ça donne ceci :  

Residency Gear

I wrote earlier I was finally looking into the material I collected from my residency in Copenhagen. While doing this, I found some photos of me in action, and this made me want to share some information about the practical side of my process.

So, what does one need when hunting for languages in a city?

Apart from good energy and motivation to walk and walk and walk (endless walking), and impermeable clothing (yes, even in the rain and in the cold you keep walking, because time is limited on a residency, and in Copenhagen, even in May it can be chilly), you need a good camera, a sound recorder, something to take notes (digital and/or analog, that's up to you, I do both) and an internet connection (3 or 4G if no Wi-Fi) for social sharing and on the spot research. You can have all these incorporated in one device: my iPhone 6 truly is perfect and I used it a lot for sharing photos on Instagram. I also recorded some sound but I think I will mostly use it for research purposes, but again, I am still looking into the material I collected so I may change my mind. The iPhone 6 is also great for filming, I have fewer films and I have no idea for now what I will do with it.

Next to my iPhone 6 I have my SONY RX III for everything that needs better quality images as well as further thinking and exploration. Here again, because I have no planned outcomes I rather have very good quality images on hand. Another important point is that photographing with the SONY requires different skills and another approach. I don't photograph the same way with my iPhone and working with the SONY pushes me to look at my environment differently. It also allows me to zoom, which I will get to in a later post. 

Clothes. It may sound frivolous to talk fashion, but it is no luxury to be prepared. I live in the North of Europe so I know Spring is not always sunny and dry. But Copenhagen is even further North than Amsterdam, so I had to be prepared. If you go on a residency to Copenhagen, bring a raincoat, a scarf (don't be afraid to have one with wool mixed in), comfy shoes (my Clarks were great for rainy days, my Converse for the sunnier ones) and a big messenger bag to collect flyers, brochures and more on the go.  

Also, keep it cool when you meet a giant bull in the heart of Copenhagen.

Below are a few pictures of me taken by Erinç Salor who accompanied me during some of my explorations, here in Superkilen and in centre Copenhagen near the university. 

Resurgence from Underwater

The Merman with Seven Sons, sculptures by Suste Bonnén. Photo by Canan Marasligil. 

It's been eight weeks since I've been back from Copenhagen.

I haven't worked on the materials I have collected during my one month residency at the University of Copenhagen, I haven't written or even put any order into all the media I brought back.

Photos, videos, sound recordings, digital notes, analog notes, flyers and brochures, books... and thoughts.

Many many thoughts.

When I got back, I felt a bit drowned under all these materials and everything I learned. It was an extremely rich residency. The people I met through the University and all that knowledge I collected has been very inspiring and motivating. 

Then I was back in Amsterdam, a place I for now call home. And I decided to leave those thoughts, ideas and all the collected material on the side for a while. And so it took me eight weeks to be able to start - yes, only start - to look back at what I experienced in Copenhagen. 

I kept thinking what I could start with, and I remembered that underwater sculpture, The Merman with Seven Sons in the heart of Copenhagen I took a picture of on a sunny day.

The sculptures were made in 1992 by Danish sculptor, photographer, and author, Suste Bonnen, based on the famous story found in Danish folklore: Agnete and the Merman (Agnete og Havmanden in Danish). The group of bronze sculptures is located underwater in the Slotsholm Canal next to Højbro (High Bridge). They portray a merman and his seven sons with outstretched arms, begging Agnete to return home. 

Mermaids and other mer-people are recurring figures in traditional Danish lore. Hans Christian Andersen's popular story The Little Mermaid inspired the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, a most popular tourist attraction. 

Doing some light research on the subject, I found out different versions of the story, which has the same basis: a merman and a human, Agnete, fall in love, live together underwater, have children. One day, Agnete hears church bells coming from land and desires to go back, promising her husband she will come back. There she finds the family she had abandoned, her mother and sisters, and learns the bells are actually for her father's funeral who killed himself after having searched for Agnete for so long. 

No matter what exactly the story tells, how many children they have, if Agnete speaks to her real mother or a ghost because time passes differently underwater than on land,... the sculpture makes you feel the tragedy. These underwater statues reaching for their mother, the merman reaching for his loved one, in vain. Then there's me, looking from up the bridge, trying to decipher these figures. And now, looking at the photograph, feeling quite overwhelmed but also extremely excited about a new challenge that I will take with me in the coming months, going through all the materials and thoughts I've gathered in Copenhagen. It will be a long journey, and I want to take my time, even if I may now and again feel underwater. I will end up catching my Agnete's hand. 


My Instagram Copenhagen

Here's a snapshot (or 10 screenshots to be more exact) of my Instagram feed throughout my Copenhagen residency between 17 April and 17 May 2015, there's a couple of Berlin pictures in the first batch - preceding my CPH trip, and there are some Barcelona shots in between - as part of my residency at Copenhagen University I participated to a seminar on critical practices. Next step is to explore what's/are the story/ies I tried to tell through this Instagram feed, and compare with the 1497 other photos I took with my SONY RX III, awaiting for me in Lightroom - those will tell a rather different story I believe...   

Podcast France Culture : Je vous écris de Copenhague

Dans l'exposition des trésors de la bibliothèque royale du Danemark, lettre et dessins de Karen Blixen. Photo : Canan Marasligil.

Trois semaines que je suis à Copenhague. Il me reste encore une semaine pour continuer mes voyages dans la ville et dans ses langues. J'ai plein de notes, énormément de photos, des lectures et des podcasts... Oui, je suis encore en mode exploration.

Je partage avec vous ce très bel épisode de l'émission "Carnets nomades" sur Copenhague, datant de 2013, avec notamment une visite à la maison de Karen Blixen, aujourd'hui un musée, et un extrait d'un entretien avec Blixen des archives de France Culture. Des extraits de La ferme africaine ponctue le reportage. 

Vous pouvez aussi lire des pages de ses carnet et manuscrits, notamment de Out of Africa dans les archives numériques de la bibliothèque royale du Danemark

City immersion continued... through architecture

Just like in the very first days of my arrival, I have been photographing buildings in my quest for languages in Copenhagen's city scape (and I will write more about this particular quest  and my findings at a later stage). I really enjoy this exploratory mode of my residency, walking with the only purpose of getting immersed in the city, through its architecture, its languages, its life, and stopping to observe and take photographs. It is a wonderful way to make the city my own in a way... and the writing which will follow the visual aspects will make this connection even deeper, I feel. More on that later... for now, enjoy the views... (click on a picture to start viewing the gallery): 

These buildings are around Copenhagen University's campus near Islands Brygge, some are part of the university, some are housing (including student housing like the round one).

Sound Walks: Visiting the Harbour

The Danish Architecture Centre has a number of good quality "podwalks" (that's how they call it) in Danish and in English. These are audio commentaries on various aspects of the city's architecture, from the harbour to the Metro, given by guest guides. Below is a very nice example: they have asked Richard Swett, a former ambassador of the USA to Denmark, who has lived with his family in Copenhagen between 1998 and 2001, to guide us around the harbour. Swett mixes facts and personal anecdotes, which makes this walk even better, offering an alternative perspective to discovering the city's very rich architecture. 

Den Sorte Diamant

Copenhagen is well-known for its architectural gems, and the Royal Danish Library, also known as The Black Diamond (Den Sorte Diamant in Danish), is one of them. 

The Black Diamond is a modern waterfront extension to the Library's old building on Slotsholmen in the city centre - right behind the Jewish Museum of Copenhagen. Its nickname - which is almost used as its 'real name' by everyone - you will more likely hear "I'm going to the Black Diamond" rather than "I'm going to the Royal Library", is due to its polished black granite cladding and irregular angles.

Click on an image to start viewing the gallery.

The building was designed by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen and was completed in 1999 as the first in a series of large-scale cultural buildings along Copenhagen's waterfront.

More than a library, the building is also a cultural centre proposing concerts, debates, writers' talks, exhibitions and more. The National Museum of Photography is also hosted there, as well as a very small space dedicated to cartoon art.

The Library hosts a surprising exhibition on its treasures... More on that in a next post. 

In the podcast below you can hear former American ambassador in Copenhagen talk about the Black Diamond - this is part of a series of podcasts along the harbour, which you can listen via The Danish Architecture Centre's Soundcloud channel