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.