Gorée Island: Art for Art's Sake

May 24, 2020

If there is a place you literally mustn't fail to visit during a stay in Senegal, it’s Gorée Island. 

 

Formerly famous as one of the major transit points for ships deporting enslaved African captives to the Americas, Gorée Island has become today a “cultural hub,” of course related to history, but mostly to art. With its 45-acre width, it only takes 20 minutes on a ferry to cover the 1.2 mile distance between Dakar and the island.

 

Photo by: Jackie Wallace

 

It’s not by accident if the island is one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Once you hop off the ferry, the first thing that grabs your eye is the colorful ancient architecture worthy of the Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing. Yes! Gorée has preserved this colonial old style order where way of life and art perfectly and inseparably coexist. At first, you will notice that creativity is contagious here, yet it doesn’t prevent each artwork from keeping its originality.

 

Photo by: Jackie Wallace

 

Photo by: Jackie Wallace

 

If art and crafts are your main interest, it only takes a five-minute walk from the landing wharf to make it to the artisanal village. There, you can find different items from beaded jewelry, fans, and batik fabrics, to finished African clothes; all locally handmade. No need to worry, they customize articles that fit every budget. Take a walk to the Castel Memorial, which is the peak of the island and where the view is simply marvelous, and you’ll discover on your way one of the most incredible art exhibitions. Just finished paintings, still to dry, will welcome you along the “Ruelle des Artistes” - Artists Alley -. You can bargain with art dealers with no need to go inside a gallery. Everything lays out on display in the alley.

 

Photo by: Marjorie Haack

 

On Gorée Island, local artists create their art with many types of material. So don’t be surprised if you run into one of the artists sand drawing on mirrors or inside bottles. You might expect such a skill should be hidden from public view, yet these talented sand drawers openly express their work in the eye of a train of curious admirers. Sculptors shape wood and stone models mostly inspired by the totemic African woman they proudly display there as well.

 

Photo by: Marjorie Haack

 

Photo by: Jackie Wallace

 

Gorée is also the host of one of the greatest art festivals that started in 2007, and is now listed among the major artistic events of Senegal: "Regards sur cours." Over sixty exhibitors from all over the world yearly take part of this three-day event which is the showcase for painting, photography, engraving, sculpture, ceramic, pottery, furniture, design, and jewelry, among others. Residents of Gorée offer you the exceptional opportunity to enter the beautiful courtyards and flowery gardens of their homes where experienced artists, some widely recognized internationally, alongside younger talents, happily expose and share their works.

 

Photo by: Marjorie Haack 

 

Gorée island isn’t only the emblematic symbol of the Atlantic slave trade’s memory, but surely remains the epitome of “art for art’s sake” where you don’t necessarily need to visit the famous “Maison des Esclaves” - House of Slaves – or the Historic Museum, the western peak cannon, or any of the other historic places to feel your trip was joyful and worth it.

 

Photo by: Marjorie Haack

 

If you ask the popular Canadian historian Jean-Louis Roy what Gorée represents,  he will answer this: "Whoever says to you, Gorée is an island / That one lied / This island is not an island / It is a continent of the mind." We also believe as he does that it’s up to us to choose in the diverse meanings of what a “continent of the mind” may stand for. For this purpose, we chose art as the definition for Gorée Island.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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