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Seni Camara - Senegal

Seni Camara  -  Senegal - SARENCO FOUNDATION
Sitting in the noonday sun and inhaling smoke from a long, thin pipe, Seni Camara has a quiet naturalness, like a flower that blossoms only for those who dream. For a long time, perhaps longer that she can remember, the Senegalese sculptor has smoked in the sun and worked in the sun, making thousand of clay images that have revealed themselves to her, images that merge with her observation of the world as shw experiences it, and images of those closest to her - parents, partners, friend, children. " I reflect, I have and idea," she says simply.
Camara displays her fantasies and eccentricities at the marketplace in Bignona. Her work, well known in the region, is presented for milling throngs to see and examine in the vast outdoors, next to fresh potatoes and ripe tomatoes and cucumbers. Though I have never been to the marketplace, I find it strangely exhilarating that curious tourists and locals can find sculpture for sale among fleshy, smooth-skinned fruit and raw vegetables.
Do you want something to eat, drink, smoke, or admire? You must choose. The amazing bazaar allows everything, except pretence.
Camara gets immense satisfaction from communication with her customers who have the courage to bet on her gifts out in the open, putting down cash. When money is ex-changed, there is an assortment of thrills.
Camara shows and sells far away from the mainstream of any art world, as most of us know it. She enjoyed or missed the privilege of going to art school (a blessing in disguise). But there need be no apologies for naiveré or technical shortcomings. Her genuinely expressive figures have a coherence of style.
According to the Camara legend, she started modeling figures thirty years ago. The question people ask is, "how old is she today?" It is a boring question, because age does not matter. And to ask the question instantly raises the issue of credibility, always a sticky subject. In the marketplace, her husband will say everything to please the customer or to please her. The only important element is her vision. Camara is a woman in the prime of life.
Her figures are kneaded with her fingers from very fine,fhresh clay that is sifted and resifted. After the clay has hardened, the works are arranged by size in her open kiln - really a big hole in the courtyard of her house - which looks like a sizzling barbecue. They bake on a burning wood fire at a low temperature. When fully fired, they are exhibited unglazed and without paint. The marble coloring comes from exposure to the flame.
Some of the pieces are four feet high; most are no larger than a porcelain doll, and just as fragile.
Though she believes the omnipresent Devil is lurking nearby, she ignores him with friendly fantasies of smiling, laughing individuals and formal groupings of people who are pleased with themselves and each other.
Her sculpture is not erotic. Sexuality is discreet, sometimes missing entirely. One intriguing work, for example, is of a mother and father, each clasping an infant. The mother has breast - indeed, the baby she holds is greedily consuming her milk. Yet Camara's view of he family is primal and seen from a child's eye: the parents are joined above the hip and have no sexual organs. Mother, father, babies - all the bodies blend amid confusion of limbs. Each touches the other playfully. There's jugging, embracing, nestling together.
The players in her theatre of everyday life, whether in groups of perched singly on a tractor or motorbike, exude warmth and affection. They also accept the twentieth-century civilization. Her protagonists, despite the shadow of demons, have not problem with modern transportation. In fact, it captures their imagination, along with a fussing and braiding of hair until it becomes a mask or a king of hat.
Faces and shapes may be exaggerated, but happily, no one is on the attack.
Camara's predomintating theme is that of friendly affection.
Like everyone else on earth, she seeks an intimacy - a need to relate to someone in a gratifying fashion. However interesting, the imagery is repetitious. But is is also personal. I recognize her originality and a certain beauty. Now, beauty is a dangerous word because notions of "beauty" are relative. So let me be very clear: the work gives me pleasure to look at. As one artist to the other, I respect, like and enjoy Camara.

By kind permission of Seni Camara
Louise Bourgeois