Saïdou Dicko — Artist From Burkina Faso Is The Catcher Of Shadows

Saïdou Dicko, Le Cerf-volant d’Oum kalthoum, 2017, pigment print on Hahnemühle Baryta, painting and digital collage, 45 x 60 cm / Image: Courtesy of the artist and ARTCO Gallery

The artist Saïdou Dicko was born in Burkina Faso in 1979 and grew up in the Sahel zone. His creative work is still inspired and shaped by early experiences from his childhood as a Fulani shepherd. From an early age, drawing has been the foundation of his creative path, ever since he started drawing the shadows of his sheep. The concept of this dark companion, that can only exist in the presence of light, has become a major theme in Dicko’s work. The self-taught visual artist lives and works in Paris, France, and engages in various artistic media, such as photography, video, installation and painting. His work touches on themes of home, identity, ecology and sustainability.¹

Even though his drawings are an important part of his work and these pieces can stand on their own, his photography has grown into being a focal point in his work. In recent years, his photographic work has developed into complex mixed media creations, incorporating photography, digital collage and painting. The creative process behind these pieces seems to have progressed over time, growing more complex with each additional layer of media.

The title of his latest work series — “The Shadowed People” — reflects his deep interest in the concept of shadows, as did his previous series “The Shadow Thief and The Shadow Thief II”. Saïdou Dicko was given the nickname “Shadow Thief”, as he literally catches the shadows of people and other living beings with his camera.² The artist focuses his lens purely on the dark shapes that gather on the floor, linger behind a person’s back or hurry along the walls. Each picture captures a fleeting moment, holding on to a shape that has come and gone within seconds. The outlines of the shapes are forming and reforming, depending on the angle, with which the light falls onto the shadow-casting subject — ever-changing, due to the object and surface that serves as the shadow’s backdrop. The pictures emit the atmosphere of transience. The subject casting the shadow is omitted from the scene. Sometimes the artist lets the viewer catch a glimpse of a body or object at the edges and corners of the image, which suggests an unfinished story. The shadow that is left by whatever is its owner, is bereft of its colour and sometimes of its original form. It has lost its three-dimensionality, but not its dynamic. The shadows display vitality, even though their backdrop often seems dreary, especially in the first series of “The Shadow Thief”. Dry soil, unpaved streets and unpainted walls, appear to give the dark shape the opportunity to stand out and seemingly develop a life of its own.

Saïdou Dicko, Le cerceau, 2007, print on photo paper laminated on 3 mm PVC plate, 30 x 40 cm / Image: Courtesy of the artist and ARTCO Gallery

The work “Le cerceau / The hoop” shows the shadow of a young boy and his hoop, which he seems to push and role in front of himself with a thin stick. The shape of the boy is displayed from the knees upwards. His body forms an upward diagonal in the picture, which creates an additional dynamic combined with the imagined rolling forward of the hoop. The plaything itself is cropped in half by the view frame, nonetheless providing a glimpse into the ‘outside world’.

The diptych “Le jeune pecheur / The young sinner”, shows a bent shadow of a body in each photograph. The title of the work seems to be reflected in the rueful bent over shape, which almost appears monstrous and inhuman. The figure, whose feet can be seen in both parts of the diptych, seems to be standing or respectively running at the edge of a body of water. The grey concrete ground stands against a greenish dark colour, that appears to flow and reflect the sun. The two-coloured background with its differing textures creates a fascinating visual interplay. A glimpse of traditional African wax fabric can be seen along the legs of the protagonist. The shadow suggests that the figure in the picture is female, judging from the way the clothes are draped around the body.

As mentioned, one of Dicko’s newer work groups is titled “The Shadowed People”. Here the artist interferes with the image of the photograph by blacking out the photographed individuals. The subject itself is transformed into a shadow, thus the actual shadow looses its significance. Saïdou Dicko paints over the features of the pictured bodies, takes away their mimics and skin colour — basically neutralising their outward features. The protagonists become distinguishable only by their clothes, height and body postures.

Saïdou Dicko, Yellow cans, 2019, pigment print on Hahnemühle Baryta, painting and digital collage, 45 x 60 cm / Image: Courtesy of the artist and ARTCO Gallery

His work “Yellow cans” from 2019 is a mixed media work that lets the eye wander endlessly over its filigree pattern. The basis for this work is a photo of a girl sitting playfully on yellow cans. Her head is turned to the side, looking out of the picture. Dicko painted onto the photograph, covering the girl’s entire body with black paint and transforming her into a shadow person. Her dress, with petrol and purple coloured stripes, stands out against the skin covered in black — as do her brown slippers and the white spot, that marks her right earring. Above her head, Dicko painted one of the most prominent symbols connected to his Fulani origins — four red squares grouped around a black square in the centre. The formation, which is reminiscent of a cross, is often placed above the heads of the protagonists or placed all over the image in various colours by Dicko. The symbol is part of a typical traditional Fulani wall carpet.

The original background of the photograph becomes almost unrecognisable due to the artist’s creative intervention. It can only be vaguely perceived that the cans, on which the girl is sitting, have been placed on the outside of a building. Behind the girl’s back is a door and a window with drawn curtains. However, this original backdrop is hidden behind a pattern of fine lines, which the artist created in black, white and yellow paint, all over the picture. The filigree lines almost look like they have been woven together, like a crochet doily that spreads out over the entire picture. In the horizontal centre of the picture, next to the girls head, the lines are woven into a round design. The artist mirrors this design downward, but creates the illusion that the pattern continues behind the girl and the cans. This illusionistic trick causes a complex interplay of the background and foreground. The artist catches an everyday, seemingly unspectacular, situation on camera and converts it into a fascinating, multilayered composition.

Saïdou Dicko, La Terre tourne seulement pour les gens qui ont le droit de voyager, 2018, Pigment print on Hahnemühle Baryta, painting and digital collage, 40 x 60 cm / Image: Courtesy of the artist and ARTCO Gallery

The piece “La Terre tourne seulement pour les gens qui ont le droit de voyager / The earth turns only for people who have the right to travel” is a digital collage that startles the viewer at first. The composition consists of multiple scenarios, brought together, in order to tell a story. In the foreground, a girl can be seen lying on a matt with her head resting on a pillow. Her head is wrapped in a turban-like headdress that matches the rest of her mainly pink and rose-coloured clothes. She seems to lie comfortably, holding a ball in her hand — maybe resting after playing. As the work is part of the series “The Shadowed People”, the girl’s skin is completely covered in black. What could be perceived as an idyllic scene, is disturbed by an outstretched waste disposal site, on which the girl’s mat seems to be laid on top of. Masses of plastic, textile and carton fill the middle ground — a very obvious reminder of the incredible amounts of waste that the world’s civilisation produces, much of which does not disintegrate easily. It conjures up memories of scenes, showing people, who live on waste mountains and whose lives revolve around sorting and recycling the waste to make a living.

The background is sectioned off by a thick black line, suggesting that the world behind it is unreachable for those in front of it. There, skyscrapers reach high into the sky. A metropolis — a world of unlimited possibilities, but only for those, who can travel there. This piece is one of several works that are centred around the topic of plastic waste in our society. Dicko does not criticise the use of plastic in general, but he rather wants to create awareness that it is important to find ways to reuse and recycle the waste that is produced.

Saïdou Dicko, Nafoore Garden, T Fleur Bleu, pigment print on Hahnemühle Baryta, painting and digital collage, 60 x 45 cm / Image: Courtesy of the artist and ARTCO Gallery

Another important issue Saïdou Dicko addresses in his work, is the significance of access to clean water. Having experienced the lack of sufficient access in rural areas of Burkina Faso himself, the artist chose to use his work as a way to raise awareness. In a campaign in cooperation with WaterAid the artist commemorates the tenth anniversary of the UN declaration of water and sanitation being a basic human right. In his work “Nafoore Garden, T Fleur Bleu” the artist shows a woman, walking through a green garden with her baby tied to her back. In a similar manner as mentioned before, a pattern of lines in bright blue and yellow form a dynamic and vibrating aura around the walking woman. The significant colour of blue can be interpreted as symbolising the life spending elixir of water.

Saïdou Dicko, The water statue, 2020, watercolour and ink on paper 32 x 25 cm / Image: Courtesy of the artist and ARTCO Gallery

His watercolour work on paper “The water statue” revolves around the same theme. A young girl is standing on a pile of cans filled with water. Green tendrils with red flowers or fruits spring from both sides of these canisters, representing the plants that can only grow in the presence of water. The girl has raised her arms in an exalted manner, one arm stretched out with a finger pointing to the front, and the other tilted upwards. In a world, where one part of the population waits in queues for several days to get hold of a can of water — which then needs to be rationed for long stretches of time — and the other part creates fancy water fountains with statues on top, this work seems to hit exactly, where it hurts.

Saïdou Dicko had his first exhibition in the 2006 Dakar Biennial, which brought his work a lot of attention and was awarded with a prize. Since then the artist has co-founded a collective, where curators, gallerists, journalists and those who are passionate about art can come together and form new ideas — he started “Rendez-Vous d’Artistes” in 2012.³

He has repeatedly engaged in NGO projects and continuously uses his work to raise awareness for important sociopolitical and ecological issues. However, the link to his roots in the Fulani tradition stays apparent throughout all of his work.

¹ See interview with Saïdou Dicko (30.09.2020)

² See interview with Saïdou Dicko (30.09.2020)

³ (30.09.2020)

For more information about the artist check out his Instagram account @saidou_dicko and his galleries ARTCO Aachen, Berlin, Cape Town and Loft Art Gallery Casablanca.

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