Originally from Saint-Louis, Amadou Moctar Ly, “Masta” as his artist name, plunges into the heart of the imagination of this 300-year-old city to give a face to the protective genius of the city. “Mystic city of Kumba Bang”, his exhibition at the Kemboury Gallery, is a journey into an imaginary, but very real world.

The history of the city of Saint-Louis is intrinsically linked to the presence of its tutelary genius, Maam Kumba Bang. Even today, some inhabitants do not hesitate to make libations in the river to win its good graces. Pregnant women who want to reach term in the best conditions or simply for rites of protection, sacrifices are often practiced on the banks of the great river.

Having grown up in this environment, the painter, Amadou Moctar Ly, Masta by his artist name, let his imagination speak to represent this world. The result is surprising and breathtaking.

In color or sepia, Masta’s works are a journey into this mystical universe that remains stuck to the old town. “My work has always focused on Saint-Louis, a city that inspires, that has a lot to offer artistically and culturally. The story of Maam Kumba Bang is part of the intangible heritage. I appropriated this story and since it’s something not tangible, I tried to give it an image”, explains the artist at the time of the opening of the exhibition hosted by the Kemboury Gallery, in as part of the Offs of the Dakar Biennale.

In the artist’s work, the characters are taken directly from the fertile imagination of this region. It is indeed said that the tutelary genius often takes human form to mingle with the populations. But Maam Kumba Bang is also the shield that protects against evil spirits who would be tempted to rage against “his people”.

In the work of the artist, the characters do not often have human faces. And the point of surprise undoubtedly comes from these geniuses wearing Vans and posing proudly. “It is important for me because certainly it is a story that dates back a long time, but these beliefs have been prolonged. Until now, if you go to St. Louis, there are people who have this relationship with these geniuses. For me, painting can have this aspect of a dream or a pictorial nightmare. It’s an invisible imaged world”, warns the artist.

Trained at the School of Arts in Dakar, the artist who now lives in France, between Paris and Le Mans, handles the color palette with ease. “The choice of colors comes naturally. When I work, I create a kind of dialogue between the painting and me. At the same time, I try to create a spiritual charge that frees me. And once that’s done, there’s a spiritual interchange between the first and subsequent layers. When I start a canvas, I don’t know what it will look like. It’s at the end that I realize.”

On the work of Masta, the titles are evocative: Sacrifice will not be televised (The sacrifice will not be televised), Bad omen, Tribulation, Soul mate, An armchair for two, etc. But the works also carry an esoteric language. The number 362, in reference to the age of the city, comes up often, alongside cabalistic inscriptions evoking this mysterious world and which only initiates can decipher. “I use shapes, colors, collage, everything that allows me to give a soul to this universe”, says the artist who, through this immersion in the universe of Maam Kumba Bang, invites to a ” journey in an imaginary world” which, according to him, is the expression of being rooted in our cultures. “It’s a story from the past but which has continued today and it’s our role as artists to ensure that this story continues to exist and that young people know about it,” recalls Masta. In 2010, it was necessary to kill an ox as a sacrifice for the genius of the city to accept the finalization of the rehabilitation works of the Faidherbe Bridge.

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