Down a nondescript dirt road in the Yoff Virage village in Dakar, beyond a steel-and-wood gate and perched atop an ocher cliff overlooking Yoff Bay, is Black Rock Senegal. It’s the new home, studio space, and artist-in-residency program imagined and brought to life by New York–based painter Kehinde Wiley.
On a balmy day in February, Wiley is standing just outside the towering, 20-foot-tall, double front doors made of Amazakoue wood sourced from Cameroon. Construction workers and staff are moving in every direction, sorting the final details. Wiley closely follows, marking off a checklist that seems to exist only in his head. “People are flying in from around the world,” he says of the launch party he will host in late May, with the first residents arriving shortly thereafter.
Artist residencies have historically been considered ivory-tower enterprises held in long-inherited properties or estates, their hallowed halls guarded by mostly white, mostly male cultural gatekeepers. Black Rock Senegal is one of a slew of new residencies and creative centers now being spearheaded by African-Americans, who are making sure that access, above all, is the point.
Three multidisciplinary artists at a time will be invited to Black Rock Senegal to take part in one-to-three-month sessions. They will be provided with tutoring in English, French, and Wolof. Wiley’s staff will assist in setting up studio visits with local and visiting artists and curators — including those in residence at the nearby Raw Material Company: Center for Art, Knowledge, and Society, which promotes artistic and intellectual creativity in Africa — as well as organizing trips to Gorée Island (from the 15th to the 19th century, the largest slave-trading center on the African coast) and the newly opened Musée des Civilisations Noires. Continue reading…