Mamadou Cissé | Cities of the Imagination

This post explores the work of Mamadou Cissé and follows up from a previous post about the exhibition ‘Histoires de Voir‘ held at the Fondation Cartier earlier this year. Here is an interview with Mamadou with  Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray from the website titled Mamadou Cissé | A Griot For Modern Cosmopolis



Definition of Griot (Wikipedia)

A griot (play /ˈɡri.oʊ/; French pronunciation: ​[ɡʁi.o]) or jeli (djeli or djéli in French spelling) is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and/or musician. The griot is a repository of oral tradition. As such, they are sometimes also called bards. According to Paul Oliver in his book Savannah Syncopators, “Though [the griot] has to know many traditional songs without error, he must also have the ability to extemporize on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene. His wit can be devastating and his knowledge of local history formidable”. Although they are popularly known as “praise singers”, griots may also use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment.

Mamadou Cisse artGriots today live in many parts of West Africa, and are present among the Mande peoples (Mandinka, Malinké, Bambara, etc.), Fulɓe (Fula), Hausa, Songhai, Tukulóor, Wolof, Serer, Mossi, Dagomba, Mauritanian Arabs and many other smaller groups. The word may derive from the French transliteration “guiriot” of the Portuguese word “criado”, or masculine singular term for “servant”. These story-tellers are more predominant in the northern portions of West Africa.[citation needed]

In African languages, griots are referred to by a number of names: jeli in northern Mande areas, jali in southern Mande areas, guewel in Wolof, gawlo in Pulaar (Fula). Griots form an endogamous caste, meaning that most of them only marry fellow griots and that those who are not griots do not normally perform the same functions that they perform.

 Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray with Mamadou Cissé

Mamadou Cisse ArtAt the antipode of countryside mythology and suburbian utopianism, the imaginary cities of Mamadou Cissé burst forth from their colourful grids across the landscape of the creative spectrum. Pondering the inevitable changes of modern society, Cissé condenses his bewildering perspectives by laying on the canvas the groundwork of his ongoing contemplation of  future cosmopolis. An autodidact in the purist sense of the word, Cissé is a commanding artist whose had to pay the kind of dues that are all but unthinkable to most pupils emanating from art schools today. His art career was by no means a smooth sailing one. Gazing at the apparently chaotic path which ultimately lead him to recognition, one can almost see it as a messianic journey, especially in view of the bounty of critical acclaim the artist is currently receiving the world over.

Part real and imaginary, Mamadou Cissé’s urban grids are always depicted as if viewed from a helicopter hovering above the cities of Paris, New York, Sydney, Chicago or Addis Ababa for that matter.
Revealing the core vitality and density withheld inside each of these phantasmagoric hubs, Cissé’s artwork reflects an innate forte for planning and optimising surfaces; a sort of colourful tongue-Mamadou Cisse Artin-cheek to Jacques Tati’s cinematographic architectural anthem, ’Playtime.’ Cissé’s ethos as a self-invented urbanist, aborts the need to claim more urban space as residential alternatives; instead his ambition is to build upwards in order to avoid spreading out any further onto an increasingly scarce and precious land. The art of  Mamadou Cissé is visionary in the sense that it offers a glimpse at a possible cultural fusion, unearthing futuristic abodes where fulfilling and creative urban lives can thrive. Often romanticised and fantasist, Cissé succeeds in raising concepts that are as thoughtful as they are insightful.

Operating a sort of ideological paradigm shift for the incredible power of human endeavour,  Cissé’s oeuvre probes us to reflect on man’s ability to re-create his environment, hopefully for one that is better, safer and far more harmonious than its precedent avatars. Another Africa recently met with the artist in Paris to talk about his current projects, dreams & aspirations and above all his optimistic vision for a joyful “Urbis et Orbis”.

Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray | You were born in a small village called Baghagha near Zigninchor (in Senegal), what triggered your move to Paris at the tender age of 18?

Mamadou Cissé | My uncle who already lived in Paris since the 60’s, was in charge of my welfare. Naturally he arranged for me to join him.

JBC | You’ve previously been involved in a string of jobs as varied as: tailor, construction worker,  apprentice in a wallpaper manufacturing company, but also as a baker for nearly 18 years. Lately you’ve been earning a living as a security guard. How has this seemingly chaotic career evolution influenced your ethos as an artist?

MC | It is not so much the jobs that I’ve had to assume but rather living in large cities and later traveling which has greatly influenced my vision as an artist. However, my last position as a security guard marked a big turning point, because as I was working at night. I drew so that I would not fall asleep.

JBC | Your art seems to celebrate if not sublimate the incredible power of human endeavour; the almost fearless desire of men to expand and conquer uncharted territories. Where does this fascination comes from?

MC | I’ve always been fascinated by human ingenuity and our ability to devise solutions to the problems posed by our own development. Strangely, this makes me very optimistic for the future.

JBC | African artists in general, even those emulating from the diaspora, are still too often stereotyped in such derogatory terms such as so called “primitive artists” or “naïve artists”; although it is clear the vast majority of contemporary African artists do not fit into these limiting categories. Do you think an artist – African or not – should be evaluated based only on his geographic origin or better yet based on his cultural background?

MC | Creativity has no origin and knows no boundaries. To me categories are mere simplifications.

JBC | How would you describe your own work and to what artistic current do you feel closest to?

MC | My only source of inspiration is the city itself and more so the architectural urban landscape. I am neither an architect nor an urbanist, but I do feel close to them. I do not necessarily feel close to any artistic movement.

JBC | There is an obsessive attention to detail pervading throughout your body of work. It is difficult to imagine that some of your drawings are actually achieved freehand. What technic do you use?… and approximately how much time is required to complete a piece?

MC | First I build a grid by defining the perspectives, then I start playing on the heights and depths. The grid is executed freehand with a pencil, then I fix it with an ink pen before applying colour with various types of markers. I need approximately ten days to execute a design in a size of 24 x 32 cm.

JBC | Apart from “urbanism”, “futurism” seems to be an other predominant theme of inspiration.

MC | Through my drawings, I’m inventing a future that will be able to house and feed our ever so increasingly expanding world population. I believe it is the core responsibility of a city to do so; to host, to feed and bring together its community. At least, that’s the kind of city I aspire to reinvent.

JBC | What is your take on the evolution of African cities and do you think they should follow the blueprint of western megapolis?

MC | Megacities already exist in Africa. The main issue resides in the fact that African cities are growing very rapidly and tend to spread too fast. We must learn to build upwards in order to preserve the land. We must learn to manage space.

JBC | What is your position regarding ecology and do you think there is a real chance for modern day society to wise up and incorporate greener solutions in order to reduce pollution; for example regarding the emissions of carbon monoxide?

MC | The technologies that help us reduce pollution already exist and a lot is already done to put them into practice. As far as urbanism, making ecology part of the equation will give us the ability to build better, safer… and greener. It is just as much the responsibility of scientists and creatives-thinkers to articulate these modules, as it is for politicians to implement them effectively, and for us citizen of humanity to fulfil our duty by putting them into pratice on a daily basis.

JBC | Many of your drawings strangely resemble the beautiful, intricate and colourful tibetan mandalas. Is there an element of spirituality hidden inside your work ?

MC | I believe that every work of art holds a kind of spiritual dimension. My work glorifies human endeavour and the cities that I reinvent are places of joy.