«Des Sénégalaises aux Sénégauloises » [ENG]

Ken BUGUL, Mame- Fatou NIANG, Alice DIOP and Bintou DEMBELE. 


Traduit par Nana BRUCE-AMANQUAH

De l’article 🇫🇷 ( « Des Sénégalaises aux Sénégauloises » ) par Maïlys Diogo



On Monday 7 October 2019, La Grande Afrique’s team made its way to Columbia Global Centers in Paris to listen to a talk about what it means to be a female Senegalese artist in France. The title of the round table was especially important, “Des sénegalaises aux sénégauloises” in French, which could be translated in English as “From Senegalese to Gallo-Senegalese”. Whether born in Senegal and later emigrating to France or being born in France to Senegalese parents, the artists each had to learn to grapple their own identities with their art. 

The speakers included filmmaker of Mariannes Noires Mame-Fatou NIANG, fellow documentary filmmaker Alice DIOP, choreographer and artistic director Bintou DEMBELE, and writer Ken Bugul. Acclaimed journalist and author Rokhaya Diallo moderated the round table. 

Life stories

Ken BUGUL, whose pseudonym means in Wolof “the one whom no one wants”, kicked off the discussion telling her story of growing up in Senegal under French colonial rule. It is while interacting with French culture at school that she learned about her supposed white and blue-eyed ancestors. 

Next, Alice DIOP spoke of her experience as a french teenager of senegalese origin. Her 2007 documentary, Les Sénégalaises et la Sénégauloise, was made from what she described as the trauma she inherited from her parents, and their silence about the lives they had before moving to France. A trauma she says, that has made her “the orphan of a story that never happened.” 

The perception and the depiction of the black woman.

The two last speakers, Bintou DEMBELE and Mame-Fatou NIANG talked about the perception and the depiction of the black woman. NIANG, in particular, is interested in the outskirts of urban literature. She has long reflected upon this topic after noticing that the France represented in the media looked nothing like her. Rich in her experience in the United States as a student at Louisiana State University and as a lecturer in Pennsylvania, she criticized the fact that to be black and appear on television, one must be African-American.

With that criteria and the lack of representation, how are you supposed to even identify yourself, let alone be able to tell your own story? This was the question that DEMBELE posed, and according to the dancer, creating afro-feminist productions is also a form of self-care; especially in a time where, as Alice DIOP explained, being a black woman in France is enough to drive anyone crazy. 

What’s the main message?

The speakers closed the debate with the ubiquitously famous question: “where are you from?”. They spoke about the fact that being African doesn’t have to do with a certain skin color and that being black doesn’t equate to being African.

Furthermore, they talked about how, often, African creations are seen as others’ recreations, and how black characters always have to be exceptional in order to be recognized, like the kings in the well-known movies like Coming to America and Black Panther. In terms of moving forward,

Ken Bugul and Mame-Fatou Niang ended the discussion well when they reiterated the need to define ourselves for ourselves and to be defined as human beings first and foremost. Change is possible, however it also takes time. 

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