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CONSULTANCY - EXHIBITION - Beauty salons and the Beast - Dar es Salaam

Winning project of the Apex Art franchise.

The concept

Beauty Salons and the Beast* introduces the Tanzanian public to new and experimental art and aims to increase public interest and dialogue in the happenings and role of the visual arts in Tanzania. The project carries the theme of ‘multiple-choice’ and will feature artworks and interventions from local Tanzanian and international artists.

The exhibition aims to explore the public sphere and questions the role of artists in society by using artistic media and creative expression to engage with communities to communicate, explore, and articulate issues of local significance. It employs the ‘if they don’t follow the art, we will bring the art to them’ module by ‘infecting the city’ with activities like public performances, interventions, and public discussion as a way of bringing art to the community, and as a catalyst for dialogue.

Works of art will be exhibited in five small and large beauty salons and barbershops located in the streets of the Msasani area of Dar es Salaam.’ **

* Title adopted from Erick Mchome’s 12-02-2011 article in Mail and Guardian.

** Official press release

The article which has initiated the concept:

Translation in the french newspaper ‘Le courier international’

Proposal written by ® Rehema Chachage for the exhibition

“Ultimately… public art… is about art and the public. And as long as that public is not just a small group of in-the-know followers of art, but a complex nation of inequality, varying access, varying levels of free time; as long as it is about publics.”(1)

The idea developed as a response to a trend that we have noticed: that attending art exhibitions is not really a tradition for most Tanzanians. Hence, not enough locals (as compared to the expatriate audience) attend art exhibitions and other cultural events taking place in galleries and cultural centers in the city… We say, ‘If they wont follow the art, let the art follow them;’ and we are on a mission to follow our audience wherever they may be.

For this first attempt at ‘pop-up’ exhibitions, we decided to explore beauty salons and barbershops as sites for intervention, after encountering an article from which this exhibition takes its title, « Beauty Salons and the Beast » by Erick Mchome, which highlights the extent to which salons have become one of the booming businesses in the city of Dar es Salaam, and where one finds a large concentrated mix of upper, middle, and lower class Tanzanians spending their spare time, especially on weekends.(2)This is the kind of audience we have, for the longest time, been trying to gain access to.

Like an increasing number of artists today, the artists selected for Beauty Salons and the Beast are interested in the public sphere and in questioning their role in society by using artistic media and creative expression to engage with communities to communicate, explore, and articulate issues of local significance. They employ this exhibition as a means to take art outside of the four white walls that they are used to, to access viewers other than the traditional gallery goers, and to listen to alternative views on their ‘messages’ and ‘media’ so as to develop an ‘eye’ and ‘ear’ for local aesthetics and interpretation of contemporary art. Through their interventions, they want to challenge their audience to pay attention and perceive more deeply the environment that they occupy – the situation through which their interventions are received and the resulting discourse are key elements. In a way, these artists are assuming the role of advocates (through art) for alternative perspectives that challenge assumptions, beliefs, and community values.

Included in Beauty Salons and the Beast are works that grab the imagination and resonate with our immediate time and place. Most of the contributions are closely tied with the upcoming general election in October 2015, and are reflective on our 50+ years of independence and 20+ years of practicing liberal democracy with contradictions therein, one of the most endemic being how to curb corruption and abuse of office. With the voting practice in mind, the artists collectively agreed on multiple choice(s) as a starting point and the overarching theme – as a form of assessment tool in which respondents are asked to select the best possible answer (or answers) out of the choices from a list, one discovers that the answer is more often than not ‘all of the above’ – there are multiple choices.

Brochure of the exhibition

About my work in the exhibition

50 shades

Every time you choose, you have also to renounce…I have personnally always had difficulties to make choices in my every day life. People always present you life’s reality as simple dichotomy: this or that, heads or tails, left or right, beast or beauty, good or bad, black or white. But one of the most important thing I have learnt in analysis is to relativize. The world is not manichean, the nuance is a key for the prefrontal brain. As I was working with Barbie dolls when I received the opportunity to be part of the Apex Art project, I had the idea to use them as link between my current concerns : life in couple, equity between men and women, issues of modern working mothers. I decided to tint them in « fifty shades of grey » as an echo to the feminist side I have seen in the topic and to tight them on the ceiling by the feet, as if there was a leash to the foot of every woman who is at the same time a wife, a mother and a lady. She has to deal with her tiredness and to fight against the thought’s shortcut of the archaic brain and easy way of thinking which are offered to her everywhere.

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