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Papisto Boy (a.k.a. Pape Samb) left rural Senegal as a ten-year-old orphan, traveling to the capital city of Dakar. He has spent the last forty years there, in a fishing community squeezed between factory yards in the portside industrial park of Belaire. Samb has remained single, and his tiny one-room home has just enough space for his hammock. The wealth of his life lies in his devotion to Sheikh Amadu Bamba (1853-1927), the Sufi saint central to the Mouride Way. Samb paints wall murals as a devotional task. He has no formal training, and his inspiration comes from dreams, his hand guided by the saint. Samb's grafittist tag is "Papisto Boy," and his greatest achievement is a mural covering two hundred meters of the exterior wall of a Belaire factory yard. Papisto refers to his mural as "literature" and "poetry," and through it he hopes to give courage to the hardworking people of Dakar's informal economy, while teaching them his views of world history. He often stands near his mural so that he can explain its images to the residents of Belaire and to passersby going to a popular beach resort at the end of the same road. Punctuating the 200-meter tableau are statements that photography is prohibited unless a gift is made to the artist. The European manager of the factory does not appreciate the attention brought to his property by Papisto's populism, however. Papisto argues that whatever transpires within the walls is the manager's business, but that the walls facing onto the road belong to the people of Belaire. The manager is said to remain unsympathetic, and has allegedly threatened to efface the mural. Popular arts may be "weapons of the weak," but their inevitably ephemeral nature underscores the vulnerability of inhabitants of the "invisible city" like Papisto.

 

a. Papisto Boy (a.k.a. Pape Samb) standing next to a detail of his Belaire factory mural. Photo 1999. Bob Marley's image appears more often in Papisto's work than anyone but Amadu Bamba and Lamp Fall. Marley is a "messenger" who "passed through music" to inspire Papisto, and the artist's attention borders on a reverence witnessed among many Mourides. Men devoted to Lamp Fall are called Baye Falls, and their dreadlocks are an obvious point of convergence with images of Rastafarians; indeed, tourists often mistake Baye Falls for Rastas. In "The Fruit of the Year 2000," Marley's face framed by a mango conveys millennarian hope that the future will be blessedly bounteous.

b. Pay telephone booth in Belaire with wall mural by Papisto Boy (a.k.a. Pape Samb). Photo 1999. Anonymous urban sites are transformed into places of meaningful memory when they are graced by the image of Amadu Bamba. Bamba is buried in the Great Mosque of Touba. The name "Touba" refers to a portal to paradise, and a pilgrimage to the Great Mosque called the Magal brings millions of Mourides annually. Following Sufi thinking, Touba has become the "pole" of devotion around which the Mouride world turns. In this, analogy is made to the Kaaba of Mecca, the Pole of the Universe for Muslims that is circumambulated during pilgrimage visits. In this wall painting, Papisto has cleverly depicted the Kaaba on the rectangular outer surface of the telephone booth's air conditioner. His resulting composition places the Kaaba between Bamba and the Great Mosque, making a visual statement about the centrality of Islam to local practice. The tallest minaret of the Great Mosque is named for Lamp Fall, shown to the far left of the mural. Fall was Bamba's first disciple, and his strikingly active pose in contrast to Bamba's ascetic detachment conveys a sense of engagement in the toils of everyday life.

c. A portion of the Belaire factory mural by Papisto Boy (a.k.a. Pape Samb). Photo 1999. Papisto's Belaire mural stretches more than six hundred feet along the outer walls of a factory compound. Its imagery is a changing montage of portraits, historical events or circumstances, and relationships. Segments are conceived in the artist's dreams and sometimes result in surreal compositions; in other portions of the mural, juxtapositions are more "chance encounters," lending themselves to story-telling and myth-making. Because the mural is a work always in progress, it possesses palimpsests--paintings over paintings that do not completely obscure their layering. Such assemblage is frequently purposeful, for Papisto will recognize something hidden in a portrait or scene that he then paints. For example, the striking portrait of Ché Guevara on the far right of the photograph revealed itself to Papisto one morning as he stood gazing at the face of the opposition politician Abdoulaye Wade then occupying the space. Whether or not one can still visually detect Wade's presence, Belaire residents who live adjacent to the mural and who saw Papisto execute Ché's portrait know it is remains a truth under the surface.

d. Portraits of Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Jimi Hendrix from the Belaire factory mural of Papisto Boy (a.k.a. Pape Samb). Photo 1999. Nelson Mandela, the hero of Africa, wears the crown of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The only direct flights between Africa and the United States are those of Air Afrique linking Dakar and New York, and the Statue of Liberty is frequently depicted in Dakar wall paintings (although apparently not in Papisto's) as the symbol of exciting possibilities. The lion of courage is to Mandela's right, and he is flanked by two African-American "messengers," as Papisto calls them: Malcolm X and Jimi Hendrix. While Malcolm was new to Papisto's painted pantheon in the late 1990s, Hendrix is a favorite that Papisto has depicted a number of times over the years. In other portraits, however, Papisto has chosen a more defiant image from among those he knows from record and cassette covers. Here both Malcolm and Hendrix strike reflective-even tragic-poses that frame the triumphant thrust of Mandela's fist. Malcolm is embraced by the curving staircase of the Slave House of Gorée Island, and next to the shackled arm of a slave are the words "Long Live Liberty." In the bleeding heart of Africa Papisto has written a poem in French: "I heard a cry, I heard like a cry coming from a far-off country! Save my child." Above this, the dove of Gabriel brings Malcolm a letter from God.

e. World music singer Coumba Gawlo in the Belaire factory mural of Papisto Boy (a.k.a. Pape Samb), Photo 1999. Coumba Gawlo appears on the jacket of her recent CD as a saucy young woman of stylish pizzazz, but Papisto has chosen to show another side of her in this moving detail of his Belaire mural. Gawlo has a serious look, with furrowed brows and pursed lips. Her braids, fashionably lengthened by false hair, sweep across her face as she turns her eyes toward the haunting "Door of No Return" within the Slave House of Gorée Island. To her right, she is embraced by half of the outer staircase of the same building, following a motif Papisto uses to connote the tragedies of history. As her gaze continues, the end of a xylophone can be seen, which Papisto uses to suggest melodic release as the chains of slavery are broken.

f. The Pope, Jesus on the Cross, and a suffering African mother and child in the Belaire factory mural of Papisto Boy (a.k.a. Pape Samb). Photo 1999. A small minority of Senegalese are Christian, but in their ranks are some of the republic's most notable citizens, including former president Léopold Senghor. There seem to be few if any frictions between Senegalese Christians and Muslims, and instead, people refer to the prominent place that Jesus occupies in the Qur'an and other sacred Islamic texts. Papisto has followed media coverage of the Pope's visits to Africa, and he portrays the Pontiff with what may be coins or food streaming from his mouth to fill a bowl, while he grasps a stick used to play the xylophone below him. The grieving mother and child is an image Papisto repeats elsewhere in his mural. Here their tears drop upon an animated map of Africa whose toothy mouth marks the position of Senegal, and whose eye is the star and crescent of Islam. The continent is filled with more misery, but the flower at the "mouth" of Senegal holds promise.

 
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