-----Home : Exhibition : Educational Offerings : Artists' Portraits : Bulletin Board : National Tour : Contact

Tafaa Seck is an ardent Baye Fall, or member of the movement within the greater Mouride Way that has been founded around the person of Shiekh Ibra Fall, Amadu Bamba's first adept. Seck is a self-effacing individual, and although his work is seen frequently, both for sale on street corners and hung in shops and workplaces throughout Dakar, he maintains a very private life. His paintings show great originality, with the manner in which he renders the face of Amadu Bamba the identifying mark of his often unsigned work. He combines an active development of calligraphy with narrative paintings depicting noted moments in Bamba's life or aspects of Mouridism.

a. Tafaa Seck in his outdoor studio, Dakar. Photo 1999. Tafaa Seck paints in the courtyard of his residence, under a shady tree. He wears the dreads and patched clothing of a Baye Fall, and his soft, understated demeanor conveys a deep sense of reflection. Here he works on a large painting on canvas, but he also works on plywood, reed mats, and other surfaces. He is painting an image of Amadu Bamba praying on a sheepskin with the holy Qur'an at his feet.
b. Images of Amadu Bamba and Lamp Fall painted on reed mats, with cloth and board appliquées, studio of Tafaa Seck, Dakar. Photo 1999. One of Tafaa Seck's recent innovations is to paint on reed mats, bringing to mind the slatting of the wooden mosque in the compound in Djourbel, Senegal, where Amadu Bamba was kept under house arrest. The only known photo of Bamba shows him standing in front of this mosque, and many Mourides hold that with sufficient instruction, one can detect hidden messages and the faces of saints in the grain and knots of the woodwork. Seck's other innovation is to attach cloth to the painted mat as the robe of the saint. This makes the work appear in bas relief, suggesting more depth than a flat surface but not enough that it defies the understood Islamic prohibition against human representation in three dimensions.
c. Detail of painting of Amadu Bamba on a reed mat with cloth appliquée, studio of Tafaa Seck, Dakar. Photo 1999. Seen from a distance, Seck's collages are very striking, for the applied "clothing" of the painting gives presence to the saint. Its whiteness further darkens the mysteriously shadowy face, which is painted on a rough board surface attached to the mat background.
d. Sale display of Tafaa Seck's paintings, Dakar. Photo 1999. This bright public display of Seck's work was new in 1999, although his paintings have been in circulation for some years. The corner fencing encloses a small park running along the edge of the ocean, with a very busy street to the right. Stopping to view the paintings is extremely difficult and crossing the street even more hazardous. Five paintings are seen, with more lying against the fence. From left to right, the first is a calligraphic rendering of the word "Allah," with Bamba standing in a threshold in judgment of the enshrouded person lying in a shallow grave. A balance weighs the person's virtues, while Lamp Fall, posed atop the central minaret of the Great Mosque of Touba named for him, shouts the message of the saint to a cityscape. This latter refers to the foreign destinations of diasporic Mourides. Next is a painting of Bamba praying on the waters, alluding to the miracle performed as the French sent him into exile in 1895. Following Islamic thinking, each of the prayer positions depicted by Seck is a letter in the name "Allah," so that a person enacts the Word itself. The third painting is less complex: Bamba stands behind the Great Mosque of Touba, with the sacred baobab associated with the city's founding in the foreground. The fourth painting is explained below, while the fifth, just visible, depicts Bamba in a prison cell into which the colonizers have introduced a hungry lion. The saint quickly calms the beast, echoing the Biblical feat of Daniel.
e. Painting of Amadu Bamba praying on the waters by Tafaa Seck, Dakar. Photo 1999. Seck's painting, seen in his streetside display, shows the miracle of Amadu Bamba praying on the waters. This signal event is portrayed in paintings and other media more often than any other, yet here Tafaa Seck has added an interesting twist: the upper decks of the ship of exile are black with a golden stripe, transforming them into the Kaaba of Mecca, the pole of Islam. Seck conveys multiple messages in this device, for the presence of the Kaaba implies divine intercession on Bamba's behalf, but there is also the oft-said sense that for Mourides, the pole of devotion-that is, the center of their world-has shifted from Mecca to Touba, where Bamba is buried.

f. Jewelry shop in Dakar, with a painting by Tafaa Seck on the back wall. Photo 1999. Devotional imagery graces places of work, lending the baraka blessing energy of Amadu Bamba and his descendants to Mouride endeavor. Among the photos and other pictures on the walls of this goldsmith's shop in downtown Dakar is a painting by Tafaa Seck that combines a calligraphic rendering of the Prophet Mohammed's name with images of Amadu Bamba and Lamp Fall.