Senegal: National Identity and the Arts
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Explore the role of performing and visual arts in shaping Senegalese society and identity as both scholar and practitioner.
Live and study in Dakar.
The program is based in Senegal’s capital and largest city, Dakar. Located on the Atlantic Coast, Dakar abounds with lively cultural activities and is home to well-known Senegalese musicians including Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Ismaël Lô, Coumba Gawlo, Daara J, Cheikh Lô, and Thione Seck.
The SIT program center is located in the neighborhood of Point E. The center is walking distance from Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD) and a hub of NGOs working on a wide range of development issues ranging from refugees, to education, to HIV/AIDS. The SIT office is also close to major research centers such as the Baobab Center and CODESRIA. Students can easily access restaurants and internet cafés.
Gain direct exposure to the music, dance, traditions, and customs of Senegal’s different ethnic groups.
Although Senegal’s national identity is largely shaped by the Wolof, the country’s dominant ethnic group, Senegal is home to more than 26 different ethnic communities. Senegalese communities maintain robust cultural connections within West Africa and beyond the African continent, forging a cosmopolitanism that bridges national and ethnic borders.
Rural stays in the Wolof town of Ndiane near Thiès and in villages in the region of Kédougou reveal similarities and differences among Senegal’s different ethnic groups, the contrast between urban and rural cultures, and how tradition and modernity coexist side by side and how they find expression in emerging forms of arts and culture.
The program includes extended field visits to Saint-Louis, southeastern Senegal, and the Petite Côte as well as visits to Gorée Island, the Grand Mosque of Touba, Keur Moussa Benedictine Monastery, and Bandia Game Park.
Experience visual and performing arts workshops.
All students complete visual and performing arts workshops at the Village des Arts, an artists’ cooperative for visual art professionals. Students choose glass painting (peinture sous-verre), wood sculpture, ceramics, bronze sculpture, or batik. The performing arts workshop focuses on dance and djembe drumming with additional advanced sessions in tama and kora. Students work closely with Senegalese artists, attend their exhibits, and visit their workshops. Some students have conducted their ISPs at an artist’s studio or workshop.
Build your own curriculum with course choice.
Students with a background in the visual and/or performing arts, or who would like the opportunity to delve further into a single Senegalese artistic tradition under the mentorship of a master practitioner, may choose to enroll in Visual and Performing Arts Studio. This elective, taken instead of either French or Wolof, requires independent studio work in the visual or performing arts. Based on student interest, our Senegalese staff work to pair you with a master craftsperson/practitioner. Options typically include: sculpture, ceramics, painting, bronze, sous-verre, batik, furniture-making, dance, music, instrument-building, fashion design, photography, film, or theatre. This elective offers students the opportunity to work, in depth, under the guidance of master practitioners, in a studio setting in Dakar.
Improve your French while learning Wolof.
Through the program’s thematic seminar, taught mainly in French, and the intensive French language course, students can greatly improve their French language skills. At the same time, students gain greater access and insight into their host communities by learning Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal. Special language workshops on practical aspects of Senegalese life, such as cooking ceebujën, making ataaya, and having clothing made at the tailor, help students function in everyday situations. With the course choice option, students may elect both French and Wolof or a combination of one language with the Visual and Performing Arts Studio elective.
Independent Study Project
Students spend four weeks near the end of the semester working on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a selected topic of interest. The ISP is conducted in Dakar or in another approved location appropriate to the project and may take one of three forms: a research-based ISP, a creative ISP, or a practicum-based ISP. A research-based ISP is a traditional scholarly format focused on a data collection and analysis to address a research question (or questions). The bulk of work in a creative ISP is an artistic production — plastic, literary, or performing — with an accompanying paper. A practicum-based ISP pairs students with an arts-based NGO or other organization and includes a paper detailing and assessing the experience.
Sample topic areas include:
- Learning to play kora and analyzing its transitional role in modern Senegalese music
- The preservations of oral traditions in Senegalese literature
- The reconstruction of Senegalese identity through hip-hop music, performance, and commercialization
- Wolof women’s songs as performances of resistance
Creative and alternative ISP projects have included:
- A short documentary film highlighting Senegalese female artists
- Choreography and performance of traditional West African dances
- Creative writing memoir portraying a Korean-American’s experience in Senegalese culture
Duration: 15 weeks
Program Base: Dakar
Language Study: French, Wolof
Prerequisites: 3 semesters French Read more...
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