Ka Touba Farafina Yé (Africa Blessing)
First exhibited: Documenta14, Athens, Greece 2017
fifty-four sheep, fermented vegetable indigo, the African continent
This installation uses 54 live sheep, one for each of the countries that make up the African continent, dyed with natural indigo. In Africa, the sheep is a revered animal, providing meat and wool in areas where there is often sparse resources for stock. Once, nomadic shepherds roamed across the continent with huge herds of sheep, but now there are so many boundaries and rules that many nomadic peoples have found their lives and livelihoods severely restricted. I see a parable between these African sheep, and the diverse peoples of my continent.
Across the African continent, for centuries, people have left, have been taken or have been pushed out of their homelands, and this work speaks about the fragility and vulnerability of these people, driven, like sheep, from poor pastures to search for a safe place where they can find their lives. Despite needing to move, these immigrants find many of their avenues blocked by forces beyond their control, leading them to often desperate measures. Blue is a divine colour in West African culture, linking humans to the sky above, and to the unknowable and the world of the spirits, and I have used the medium of indigo to convey a blessing to these symbolic sheep as they start on their journey to new pastures.
This work also speaks of the enormous faith of African peoples as they leave the life and the people they know and love to travel into the unknown, often at cost of their lives. In far distant cities and countries they try to find their place, knowing well that they may never return to their countries of birth but hoping that through their sacrifice, their families will know security. All journeys in Africa, whether symbolic or actual, begin with a blessing and many travellers carry protective symbols with them. I wanted not only to convey a spiritual blessing, but to give a symbolic protection to these African travellers.
And lastly, these sheep walk in beauty and they carry beauty with them, and in this they represent the enormous riches that the African Diaspora has given to the world over the last centuries, and continues to give, as people carry their cultures within them and share them with their new hosts, creating new cultures which enrich us all. In life there is always movement, there is always change, there is often loss, but there is also gain, and want to reach out to the viewer to not only see the loss and hardship suffered, but also the tremendous gifts that Africa has given to all of us.