New to the Ackland: A Calligraphic Painting from Senegal

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Black calligraphy against a red, yellow, blue, and green background

One of eleven vibrant paintings on paper from the series The Exile of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, Ndar commemorates the decision handed down by the French colonial empire in Senegal’s Saint-Louis (Ndar) on September 5, 1895, to exile Ahmadou Bamba (1853 – 1927), the non-violent founder of the Sufi Muridiyya movement.

Contemporary Senegalese artist Yelimane Fall (1953 – 2019) created this painting in 2013, and it is from his prolific career of using calligraphy to proselytize Bamba’s teachings. (The “MF” that Fall uses as his signature in the lower right corner stands for “The Messenger of the Faith”). He also taught art making as a form of social activism. His community efforts for art education resulted in the formation of the West African Calligraphy Institute in 2012.

From that institute, the Ackland acquired this entire series, which tracks the various locations in which Bamba spent his exile alongside Fall’s bold calligraphic treatments of lines of poetry that the Sufi mystic wrote during those years. Each of the paintings also features a small inset image of the religious leader (here, in the green field at the center of the composition) based on the only known photograph of him. Variations of this image are often found reproduced throughout the streets of Dakar, Senegal’s largest city.

The calligraphy employed by Fall in this series is derived from the maghribi script utilized in West Africa, but he referred to it as “negro africain” as an homage to Bamba, the only black African Muslim to start a Sufi brotherhood.

—Lauren Turner, Associate Curator for Contemporary Art and Special Projects

Image credit:

Yelimane Fall, Senegalese, 1953 – 2019, Ndar, from the series The Exile of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, 2013, paint on krate paper, sheet: 19 9/16 × 26 5/16 in. (49.7 × 66.8 cm), Ackland Fund, 2022.29.1.1.