Saïdou Dicko, born in Burkina Faso in 1979, began incorporating photography into his artistic process only belatedly, in 2006. Self-taught, his first passion is drawing, which he practiced already as a little boy. What caught his eye were animal shadows dancing on the ground. “As a child, I looked at them the way others look at clouds, and invented stories. It started by drawing on the floor and walls, then on fabrics that my mother embroidered,” said the artist. Since then, his affinity for daydreaming and imagination has grown stronger, and shadow play is a recurring motif in his work.
When Saïdou Dicko moved to Dakar in 2006, he was spotted and exhibited at the Dak’Art Off Biennale. This is when he first put photography into the service of his imagination. “What interests me is to capture reality and everyday life, and to do something else with it. I rarely resort to staging or studio work.” Another important point is that he likes to use his cell phone, which is more discreet, so as not to detract from his subjects’ spontaneity. “People change their behavior in front of a camera,” he noted.
Childhood is a recurring theme in his work, both in the choice of his models — mainly children — and in the settings, which feature traditional African fabrics and tapestries. “This is my tribute to craftsmen whose skills are disappearing. I think there is no reason to think that crafts, art, and tradition are at odds with modernity. By bringing them together, we can create something new.”
Some of his series are the result of photographic montages or combinations of different mediums, for example watercolor and photography. In others, he remains faithful to drawing and covers his models with black ink. This treatment allows him to make them anonymous and transform them into shadows: it’s like going back to his starting point. Turned into silhouettes, his models acquire a universal character. No matter where one is from, we are all the same, Saïdou Dicko seems to be telling us.
For the overarching thread in his work is an outlook on today’s world, an outlook imbued with empathy and humanism. Beneath the candor of his images, with a possible connection to naive art, there is wisdom. This is no doubt a legacy of his childhood stories. Another powerful theme in his work is plastic, a material so decried today. “As with everything, what matters is what people do with it,” explains Saïdou Dicko, reminding us that in some countries plastic canisters are indispensable when water is not available. “They are recycled ad infinitum and end their life as flower pots, for example.” He has turned them into living artworks to be discovered at Art Paris. “We can invent using what exists in front of us,” concludes Saïdou Dicko. His motto, which he coined based on the idea of recycling and reappropriation, is: “I keep creating while having fun.”
By Sophie Bernard
Sophie Bernard is a journalist specialized in photography, contributor to La Gazette de Drouot and Le Quotidien de l’Art, exhibition curator, and instructor at the École de Photographie (EFET) in Paris.