An experience of cultural dialogue through drawing

Wednesday 30 November 2016 – Interview

It often happens to the designers to discover that they have, thanks to the drawing, a "super power". That of being able to forge links with very different communities / cultures by representing this "elsewhere" on paper. Jean Dytar, the author of Le Sourire des marionettes, tells us about this experience during a trip to Senegal.

During a stay in Senegal, at the age of 20, I had the opportunity to discover that drawing could create a special bond with people.

I spent a few days with a family in a village in Casamance. There I made sketches, places and people. The portraits particularly aroused curiosity and sometimes hilarity.

I noticed that drawing, unlike photography, was not felt as an intrusive look, but as something gentle and benevolent, and perhaps a little magical: the emergence of a resemblance from a few traits Spontaneously deposited on a sheet of paper. This fundamental wonder at the hand that traces is undoubtedly a universal trait. Here I perceived for the first time that drawing could become a spectacle, both intimate and public. Sometimes, I preferred to be isolated, to be discreet, but at other times it was the occasion of moments of sharing very convivial. Shares so concrete, where drawing could circulate, that others - children especially - could eventually complete in their own way. Most of the time, I did not give them my drawings, but I later sent them photocopies.

Elsewhere in this village, but always during this stay in Senegal, two anecdotes deserve to be told.

The first was a less happy experience: while I was in the company of a Senegalese friend in another village, I began to put myself in a corner to draw a scene of daily life in my notebook. I was not paying attention to the village chief who was talking to my friend. This one came to see me to ask me to stop drawing: it disturbed the chief. As part of the village lived on illegal cannabis plantations, he was suspicious because my behavior seemed suspicious. Did I come to watch them? Gathering information? ... Like what, everything depends on situations: the same gesture can be a source of interest here, but become intrusive elsewhere.

Another important moment was linked to a watercolor depicting the mosque of Touba, a holy place for the Mourides, the religious confraternity majority in the country. I had managed to make this design discreetly, without arousing crowds.

The reactions that surprised me were later: when I happened to show my drawing book, I discovered the looks become serious, or fascinated, some people put themselves in prayer. Invariably all of them laid their hands on the image, then on their foreheads. This watercolor seemed, under my astonished eyes, to become suddenly the receptacle of the sacred, as the statuettes or animist masks could be otherwise.

This experience was fundamental in my journey, to understand the diversity and potential strength of our relationships with images.

Jean Dytar