“These Walls Belong to Everybody” The Graffiti Art Movement in Dakar


  • Leslie W. Rabine


While the graffiti artists of Dakar acknowledge the influence of the U.S. hop-hop movement, they also trace their beginnings to their own Set Setal (be cleanmake clean) youth movement of the 1980s. Graffiti artist Mad Zoo explains that young Senegalese were responding to an “ethical crisis” in Dakar: “People would piss in the street and throw garbage all over… and when someone would ask them to explain themselves, they would tell you the street doesn’t belong to anybody, so I have the right to make it dirty… So [the participants of Set-Setal] decided to go and represent religious personalities on the walls and people didn’t have the courage to
go and piss in front of those religious figures.” As for the phrase, “the street doesn’t belong to anybody,” pioneer graffeur Big Key expresses the graffeurs’ telling response: “But the walls belong to all of us… The only thing is, if [the walls] are for everybody,
you have to use them correctly...“ The graffiti artists pursue with passion their responsibility for the collective ownership of the public walls. They make graffiti art a force to cleanse and beautify the disintegrating spaces of their culturally rich but economically impoverished city. Aesthetic creativity, inspiration, technical ingenuity in the face of a dire lack of resources, and communal solidarity—these are enduring values in Senegalese culture. The graffiti artists both preserve and transform these inherited values to make them serve a globalized, urban society in economic crisis.