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Installation including video and photographs Variable dimension

Considered the country’s national sport, wrestling, or laamb, has become identified with Senegal as a country. Stitched into Senegal’s social fabric, the sport bares witness to a distinct form of modernity, opposed to the Euro-American world, wherein historical narratives intertwine with specific ideals of masculinity and mysticism. Galvanized by the rhythmic sounds of the sabar and the frenetic dances of the kaguam, sculptural black bodies fight for a prize that years ago used to be rice, a woman, a piece of land or honour but has now transformed into thousands of dollars and infinite glory. Lords of the ring, kings of the block. 


The magic and beliefs surrounding wrestling still remain intact from the origins of the sport, with marabouts preparing different good-luck charms, potions and spells to enforce and bless the fighter. But in present day, the national obsession has become surrounded by yet another spell: the tantalizing promise of riches. As the nation’s economy has plunged, with the average income for Senegalese workers bordering on about $3 a day, laamb’s appeal has skyrocketed. Professional wrestlers have transformed into superstars, pulling in fees of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single fight. As the sport entered the realm of corporate sponsorship, the traditional and spiritual nature of the sport has become imbued by the phenomena of materialisation, mondialisation and wild capitalism. In a country where nearly half the population is unemployed and the other half’s annual income hinging on a thousand dollars, wrestling has become an opium for the masses and a chance to escape poverty and unemployment. 


Destilling Senegalese wrestling’s underlying ties to global capitalism, social struggle and political symbolism, Younes Baba-Ali eliminates the opponent and replaces him with objects taken for wrestler’s daily lives and struggle. A carpenter grapples with his work bench, a fisherman combats his forbidden fishnet, a merchant stands face to face with jerricans filled with goods, while a security guard contends with his own bed that is keeping him from waking up and getting to work. Invigorated by the sound of the drums and rowdy crowd, gathered together in their neighborhood square, they battle it out against the struggles of their daily existence. Man against life. Humanising issues too often spoken of in terms of economy and politics. 

Text by Aude Tournaye

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