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Centre Pompidou exhibits Vincent Meessen’s work
Installation view.

PARIS.- Vincent Meessen’s work is woven from a constellation of actors, gestures, and signs that maintain a polemical and sensible relation to the writing of history and the westernization of imaginaries. He decenters and multiplies gazes and perspectives to explore the many ways in which colonial modernity has impacted the fabric of contemporary subjectivities.

The filmic, sculptural, and graphic works selected or conceived for Omar in May open up a line of flight from the reification of a Paris-centric May ‘68 by drawing our attention to the potential contained in two lesser known “Mays” - one that preceded it, in Kinshasa, and one that followed in Paris’ wake, in Dakar. In the Congo and in Senegal, Meessen underlines the unexpected and subterranean influence of the Situationist International.

In the audiovisual installation One.Two.Three, created for the 2015 Venice Biennale, young musicians from Kinshasa, spread across different rooms of the famous Kinshasa rumba club Un Deux Trois, try to harmonize as they sing a revolutionary song written in May ’68 by Mbelolo ya Mpiku, a Congolese militant associated with the Situationist International. A massive insurrection broke out in Kinshasa during the shooting of the film, and the number of students and militants who died at the hands of government forces can be heard over the radio news.

The exhibition is also constructed sequentially. CinemaOmarx gathers the sources and references used in a feature film project that Meessen started filming in Dakar in May, 2017. One of the pieces, conceived specially for this exhibition and prefiguring a longer film, is entitled Juste Un Mouvement. In this short version (42’), Vincent Meessen approaches Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise as if it were a witness, as if that film were a piece of documentary evidence of its time, and this allows Meessen to put the film-essay format to the test in the present. Meessen’s filmic re-reading is spiral-shaped, and focuses on the relationship between the plot of Godard’s film and the tragic fate of one of its actors: Omar Blondin Diop. A Maoist militant who plays himself in the film, Omar Diop would go on to become an influential figure in Dakar’s avant-garde political and artistic scene, before his life was cut short at the hands of government forces. Despite his absence, Omar Diop is the lead character of Meessen’s film.

Vincent Meessen re-edits Godard’s film and replays part of it in order to speak in the “present imperfect,” a tense that captures the continuity from the analysis of the making of Godard’s film to the analysis of the making Meessen’s own making. Juste Un Mouvement is a “film in the making”, a film constructed in places that keep the memory of a traumatic history: the Diop family home, and the prison on Gorée Island where Omar Diop was held, and where he died in 1973. A victim of the repression of Senghor’s regime, Omar Diop’s death continues to haunt Senegal and its politics to this day.

Meessen actualizes, freely and critically, Godard’s film. In an effort to come to a broader process of reconfiguration in the exhibition, he avails himself of abstract forms while combining a variety of elements: public and formerly classified archives, extracts from television news spots of the time with films by invited auteurs. Through these operations, he turns this exhibition into a recursive critical operation that situates itself both in the prospective space of the institution - the Galerie 0 - and in its wider temporality. The exhibition leads the Centre Pompidou back to its official inauguration, attended by Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko and Léopold Sédar Senghor; to the name of its founding father, who was an intimate friend of President Senghor; and to the indirect influence that Pompidou’s visit to Dakar in 1971 had on the tragic end that awaited Omar Diop.

Lastly, the Centre Pompidou is showing, for the very first time, the work of one of the major Senegalese artists of his generation: Issa Samb (aka, Joe Ouakam), a co-founder of the Laboratoire AGIT’art, who died last year. He was “the only free man in Dakar,” in the words of his old friend and mentor, Omar Diop.

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