Monday, April 16, 2012

Will the real Mr Gueye please stand up!

The Dakar Woman's Group handbook - when on your bookshelf it's a relief to have quick access to during emergencies - like my dental tooth problem (resolved!). Yet it's also it's own unique version of the "Lonely Planet" guide to Dakar!!

We've chosen to also use it as a way to explore the city, it's services and the people.  So mid January Manning and I opened it up to page 93 and 94 - and honed in on the section called  "Peintures Sous Verre"- Paintings under Glass. We went through the list of possible artists to visit and fell upon the last listing since it was the one most close to the apartment and we could walk there - The Gueye Brothers - 69 Avenue Blaise Diagne.

I picked up the phone and dialed - "Monsieur Gueye". I might mention that many times for me it's hard to communicate on the cell phone in French - one just because of my hearing loss, two because the French - depending on who you are speaking with - can just be hard to comprehend and three - I'm just not that good at understanding rapidly speaking French. 

After completing the call we got past 2 important points - that I mention I know "Wendy" from the Dakar Woman's Group  and that he was available at his location to meet us. I might add that Wendy (who I've had the pleasure of meeting in DWG)  is a happy go lucky lady with lots of spunk, 6 years living in Dakar under her belt with her family, long blond hair, an Ozzie accent, and wonderful smile. And while her French vocabulary is more on the minimalist side she manages extremely well with the Senegalese making friends with many vendors in some of the most out of the way, not so obvious spots in the streets of Dakar.  She was able to give me some insight before our visit especially around the history of Mr Gueye's father (Mor Gueye) as well as general pricing of the work.

Sous Verre painting is a technique of painting (in reverse on glass) that stretches back to ancient cultures - but here in Senegal it became popularized in particular by one man named Mor Gueye.  He is considered the "master" of this art form - but there are many.  Mr Gueye is a Baye Fall - a very religious order of Islam started by Amadu Bamba. A lot of  Mor Gueye's paintings during his time consisted of different scenes of Mouride life. He is over 80 years old now and apparently has really limited his painting  and has left that now up to his sons and other apprentices. 

Here is an example of one of his works I found on the web - a boy learning the holy Qur'an as an example of the more religious oriented paintings he created.

And another where  he is showing Amadu Bamba overseeing an Abrahamic sacrifice.

So this excursion is taking us on the journey of the 2nd generation of sous-verres painters. We work our way down to this place in which you really have to pay attention to the 'entrance' as it is easy to pass by - as it was the first time we came. This is the view just off the main street.

Since our first trip they have added some signage above the entryway but you still have to be a curious looker to even step inside - if you are in a hurry - you will miss it!!!

Just as we enter we notice on the wall - it says something with a name of "Gueye" and "Sous-Verre" just around the corner so we must be in the right place. 

We introduce ourselves to Mr (Mame) Gueye and let him know what a pleasure it is to meet him. He's a very amiable man.  He introduced us to his brother whose name escapes me and  who was working away along with some other apprentices in the shop.

You can somewhat see that the  image is placed on top of the glass and a thin pen is used to outline the design - ensuring as well the signature goes on first! All the painting is done on the reverse side of the glass from which it will be seen. There is a lot of thought that that goes into every detail - because what is painted on the right when turned over will be on the left. As well,  the plethora of colors are filled-in beginning with those in the front and layering from behind. And after seeing the detail of it all and the time for paint to dry between layers - we know now why Mr Gueye needs at least a month lead time if you want something that is 'not off the shelf'. 

Mr Gueye (left) with friend moving the 'drying' rack in the sun
From his 'front office' space we walk through the passage way to a 2nd space he has where he keeps much of the finished pieces that were commissioned or some on-hand inventory available for sale.  We spent over an hour not only talking about his work and life but all the infinitesimal  options of color and design of what could possibly be commissioned.  Our focus actually was a set of plates and he showed us two as examples that made us, with out a doubt, confirm our decision.  And even more so when we asked about the idea of using a photo of our family to work from.  He will do anything you want.  He actually had a sample of one - a white woman in African garb holding a kora (a stringed musical instrument). OMG - it looked awful. Not the work itself but a white woman trying to look African. No that would not do.  We decided to go with his standard African themes and well known brand look!!

Here he is showing us his 'book' of orders and he's ready to put ours in there. I'm certain there isn't a 'back up' copy of this book. As it runs through my mind from a technology standpoint - he doesn't use a computer to track anything - not that was apparent to us. It's pretty evident that Mr Gueye is doing just fine with pen and paper and he's not lacking any business.  (I do sometimes think at times how technology actually can get in the way and isn't always that helpful - yet then again I couldn't write this blog and share it with so many friends without it.)  During the time we were engrossed in Mr Gueye's story - I received a phone call that I answered but with so much background noise the call and person was incomprehensible to me. I kept saying I was sorry but could not understand. I did not recognize the number.  Maybe 30 minutes later the call came in again but this time opted not to answer it. This little tidbit is important to know.
So moving on now to to a bit of Mr (Mame) Gueye's life - his father as I explained before was quite a famous painter so as Mame Gueye explained to us  - he was not a very good student in school and spent a lot of time doodling in his notebook. In the afternoons he would help his dad and eventually dropped out.   He enjoyed painting animals and became quite good at it. Because he learned so much from his father and Mame's technique became even more refined he ultimately took a different direction which was more vibrant colors and more detailed caricature displays of African men, woman and little children in colorful clothing with long or short necks - very different from his fathers subjects. Mame then started getting his own work and commissions and this created a rift between father and son.  That has now since been repaired but it took a long time if we understood him correctly.

His incredible work can be created to be hung on the wall, made into a tray, or a box, or coasters or truly anything you can think of!  Oh yeah, he also does fish and bolts of fabric.

After some weeks  went by and I was invited to meet up with Wendy at the Art Market Courtyard to learn and see more of the beads, jewelery and African art shops that are there. And see Mr Gueye.  About this time he should be done with the plates.  Another DWG member, Dorothy, comes along too - she is on her own really neat adventure here like us - but her kids are grown and totally on their own.  We all meet up and as we go in they turn left past Mr Gueye's workshop but I take the time to pop in. I ask Mr Gueye if he is done with our plates and he has to inform me he had not started. I was a bit disappointed but also realized I did not have a hard 'deadline' yet. He tied to explain to me that since we met him and we know this to be true there were a number of manifestations in all parts of Dakar and as well in and around his neighborhood which had an affect on him doing business. He promised me  in 2 weeks on "jeudi" he would have them done.  So after I leave his shop Wendy and Dorothy are in another section of the market and they ask me where I disappeared to. I said to see "Mr Gueye" and they proceeded to ask me where I was talking about and I pointed him out - while I was talking to "Mr Gueye" they were talking to "Mr Gueye"  - the one whose number is in the DWG book that I called. YES there was yet ANOTHER Mr Gueye. So we have S Gueye and M Gueye. And they are brothers too - but I don't know if they have the same mother as I recall "our" Mr Gueye said his father had a number of wives. "Serigne Gueye's" shop is just past and slightly beyond his brother's that we came upon first. So Wendy takes me back to meet "Mr Serigne Gueye" and at that moment  it dawned on me what happened. He's the one that called me and asking where we were that morning when when we were already there and engrossed and had NO CLUE whatsoever there was more than two brothers. We never knew or saw S. Gueye the entire time the first time we were there.  In the DWG book it says "The Gueye Brothers" - that day Manning and I had thought we met them both.  So needless to say I was completely beside myself and totally caught off guard by discovering there was a third "Mr Gueye".  I'm a rather conscientious person and when I put 2+2 together I wasted no time apologizing for what happened. Making him wait and never showing up. Mr S Gueye was very polite an extremely reserve man. He shook my hand and said "c'est ne pas grave". It did make me feel better and yes, I bought some coasters from him (very similar to his brothers) to try and somewhat make up for what had happened. It did take me about 24 hours to get over being thrown for such a loop. 

So now two more weeks pass and "our" Mr Gueye calls to tell us our plates are ready.  "Jeudi" arrives and we walk to his shop and literally when we ready to walk in we get a call from the school - please come and pick up the kids toute de suite - apparently there was some new manifestation at the school - not related the presidential election - but teachers in public schools who have been striking all year and kids have not been able to attend school. With Parker and Addison's school being private, the teachers were not on strike - but they've been a target for protesters. So today was not the day to get our plates.  Two days later we finally made it back for the unveiling of our ten plates. When Mr Gueye unwrapped the newspaper - Manning and I were just in awe of what he (and his apprentices) had achieved. We were elated, euphoric, exhilarated and speechless and kept telling Mr Gueye that. My heart was literally palpitating

In thinking back about that plate with our own 'Africanesque' faces - now I couldn't imagine for one second eating off a plate with our caricature on it that looked SO wrong. So I can only say we were THRILLED with the results, knowing that we will use them with much pleasure - and be reminded of fond memories of our time in Senegal.

 Mr Gueye (of the three) please stand up!



  1. Cool! Mr. Gueye does beautiful work. How nice that you will have such unique mementos from Senegal to treasure forever.

  2. What a wonderful story and the plates are magnificent -- I can see why you are so thrilled! Thanks for sharing this...

  3. Hi, I just came across your blog and keep reading the amazing stories you have uploaded. I was wondering, is Mr Gueye based in Dakar. I read about another Mr Gueye (might be the same Gueye) on Senegal Soul and called him for further directions. However, it seems that this Gueye is in Mor, a town close to Saly. If he is based in Dakar, I would love to visit his studio, could you please give me a contact number.

    I would greatly appreciate it.

    Kind regards,
    Rojin Shamlou

    1. Rojin - Thanks for your kind words! please leave me an e-mail where I can reach you. The blog response did not provide it. That I can see. Mr Gueye (and his brothers) are in Dakar located in the Medina neighborhood.

  4. Hi! Interesting article! I'm trying to get in touch with Mor Gueye, any way you would have a way of reaching him or his sons? My email is
    Thank you!

  5. Hi! Interesting article! I'm trying to get in touch with Mor Gueye, any way you would have a way of reaching him or his sons? My email is
    Thank you!