Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

by Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Mystical graffiti by Pape Diop in the Medina neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal, 2006. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.

Popular paintings of Senegalese Sufi saints grace the walls of homes, shops, and workspaces to proclaim devotion to one of the four main movements represented in the republic, but more essentially to bless those residing in or visiting such places. The portraits are icons insofar as they possess the active presence of the holy person depicted and convey baraka or God-given blessing energies. Such pictures are active devices, then, and their deployment is often to bring benefit to any passersby, including tourists and others who may have no idea who the subject of the image may be, or why it has been placed where it has. Since the early 2000s, a homeless street artist named Pape Diop has engaged in what may be termed “mystical graffiti” through which he renders the streets of Dakar’s working-class neighborhoods talismanic, providing a sense of holy purpose even as people see to the most mundane of their chores (Roberts and Roberts 2007).