Andrew Esiebo, “Who are we” from untitled series (© Andrew Esiebo, via

The government of Senegal has ordered the closure or cancelation of all exhibitions dealing with queer issues in the 2014 edition of Dak’Art, the 11th Biennale of Contemporary African Art, The Art Newspaper (TAN) reported. The decree came in the wake of a controversy surrounding one specific exhibition, called Precarious Imaging: Visibility and Media Surrounding African Queerness. On view at Dakar art center Raw Material Company and featuring the work of artists Kader Attia, Jim Chuchu, Andrew Esiebo, Amanda Kerdahi M., and Zanele Muholi, the show was part of the Dak’Art off-site program and was planned to run through July 18 (the main biennial ends June 8). But just a day after its opening, on May 12, vandals attacked the gallery. Attia told Le Monde that he received word from the director of Raw Material Company:

Fundamentalists attacked the art center by taking to the building. The façade, the lights were destroyed. They stopped there for now, promising to return to finish the job started. The state has just given them reason by prohibiting this exhibition and others, which will strengthen them in their blind mission …

Around the same time, Senegalese organizations MbañGacce and Jamra — the latter an Islamic NGO with a stated policy of opposing the decriminalization of homosexuality in Dakar — publicly announced their objections to all Dak’Art exhibitions with homosexual themes, the news site reported. On May 31, the Senegalese government mandated the closing of all related shows, and Precarious Imaging was shut down. Days later all of Raw Material Company remains closed, according to yesterday’s TAN report. A spokeswoman for Dak’Art couldn’t confirm to the paper if any other biennial shows had been canceled.

“Senegal is well-known for its peaceful and moderated Islam,” Attia told TAN. “Such an aggressive attack is absolutely unexpected, as is the government’s decision to shut down all the exhibitions in the biennial that deal with homosexuality.” says MbañGacce and Jamra issued a statement praising the government’s decision. It reads, in part: “this event, supposed to promote our culture, proves to be a propaganda vehicle for unions against nature. It is undeniable that this edition of Dak’art is detrimental to our morality and our laws.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal; two men who had been living together in Dakar were sentenced to six months in prison this past February, the Associated Press reported.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...