In Brief

Animal Rights Activists Baaaash Artist’s Studio Over Indigo-Dyed Sheep at Documenta

For his project, artist Aboubakar Fofana dyed the coats of 54 sheep with indigo and brought them from Mali to the Greek capital.

Aboubakar Fofana, "Ka touba Farafina yé" ("Africa blessing," 2017), 54 lambs, the African continent, indigo, pasture, and people, Agricultural University of Athens, Athens, Documenta 14 (photo by Stathis Mamalakis, courtesy Documenta 14)
Aboubakar Fofana, “Ka touba Farafina yé” (“Africa blessing,” 2017), 54 lambs, the African continent, indigo, pasture, and people, Agricultural University of Athens, Athens, Documenta 14 (photo by Stathis Mamalakis, courtesy Documenta 14)

Animal rights activists vandalized the Athens studio of artist Aboubakar Fofana, in protest of the Malian artist’s inclusion of 54 live sheep in his project for Documenta 14. As The Art Newspaper (TAN) reported, the unidentified group smashed windows at the studio on May 19 and splashed it with blue paint — a reference to the indigo dye with which Fofana stained his animals’ wool.

The vivid herd, set in a “specially prepared orchard-pasture” on the Agricultural University of Athens campus, makes up “Ka touba Farafina yé” (or “Africa Blessing”), a two-month-long installation. At an event on April 29 making the launch of the project, a presentation by Fofana was also disrupted by the same assailants who damaged his studio, according to TAN.

Fofana has long worked with traditional dyeing techniques, although his material usually doesn’t bleat, much less breathe. He intended his ovine-focused project as a reflection “on the situation of the African diaspora,” with each sheep representing one African country.

“I want to show something else with this special flock of lambs, and that is beauty,” Fofana said. “Wherever African people move, we bring with us our culture and our traditions, and we fuse them with what is local. And the new places we come to are richer and more beautiful for this fusion. Out of the necessity of leaving, new cultures and traditions are born, nothing is static and nothing changes without creation. Indigo itself is something which has travelled throughout and out of Africa along trade routes for thousands of years.”

In an Instagram post, he added: “I am sending these blue sheep out to bestow blessings and protection for people from all over my continent as they leave and keep leaving to find a place of greater safety.”

Fofana tested the dyeing process occurred in Mali, the treated a flock of Greek sheep to the same makeover. Each creature was bathed, then dyed in a specially prepared organic vat of indigo, leaving each a different shade of blue. Fofana insists that the dye is entirely organic and harmless, and may even “improve their wellbeing.” His attackers, however, consider the installation, set to end on June 25, especially abusive for its enclosure of sheep and its silence on the sheep farming industry as a whole.

“You choose to say nothing about [the sheep’s] confinement, nor the massive murders of the industry,” the attackers wrote in a blog post, according to TAN, “and you added to the humiliation [by using them] as objects in the spectacle.”

The destruction of Fofana’s studio occurred just a few days prior to another Documenta 14 protest: on May 21, a local LGBTQ refugee rights group stole a sculpture by Roger Bernat to criticize what they perceive as the art exhibition’s exploitation of asylum seekers.

Correction: A previous version of this article suggested that the sheep on view in Athens had been dyed in Mali and then shipped to Greece, but they are in fact locally sourced Greek sheep. This has been fixed.

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