Lun La Lame
Interwoven. Juxtapositioned. Superimposed.
It is early morning in the city of Dakar and a “buju man” is roaming its streets. Making holes in the walls, free-ing the skeletons of the city. He has been many things and may yet become many more but right now he is a plastician, working with what the city gives him. Which, in his case, are the bright and colourful PVC tubes used in housebuilding. Meet Alioune Samb or Lun La Lame as he prefers to call himself.
High atop a building in the Sacré Coeur area of Dakar rests what looks like the head of a giant bird, completely made out of multi coloured PVC tubes.
The house is the base of operations for designer Selly Raby Kane and art collective Muus Du Tux, cat’s don’t smoke, and it’s roof is ﬁlled with the wildest art. Under the merciless sun we wander around signs, sculptures and other more undeﬁnable structures surrounding a small sewing studio. Elevated above it all is the birds head, that we now realize also works as a nest. We climb a small, rickety ladder that takes us inside the colourful hideaway. It is cooler inside.
Slumped in a chair made out of the same PVC tubes as the rest of the nest/head, Lun La Lame greets us with a sly smile. It’s funny that you are from a magazine called Skewed, he says. Because when I built this, someone had to climb inside and test it, and it was I. And I climbed up and looked at it from the in-side. Tilting my head, looking, tilting my head, looking. And I was looking at it from a skewed perspective.
Who are you ?
I’m Alioune, like the friend of the prophet who got a blade from the sky that could cut a thousand people to the left and a thousand people to the right. A blade from the sky like when the moon, la lune, is a blade. My hands are blades and I cut things out of walls. Like these PVC tubes that I used to build this permanent workshop, this permanent working site, that we’re sitting in.
Why do you work with PVC tubes ?
It’s the material that keeps everything together. And I work based on an idea of unity. Of keeping things together, keeping the differences together. PVC tubes, PVC pipes. They are a construction inside a construction and I put them outside a construction. Interwoven, juxtapositioned, superimposed.
And it’s not just about beauty, but also being useful. With them I can build things that you can sit, sleep, eat, hide in. They are beautiful. It’s the bright chaos. The luminous chaos. But they are beautiful and true, and with true I mean functional. Because here in Dakar when beauty is not useful, people don’t care about it.
But they also have meaning. I was out of the world for a long time. I cut myself out of the world. I stayed hidden for a long time. But like the PVC being out of the wall, like me they are no longer hidden. It’s to say “Alioune is here now! I’m out!”
How were you hidden ?
I was a vagabond. I was a vagabond for a long time before art school and I still have no phone and I have no real home, but I am out in the world.
If you want to learn, be a vagabond. I learned as much, if not more, as in art school.I learned that the only thing that can cure a human is a human. That humans are the remedy for humans. That you can work for God through the human, serving God by serving the human.
And I met a lot of friends, different friends. Vagabond friends and sage friends. If you are a multidimensional being you can understand different people, all kinds of people.
But I also met a lot of fake, a whole lot of fake. They hurt me, hit me, they broke my nose, they even burned my ass. But it is ok. I learned from the fake. I know how you spot it. That is why my concern is on the true now. Because meeting the fake on my journeys made me stay in my lane, to stay the course that is only mine. Because if you travel in your lane, no matter what happens or who you meet, that is when you ﬁnd your originality.
How is art in Dakar ?
It’s a struggle being an artist in Dakar and it will always be a struggle. You know, art is wicked. Art is generous but it is also unjust. Art is not fair in Dakar but art saves souls so you keep going. It’s in our spirits and it will bring us beyond the hardships and help us move forward. Like Shaka Zulu said: if you move forward you die, if you move backward you die. So you might as well move forward. And when your back is against the wall, you do not even have the choice to go backwards. Only forward. So that is what art is like in Dakar. Having your back against the wall.
«It’s the bright chaos. The luminous chaos. But they are beautiful and true.»
The rooftop at Muus Du Tuux
How do you think your art would change if you were somewhere else ?
If I were not in this sphere, I would be in another sphere. Maybe I will travel to another sphere, maybe it will be futuristic. But in different spheres there are different elements so I would weave in a different element than the PVC tubes. The secret to weaving in different elements is not in the elements, It’s in the weaving. It has to weft.
Where do you think you’ll be in, say, two years ?
I will be very difﬁcult to catch in two years. If you come back here in two years, who knows? Maybe I will be hidden again. Maybe I will be inside a wall. Or maybe I will be too busy working for the divine to be caught. Maybe I have moved on to where thirsty souls go to drink, because I have been showed where that is. I know a higher form of art than art, a higher form of spirituality. That is why I cannot waste any time. Because I have tasted something that is way bigger than art. A food that is way more delicious than art. I am not running because I still have vagabond blood in me, I am running because I am being chased by death. And if I don’t get to that special place before I die, I will berestless in my grave. So, you know, the only way to ﬁnd me in two years is to follow my tracks.
Time and time again during our conversation Alioune comes back to these spiritual musings. He is a man of faith and his faith is that of the Baye Fall. The Baye Fall is a sub-group of the Mouride, a suﬁ order prominent in Senegal. It’s fascinating how often the values, rituals and doctrines of the Baye Fall come up in conversation not just with Alioune, but with so many of the artists and creatives we meet during our stay in Dakar.
«Art is not fair in Dakar but art saves souls, so you keep going.»
What new projects are you thinking of ?
To take my art to the streets and make a new kind of street art. Like this nest we’re sitting in, I would like to take this kind of structure to the streets. To give it as shelter to the women serving food on the streets, or for the kids running around town. To give them a zone of temporary independence. You know, I like pain.
He holds up his hands. They are rough. Marked by many years of digging through rubble and walls. Carrying his PVC tubes and other ﬁndings through town, burning and bending them to his will. These, he laughs, are the hands of a Buju Man, a garbage collector.
like the hardship of creating. I like the untouched ﬁelds, the creation from virgin ﬁelds. And I like taking something from that and making things that help the people. My art is progressing by me putting wood in the PVC. Making them steady enough to even be in living rooms. But I am not in the money business, I am in the unicity of differences business. Using my art to help. I am constantly looking for tools to help more. And I know that I can’t help everyone, I understand that, but I will try. Like, I know this interview is over soon and I wonder, are you happy with the interview?
Yes, very happy.
See, I helped you.