David Hammons's "Dak'Art 2004 Sheep Raffle"
by Jacqueline Francis and Tina Takemoto
During the sixth Dak’Art Biennale of Contemporary African Art, David Hammons gave away sheep. The artist said: “people in Dakar do not go to exhibitions. They think that the Dak’Art is for white people. . . . At least, with the Sheep Raffle, I’ll give them something that they can relate to.” (1) To be clear, Hammons was not a participant in the main Dak’Art exhibition, a showcase for contemporary African artists. (2) Instead, Dak’Art 2004 Sheep Raffle was an American “intervention,” one of three commissioned for 3x3: Three Artists/Three Projects, an admired contribution to the inaugural Dak’Art Off and International Representations program. (3)

For 3x3, co-curators Salah Hassan and Cheryl Finley invited three U.S.-based artists—Hammons, interdisciplinary artist Pamela Z, and the Cuban-born installation artist Magdalena Campos-Pons—to make site-specific conceptual and performance-based work beyond the “white cube” environment of the official Dak’Art exhibition venues. (4) This curatorial focus on Dakar’s historical cityscape followed Hassan’s published critique of the fifth Dak’Art Biennale that “site specific works were totally absent or poorly conceived.” (5)

David Hammons, "Dak
David Hammons, "Dak'Art 2004 Sheep Raffle," 2004. Photo: Salah M. Hassan

While Campos-Pons and Pamela Z used existing buildings laden with historical memory as their points of departure, Hammons took a slightly different approach to site-specificity, developing his project around a distinct set of actions. (6) He created the opportunity for the Senegalese people to acquire something of great monetary and cultural value. Every day at 4pm from May 6 to May 11, crowds cheered for the two lucky winners who were each presented with a live sheep amid music, singing, and dancing. (7) Apparently, the precise location for the raffle was not determined until after much of the advertising had been printed. Billboards in French indicated that the raffle’s address was “to be announced,” while others in Wolof read: “We will let you know.” (8) Eventually, the project was staged at the busy city intersection of Avenue Bourguiba and the Voie du Nord, associated with open-air markets where sheep are traditionally bought and sold for the annual Islamic holiday of Eid-al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice). (9)

David Hammons, "Dak
David Hammons, "Dak'Art 2004 Sheep Raffle," 2004. Photo: Salah M. Hassan

The look of the paper lottery ticket, itself no bigger than a Senegalese banknote, was enlarged and incorporated into the design for Sheep Raffle’s posted billboards. Egyptian-born artist Ramez Elias designed both ticket and billboard, each of which proffers pictorial and textual information in Wolof, French, and English. “Sheep Raffle” and “David Hammons” appear in bold, sans serif font, in white and yellow hues respectively. The phrase “Tombola de Moutons” appears in all caps, its red splatter font chosen no doubt for its resemblance to animal blood. The words tumble across a striking centralized image: a black and white photograph of a young man holding four lambs, taken by Senegalese artist Boubacar Touré Mandémory in collaboration with Hammons. The shepherd and the young, gangly beasts comprise a towering, pyramidal form that almost blocks out the background action—more livestock at a distant watering hole. (10) With his slightly furrowed brow, the youth bears the serious mien of a Spaghetti Western gunslinger. The association is unavoidable, especially as Mandémory has claimed the Italian genre as one of his earliest influences. (11)

David Hammons, "Dak
David Hammons, "Dak'Art 2004 Sheep Raffle," 2004. Photo: Salah M. Hassan

These collateral objects of Sheep Raffle shared visual affinities with Italian neorealist and cinema of the 1940s and the movements it subsequently inspired in Africa. Across the continent, directors made films about pre-colonial histories, traditional allegories, morality tales, and the socio-political narratives of emerging, independent nations at mid-century. With a desire to produce relevant and accessible art for their audiences in their home countries, directors from Italy and from African nations incorporated cultural symbols and hired local people as actors and crew members in their features. The American-born Hammons takes up such strategies in Sheep Raffle. He sought to make the most of Dakar as a location, incorporating the ritual and rhythms of commerce and exchange in the outdoor markets he saw during his visits.

The dramatis personae of Sheep Raffle were local people, not unlike the non-professional casts of canonical neorealist films. What is different is Sheep Raffle’s tone and takeaway. While Vittorio De Sica’s Sciusiá (1946) and Ladri di Biciclette (1948), and Ousmane Sembene’s Borom Sarret (1963) present pitiable protagonists in dire circumstances, Sheep Raffle is optimistic and celebratory. By orchestrating a lively six-day event featuring entertainment and offering prizes, Hammons conceived experiences of pleasure for Dakarois. Photo documentation of Sheep Raffle indicates a festival-like atmosphere: a cheery red and yellow palette dominates, (12) and many of the assembled wear brightly colored shawls, headscarves, and boubou robes. (13)

David Hammons, "Dak
David Hammons, "Dak'Art 2004 Sheep Raffle," 2004. Photo: Salah M. Hassan

Sheep Raffle seems to elude single descriptions. Was it social practice? Was it a street performance? Was it a critique of the Western art industry? Like many community-oriented projects, Sheep Raffle was utterly dependent on numerous creative collaborations. In their publication Diaspora,Memory,Place, Hassan and Finley describe how Hammons enlisted the help of local art students, DJs, designers, and businesses to advertise the event and distribute free tickets throughout the city. (14) The artist worked with popular Senegalese hip-hop artists to create his catchy radio advertisements in French and Wolof. Hammons also garnered sponsorship from Maggi, the popular food seasoning company known for its bouillon stock cubes that have become a staple ingredient of Senegalese cuisine. This collaboration proved to be an effective strategy for ensuring a successful raffle. By tapping into the company’s staff and advertising expertise, Hammons was able to reach a broad range of local audiences in print, on the radio, and through loudspeaker announcements delivered from Maggi trucks moving through Dakar’s neighborhoods. Company employees also handled the functional aspects of the raffle itself, including procuring the live sheep and providing the truck and platform for the entertainers who were similarly decked out in Maggi branded t-shirts and hats.

Sheep Raffle is akin to the artist’s other outdoor street performances such as Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983), Higher Goals (1986), and Phat Free (1995/99). Yet unlike his role in these works, Hammons is not the central performer in Sheep Raffle. He is not the raffle emcee nor does he appear in official documentation of the piece. Filmmaker and cultural critic Manthia Diawara recalls catching glimpses of the artist sitting on top of a platform, “surveying the performance” and occasionally descending to take video on a small camera. (15) Hammons’s conspicuous absence might suggest an equally strong connection to works such as Concerto in Black and Blue (2002) that focus on the interaction between participants rather than the performance of the individual artist. As Laurie Ann Farrell suggests, the “genius of Hammons’s project lies in his appropriation of the sheep raffle as a compelling strategy to further his engagement with ‘the idea of the performative.’” (16)

Sheep Raffle, created for a well-funded art exhibition, was presented as a contrast to biennials, auctions, and gallery openings—major events of the capitalist art industry. In some of these settings, artworks are commodities, fungible items that are bought and sold. Money changes hands off-stage and away from the camera for Dak’Art 2004 Sheep Raffle. Were the workers—Maggi employees, art students, and DJs—compensated? Even if Hammons’s collaborators volunteered their services, the livestock was likely purchased through the 3x3 exhibition budget and then distributed according to the laws of chance.

Sheep Raffle not only attracted local raffle-goers and tourists, but also artists and art world cognoscenti eager to see Hammons’s latest intervention and was said to be the most well-attended artwork in Dak’Art 2004. Yet not all audiences embraced the piece. As Diawara reports, “Some people thought that it was arrogant on the part of a Black American to come to Africa and make fun of Africans as art.” (17) For this reason, some African artists refused to view the work, offering that only Hammons could get away with such a stunt because of his status in the art world.

David Hammons, "Dak
David Hammons, "Dak'Art 2004 Sheep Raffle," 2004. Photo: Salah M. Hassan

And, how are we to understand Hammons’s collaboration with Maggi, especially in light of the 2004 Biennale’s theme, “Contemporary African Art to the Test of Globalization: Problems, Challenges and Prospects”? Maggi, a Nestlé subsidiary, is not a neutral player in the global market economy. (18) While the brand has been adopted as part of local culture and cuisine in more than sixty countries as a meat substitute, its products continue to be criticized for damaging health and local traditions because of their high levels of sodium, MSG, and hydrogenated oils. (19) Was Hammons deliberately pointing to this multinational food corporation as a symbol of Western hegemony? Perhaps the company’s name and its oblique associations with magic and magi, the traveling gift-bearing wise men, appealed to the trickster artist’s notorious love of linguistic word play. (20)

Just as Maggi calls forth various meanings, “sheep” is a loaded term with consequential associations. In many cultures, sheep are seen as strong animals; the male ram, in particular, is a paragon demonstrating virility and resolve. Hammons’s evocation of sheep also resonates with the cautionary words of Nigerian artist and cultural critic Olu Oguibe, who suggested that contemporary African artists are “tacitly forbidden to appear critical” of the Dak’Art Biennales or else are “cast as black sheep fit for slaughter.” (21) If we extend the idiomatic conveyance of disreputability and outsider status to any maverick artist hailing from any place, Sheep Raffle ties into Hammons’s own publicly performed contrariness and articulated opposition to the capitalist art market. Time and time again, Hammons proclaims that he is no damn sheep that hews to the prescribed order. (22) Is Sheep Raffle yet another display of Hammons’s impatience and open disdain for the capitalist art market with the raffle itself operating as a cynical allegory for the few winners and hordes of losers within the art world? (23) Does Sheep Raffle replicate the Western art market theatrics—the ebb and flow pronouncements of artistic success and failure, the subjective judgments of shepherd tastemakers and moneyed institutions, which herd docile creatives and peddle self-interested narratives to unquestioning audiences?

Possibly. But nevertheless, a resolutely generous spirit runs through Sheep Raffle that defeats pessimism. In Senegal and in many other places, sheep are prized and revered animals. They are kept and bred to be sold for profit. Mutton meat is eaten, shared with family and neighbors, and/or donated to the impoverished, acts proscribed during the Eid-al-Adha holidays. In light of these traditions, we might see Sheep Raffle through the lens of Lewis Hyde’s classic treatise The Gift (1983), in which the value of the art practice resides in its enduring and capacious generosity. (24) Yet Sheep Raffle also demands consideration of sacrifice—the literal acts of worship and appeasement (bloody and bloodless) —inserted into the context of contemporary art making, a messy and irresolvable notion with which we must contend.

Jacqueline Francis is an art historian, curator, and writer. She teaches Visual and Critical Studies at CCA, and she is the inaugural Robert A. Corrigan Visiting Professor in Social Justice at San Francisco State University for the 2016-17 academic year.

Tina Takemoto is an artist, writer, and associate professor of Visual and Critical Studies at California College of the Arts.

(1) Quoted by Manthia Diawara in “Dak’Art 2004 Sheep Raffle,” Diaspora, Memory, Place: David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Pamela Z, edited by Salah M. Hassan and Cheryl Finley (Munich, Berlin, London, New York: Prestel, 2008), 138.

(2) Thirty-three artists and five designers from 16 African nations presented their work in sixth Dak’Art, May 7-Jun 7, 2004. See “Meetings, Edition 2004—Dakar Biennale (2004),” DAK’ART 2016--12e Biennale de l’art contemporain africain, at: http://www.dakart.net/edition-2004/

(3) Noting that the large number (131) of artworks in the secondary exhibition Dak’Art Off, Iolanda Pensa singled out 3x3 as a “significant event” in her exhibition review, “Art and Artists at Dak’Art 2004,” NAFAS (May 2004), at: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:D_JsZcWipMkJ:u-in-u.com/nafas/articles/2004/dakart-2004/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari/

(4) Hassan and Finley, Diaspora, Memory, Place, 26. The 3x3 commissions were sponsored in part by the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, where Hassan and Finley are professors.

(5) Salah Hassan, “From the Editor,” NKA 16/17 (Fall/Winter 2002), 17. Hassan’s assessment was the last point of five-plank plan to improve the Dak’Art platform. He suggested that: 1. Dak'Art be directed by curators (and not government officials); 2. Dak'Art be supervised and advised by international art experts; 3. the terms of “foreign support and funding” be renegotiated while retaining existing “artistic collaboration and cultural exchange based on mutual respect”; 4. Pan-African visions that include the participation of exhibition designers from from “Africa and the diaspora” be realized; and 5. site-specificity be promoted.

(6) Magdalena Campos-Pons chose a deserted factory in an industrial zone on the city’s outskirts for her installation Threads of Memory with video narratives projected onto abandoned textile machines. Pamela Z initially selected the Palais de Justice, but when she was informed that the site was no longer available, she was assigned the infamous Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island, where Z presented her haunting six-channel sound installation inside the small stone room where enslaved women were held before being transported to Europe and the Americas. Pamela Z in conversation with the authors, December 2016.

(7) Diawara, Diaspora, Memory, Place, 140.

(8) See documentation of Hammons’s billboard posters in Diaspora, Memory, Place, 150-151, 154.

(9) Hassan and Finley, “Introduction,” Diaspora, Memory, Place, 28. The raffle was located near Leo Frobenius Street, named for the German ethnographic researcher (1873-1938) who celebrated African art while denying that it had been made by Africans. Despite this paradox, Frobenius also influenced the “founding fathers” of several independent African nations, including Senegal’s Léopold Sédar Senghor. See Sandra Adell, Double-Consciousness/Double-Bind: Theoretical Issues in Twentieth-Century Black Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 30-34.

(10) When Diawara asked Hammons if he was referencing Picasso’s Man with a Lamb (1943), the artist denied any connection. Diawara, 139.

(11) “Ever since childhood, I have been determined to practice photography. This desire was accentuated by my great attraction to cinema, and notably to the ‘Spaghetti Western’ genre, which made a big impact on me.” Quoted in Leica Internet Team, “Boubecar Touré Mandémory: Militant Photographer and Urban Senegalese Colorist,” The Leica Camera Blog, January 22, 2015, at: http://blog.leica-camera.com/2015/01/22/boubacar-toure-mandemory-militant-photographer-and-urban-senegalese-colorist/

(12) Red and yellow are the colors of the Maggi company brand (which are aspects of the Senegalese flag’s triband).

(13) Striking divergent chords, critic Iolanda Pensa describes Sheep Raffle as “free, but slightly funerary” event, involving “anxious participants [who] waited for the verdict” and “joyful animators” who congratulated the winners. In “Dak’Art 2004; Universes-in-Universe,” iopensa, June 9, 2004, at: http://io.pensa.it/node/184

(14) Hassan and Finley, Diaspora, Memory, Place, 28.

(15) Diawara, 140.

(16) Laurie Ann Farrell, “Inspiration in Dakar,” Art Africa (June 1, 2004) at: http://artsouthafrica.com/archives/archived-featured-articles/212-main-archive/archived-featured-articles/1323-inspiration-in-dakar.html

(17) Diawara, 147-148.

(18) The Maggi company originated in Switzerland in 1885 and its products were designed as a nutritional food substitute for meat.

(19) See Firstpost, “Maggi Ban: Nestle Will Have to Reformulate, Repackage and Relaunch, Say Analysts,” F.Business (June 9, 2015) at: http://www.firstpost.com/business/maggi-ban-nestle-will-have-to-reformulate-repackage-and-relaunch-say-analysts-2286016.html

(20) It’s also worth noting the homonymic and rhyming relationship between the word Maggi and the names of the other 3x3 artists, i.e., Maggi and Z, Maggi and “Maggie” a common nickname for Magdalena, Margaret, and Marguerite.

(21) Olu Oguibe, “The Failure of Dak’Art?” Third Text 18.1 (2004), 83.

(22) In 1986, Hammons opined about the challenges to artistic success in the United States: “in this country, if your art doesn’t reflect the status quo, well then you can forget it, financially and otherwise. I’ve always thought that artists should concentrate on going against any order, never accepting any order not even their own, but here in New York, more than anywhere else, I don’t see any of that gut. Because it’s so hard to live in this city. The rent is so high, your shelter and eating, those necessities are so difficult, that’s what keeps the artist from being that maverick.” In Kellie Jones, “David Hammons,” REAL LIFE 16 (Autumn 1986): 6.

(23) Pensa asserts: “The work wanted to bring something to the people who normally don’t receive anything from art; it tied to get out of the conventional art world logic, ending up—probably without acknowledging it—inside the usual market logic (with the “Maggi” soup sponsor, the humanitarian dynamic and the paradox of interested generosity.” In “Dak’art 2004; Universes-in-Universe,” iopensa, June 9, 2004, at: http://io.pensa.it/node/184

(24) Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (Vintage, 2007).