Cheikha Bamba Loum

The Guardian of Espace Médina

Cheikha Bamba Loum is a wearer of many hats. He is perhaps best known as a fashion designer but nowadays functions more like a fine artist. Our introduction to Cheikha comes through Selly Raby Kane. To Kane he is somewhat of a mentor. They met in 2008 when he adjudicated a competition that she was entered in. Kane remembers their meeting fondly, “A very fun show. I think we connected because some of my elements made him laugh a lot but also he was wondering who is this person!”

Published 05/02/2020

SKEWED Fashion

Softly spoken, I find myself leaning in when he speaks to catch his words. He has a spiritual quality that inflects everything he says. Cheikha sees deeper meaning in everything. When asked what the purpose or message of his art is he replies, “To get people to really look at the world around them.” He has gone through a constant evolution. Never really being tied down to any one mode of creation. You can really tell that he comes from a family of artists and couturiers.

Cheikha’s fashion label was known as SIGIL. The brand focused on crafting elevated denim pieces, taking the utilitarian fabric and adapting it for the cities of Africa. When we meet Cheikha is dressed head to toe in denim of his own creation. The whole purpose of the brand was to create clothes capable of coping with a modern life. His constructions are light in weight and manage to cope with the heat without compromising on looks. Casual but in a put together manner. Anyone who hangs out with Selly Raby Kane is ever anything less than incredibly stylish and Cheikha is of course no exception.

In the past Kane and Cheikha were part of the Petite Pierre collective together. The name of the collective means small stones in French and their focus was to foster alternative voices in Dakar. The collective centered around a house in Dakar’s Oukham neighborhood that provided somewhere for like minded people to get weird. Houses are the center of social activity. Gatherings happen in the home, away from prying eyes. The notion of public space feels slightly different. You can enjoy yourself in a different manner when you know you are amongst friends.

And it is fostering another space that Cheikha is most focused on nowadays. He is custodian of Espace Médina. The space that he grew up in, where he spent his formative years, learning about life through seeing and hearing the artists that passed through. Médina is a cultural hub and Dakar’s equivalent to the Chelsea Hotel or Warhol’s Factory. And Médina can in fact trace its history back to the same era, finding its beginnings in the 60s.

Espace Médina

The space itself is labyrinthine on the inside. No two sets of walls feel perfectly parallel. To get to the top floor you go up a set of stairs painted in skewed checkerboards. Every nook and cranny is filled with art. Yet given its maze like nature, it feels like anyone can wander into Médina off the street and spark up a conversation. This is exactly what Cheikha intends. Médina is to be a place of dialogue. Somewhere that furthers mutual understanding.

«Some things can be solved by religion. Others by art.»

To emphasize this point there is a combination of religion and art in Médina that might seem unusual to secular readers. The gallery space here is directly above a mosque. The two spaces are in conversation with each other. As Cheikha explains, “Each solve problems that the other cannot. Some things can be solved by religion. Others by art.” 92% of the Senegalese population is estimated to be Muslim and the majority of those belong to Sufi brotherhoods. Sufism is an inward looking form of Islam that underscores the believer’s personal relationship with God.

The desire to create dialogue through art, religion or simply intrigue is central to Cheikha as a person. If you’re ever in Dakar, a visit to Médina is bound to spark some interesting [if not even skewed] conversations.