Like many others who experience a great sense of displacement from living with limited and fragmented information about their culture and heritage, for British/Jamaican visual artist born in the United Kingdom - Kevin Dalton Johnson - his stay in Mali can be summed up as a return to the place of origin.
This sense of dislocation and nostalgia was immediately portrayed in the first set of paintings made by artist at Centre Soleil, which sought to represent the artists’ feelings as soon as he got in contact with the Malian soil. The paintings show a multitude of colors which, according to him, express the joy, happiness, warmth and hospitality he experienced during his stay in Mali.
Despite the linguistic limitations and the overbearing heat, Kevin adapted himself quickly to the environment; he was very enthusiastic and showing a great desire to learn.
Of utmost importance was the opportunity to meet other local artists like Souleymane Sangare (‘King Solo’), Boureima Diakité, Ouassa Sangare, and Oumou Sankaré). Within this artistic circle, Dalton Johnson exchanged ideas, experiences and knowledge and participated from various workshops in techniques like painting, sculpting and ‘bogolan’, a mud-based Malian tradition. These conversations and exchanges were very fruitful for both Dalton Johnson and the local artists who also engaged in discussions about issues of identity and Western ways of living in relation to the African context.
“The Malian artists learned a lot from him and so did I”, acknowledged Hama Goro, the Director of Centre Soleil d’Afrique, who took Dalton Johnson on a three-day trip to his hometown in Dogon (Dinangourou.). As Goro remarks:
“This trip was also very interesting because it allowed Kevin to absorb more of the social and cultural reality of Mali. He was impressed by the architectural aspect of the houses made of ‘banco’ (clay & soil), and was delighted by the fun, joy and the warm welcome which we were given by our hosts (the villagers), whom despite of their dearth and poverty, offered us a feast and honored us with a « missouie » every time we arrived at a village.”
For Dalton Johnson his art residency at Centre Soleil was an unforgettable experience:
“The people were so hospitable and warm and the culture, powerful and strong. Dogon is full of power and mysticism, most of which cannot be put into words. You have to be there to live it and feel it. It may appear to some that they do not have much, but that assumption is so wrong, as they have a richness and a balance of morality and community that we in the West can only dream of since we have abandoned these important qualities so long ago. They are very proud people, who have had the wisdom to retain their culture regardless of globalisation and its many pressures and they should be admired for this.”
At the end of the residency, Dalton Johnson showed his works during an exhibition organized by Soleil d’Afrique that attracted the attention of many local artists and other art enthusiasts.