Interview with Senegalese Comic Artist Pap Souleye Fall

Interview with Senegalese Comic Artist Pap Souleye Fall

Let us begin by getting to know you Pap, can you please tell us more about yourself, where are you from and how did you begin your journey into art.

I grew up in Senegal and moved to the States when I was 9. We went back to Senegal as often as we could, and I moved back in 2018 and have been here ever since. Growing up in an artist family, my mother specifically made sure that we were always active in plays, dance performances, art shows, and after school programs. I’ve always drawn since childhood and loved storytelling in manga and even in the plays I acted in. 

Do you think you were born an artist? or Do you think you became an artist?

I believe in the idea of genetic knowledge passed down through generations. And because of my mother being a painter and my father being a furniture maker it’s in my blood to take on the mantle. 

We recently featured your work Oblivion Rouge how did this project come about? Can you give us a little behind the scene, the process of creating the comic? what were some of the challenges you faced? How has this project affected your artwork?

Making OBLIVION ROUGE started with several conversations surrounding decolonization, postcolonialism, and colonialism. I had overheard so many conversations on the topic in different settings here in Senegal: while having tea in the street, or during the Dak’art Biennale, for example. So I thought I’d contribute my thoughts through the form of a manga. Because I’ve never actually made a manga before OR, there were three different versions before creating the final version of the first chapter. At the beginning of the project, I made three chapters, and then I didn’t like them, remade them, and still didn’t like it. Then I made a colored novel of 70 pages, tweaked some, and then the story to me wasn’t strong enough. I went back, sat down, and watched like 150 videos on storytelling. I went off! Stayed up one night and wrote the entire story. And ever since then with that huge pile of sketch material I was able to refine the story to what it is now. This process took a year. 

In the world of OBLIVION ROUGE, I wanted to create characters that were living in a world where they had little control over their futures. I think that the conception of OBLIVION ROUGE has been a real dive into a lot of the concepts I was trying to tie together in my other work. I am a multidisciplinary artist and was looking for a medium that was very accessible. I’ve always loved mangas and the culture around it. Growing up in Senegal everyone reads manga and relates to the stories about life and growing up. I thought, through using a manga style I could talk about themes like decolonization, and neocolonialism to my audience. 

Does your art represent something about you, does it represent a message about the world, does it focus on history or look to the future?

 I wanted to create a story that connected to African history, colonial history, and my personal history as a Senegalese-American man, and try to envision it in a new way. I want to look towards healing, and dealing with experiences and traumas that the black body as felt, but through a new lens. I think OBLIVION ROUGE is a way to reconnect with my heritage and West-African folklore. I want to show the world that these stories are tales of empowerment, and not some sort of Satanic cult, haha. I want to liberate the connotations that animist religions have with devil-worshipping, for example. OBLIVION ROUGE touches upon all these topics and interacts with them in a new, hopefully refreshing, way. I don’t want to spoil the story, so that’s as much as I can give away right now.

 How do you make your work? Are there particular tools/materials/software/technology that you use? Is there a connection between your process and your artwork’s message?

 As an artist it’s important to develop a practice – whether that be sketching a hundred pictures a day or looking at YouTube videos. In my practice I like to emphasize research: I research online, and when I can, I step outside and talk with people that work in the field I have particular questions about. Also, I love Instagram. I use it as a research engine: I have over 10,000 images saved in multiple categories. 

Formally and skill-wise, I draw every day on my iPad Pro. I use procreate, it’s a great program for people who want to start making digital work. There are other more complex tools and programs I just haven’t had the time to jump into but I would love to learn more about them.

What is African art? How would you describe “african art”? What does African art mean to you? Do you think African art is important? Do you think that Africa is reflected in your work? If/so how? why not?

African art to me has a sense of mysticism and spirituality. I think right now as an African artist, I want to share this content with the world from our perspective, to create as many stories and images as possible. I want to show the wonder and complexity of the continent, its individual countries, and ethnic groups. African art is very important and it is my duty as an artist to make this available to African people. I want to diversify the lenses and perspectives within Africa, to reflect its plurality of narratives. Africa, and specifically Senegal, is heavily reflected in my work and OBLIVION ROUGE: from the layout of the houses, to the names, to the speech patterns. As I said before, animism and West African philosophy are the main inspirations behind OBLIVION ROUGE, so the manga is heavily influenced by it, of course.

Where do you find inspiration? Can you share some of your favorite artists and why they have had a meaningful impact on your work?

I think developing a practice is much more valuable than the constant search for inspiration. Once you establish a practice of research, the information will come to you, versus always looking for the next thing to inspire you. Having a practice means that you already have so many things that you are interested in, that you do not have to look for inspiration. In fine arts I love the works of El Anatsui, Thomas Hirschhorn, David Hammons, and recently the painter  Zdzisław Beksiński. I have so many others though, this could be a very long list. I think each of these artists have shaped a bit of the discourse and language around the type of work that I make. They question art, society, blackness. They see beauty in the ugly, they have a mystic aspect and reference to history in their work. 

 Lastly, Where is your favorite place to work? Please share a photo.

I work at home because it’s comfortable. There’s this floor cushion we made out of Bogolan (or mudcloth) that I love to work at. I live in the house I grew up in here in Senegal, and it is so great because I have so many memories of my childhood which gives me a sense of security and freedom to express myself.