The AFRO today: upper value: 1 AFRO =310.0 Euro
Circulation: over 90 500 000 000 AFRO lower value: 1 AFRO =285.7 Euro

The last 2 black and gold sachets of 7 limited edition numbered bills still available for 4,5Î or 3000 FCFA. 100 2nd edition sachets now available.

 

The Afro, a prototype currency for all Africa

created by Mansour Ciss and Baruch Gottlieb and presented at the Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art, May 10th, 2002.

 

The fact of the FCFA

 

The fact we are presented with is as follows.  Despite the official ‘independence’ of all the former French colonies of Africa, the unit of currency in use is the same as was used before ‘independence’: the FCFA, the franc of the French colonies of Africa (Franc des Colonies Français D’afrique).  The FCFA is not colonial in name alone, on January 11, 1994, the devaluation of the Franc, a decision imposed on the BCEAO’s governors (Central Bank of West African States) by Parisian officials, plunged West Africa into a severe economic crisis, underlining the lack of west African economic sovereignty

 

Media Art Strategy

 

We developed a cultural strategy to help elaborate the problem and provoke reflection on solutions:  The AFRO.  A response to the innovation of the Euro, creating a single currency zone administered by and for all Africans would facilitate the reorganisation and regrouping of local economic interests in such a way as to bolster trading positions vis a vis the developed world.  We decided to provide the people of Dakar and Senegal with a fait accompli, we would present them with printed bills called AFRO in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 mimicking a real currency.  With ‘real bills’ in their hands, people would be compelled to reflect on the meaning (value) of money and the future of their own local currency.

 

The bills were designed along very personal standards…they were, after all, not meant to be the definitive bills to be implemented in the zone, only a mere suggestion of a future money and a cultural provocation.  The only human visage used on the bills is of Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegalese President and poet who preached that the future of Africa would be forged through cultural and biological ‘metissage’.  As the success of our collaboration is in the power and pleasure of cultural metissage, we felt we were honouring Senghor's vision in the creation of the AFRO.  

Other graphic elements were derived through sampling and analysis of various currencies of Europe and Africa past and present, traditional architecture, symbols and motifs.  I combined these elements digitally and made futuristic extrapolations, freed from the necessity of creating something that would necessarily have to look like a real bill.  The bills were printed at the last minute in Berlin and were brought to Leopold Sedar Senghor Airport in Dakar by Christian Hannussek on the night of May 6th, 2002. 

We immediately set about presenting them to the other artists of the biennale hanging out in the bar of the Novotel. (Ironically, the Novotel is located directly adjacent to the BCEAO).   The reaction was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  Though the polemic discourse seemed a bit out of place in the ‘art’ context, I maintained that the creation of unsponsored mass-print simulacra with no other aim than to stimulate the senses and intellect qualified it as a media art product.   We organized the bills into 999 numbered sets of 7 bills.  We had little sachets sewn up by Mr Seck, our tailor, to house the series work, and decided on the sale price of 3000 FCFA (about 4,5Î).

 

We elaborated the idea of the mobile exchange office.  I designed and printed up a poster locally, which would be used to adorn local bread or lotto-vendor kiosks to look like official exchanges offices for the AFRO:

CULTURAL CONCEPT

 

www.deberlinisation.de

Mobile Exchange Office

 

(the symbol for the afro is a hybrid of the Latin and Arab ‘a’)

Exchange your CFAs for the money of the future!

Now Available: The AFRO!

At all locations of the Dakar Biennale 2002

Here’s a currency which invites us to reflect on the current economic realities in Africa

 

 

Implementation

 

The first stand was set up at the entrance to the main exhibition space next to Emeka Udemba’s ‘World White Walls’, which depicted an airport immigration area.  The glue on the posters was still wet when Fatou Kine Ndiaye began presenting the Afros to the first visitors to the Biennale at 11am, may 10th, 2002.  Amazingly the team of workers we got to help move the kiosk into position asked to be paid in AFROS, preferring above all the 20 Afro bill, with its green Senghor.

Fatou Kine became integral to the Afro experience at CISES (a now somewhat forlorn utopian seventies complex, built for the World Fair in 1970 and presently the location of the official competition exposition of the Biennale), proved herself to be very proficient relating the impetus behind the creation, and was rewarded with a lot of media attention as well as a hefty commission in FCFAs on every ‘exchange’.

 

At the opening, Mansour presented two sachets to the Minister of Culture Amadou Wane and his Press Attaché Alessandre Cisse.  Later that day, Mr Wane had a meeting with the governor of the BCEAO to whom he felt compelled to give his sachet, commandeering the one given to his attaché, who came to us for a replacement.  The security guard at the elevators of our hotel asked me if I was an artist, I assented and handed him a 10 Afro note so as to show my brand of art, he slipped it directly into his pocket with a grateful smile without looking at it.

On the 15th, we presented the Afro to Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade, whose first reaction was “are you counterfeiters?”  Later I got to present our whole concept to him as part of the net.art forum, our web site, and how it related to our current activities.  Mr Wade grilled us about our intentions, and why we put Senghor on the bill instead of someone like Houphouet-Boigny who had had a lot more to say about African economic union…Mansour responded that we considered this a cultural product with possible socio-economic side-effects – we were not interested in proposing the definitive money for all Africa.  Mr Wade later told us we could keep the Afro because the name of the currency under consideration as part of the NEPAD (New Partnership for African Development) is not Afro…he did not disclose what it would be.  He suggested we meet the governor of the BCEAO and present the bills to him personally – something we have yet to arrange.

We gave away a lot of unnumbered bills but never full sets. Sometimes people would become particularly forceful in their requests but we were able to maintain our strategy of only selling full sets.  

We were interviewed for Austrian Television, TV5, Dutch National radio and even Canadian Community TV.  A big article by Jean Pires came out in le Soleil, which spread the news of the AFRO throughout the land.  We covered our van with Mobile Exchange Office posters and left for Saint Louis, the old colonial capital of all French Africa, now largely a dilapidated New Orleans with a huge and filthy slum but they had already heard about the Afro.  Gas station attendants would read the posters while filling us up and timidly inquire that the Afro really existed, we’d always give them a few and tell what we were about.

 

We went deep into the Sahel and then back to the petit cote where our solo exhibitions were on.  There we set up a local Exchange office at the Telecenter at the first crossroads into Ngaparou.  We went back to Dakar, where the irreplaceable Fatou Kine had to be replaced. We plastered our other vehicle with Mobile Exchange Office posters and left it parked at the Village des Arts.  We set up little sales outlets at the Vema (site of the design competition of the Biennale) and the Galerie Nationale, and did a workshop on the Afro as a media art project with art students at the College St. Marie de Hann.

 

The Value of the Afro

 

The Afro began as a net-based provocation, which has since evolved into a physical art-object.  The question inevitably arose  - what is the exchange rate? How much is this worth?  I always had to say I couldn’t say for sure.  We ‘exchanged’ 3000 FCFA for a cloth sachet with a limited edition of 7 numbered bills representing 885 Afros, which, if you take the cloth sachet as a gift, the rate would be about 3,4 FCFA: 1 Afro or 196,2 Afros: 1 Euro, however depending on, of course, demand, the value will fluctuate.  For real collectors there is even the question of the first edition of sachets, black with golden couries, which is limited to 100.  There are still about 10 of these left and, of course about more than 800 sets of Afros still available for 4.5 Euros, 3000 FCFA or the equivalent.   Another indicator would be to try to exchange your Afros for goods or services or other currency on the open market.  So far we only had the experience paying some workers for about 15 minutes of hard labour moving our kiosk into position, most of them got 20 Afros for their trouble.  The average daily wage for unskilled work in Senegal is about 1500 FCFA or about 2.25Î per day, which would mean about 7 Eurocents for the time, they spent helping us.  In this case the exchange rate would be 285.7 Afros to the Euro, meaning that either the value of the cloth sachet is equivalent to about 400 Afros or we overvalued the Afro in our exchanges about 50%.  Thus:

upper value: 1 AFRO=310.0 Euro lower value: 1 AFRO=285.7 Euro

The last 2 black and gold sachets of 7 limited edition numbered bills still available for 4,5 or 3000 FCFA. 100 2nd edition sachets now available.

 

afro@deberlinisation.de  

Baruch Gottlieb

Berlin, 04.06.02

 

home