|The AFRO today:||upper value: 1 AFRO =310.0 Euro|
|Circulation: over 90 500 000 000 AFRO||lower value: 1 AFRO =285.7 Euro|
by Mansour Ciss and Baruch Gottlieb and presented at the Dakar Biennale of
Contemporary African Art, May 10th, 2002.
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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
Now Available: The AFRO!
At all locations of the Dakar Biennale
Here’s a currency which invites us to reflect on the current economic realities in Africa
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|