The material of Modou Dieng’s works, both literally and figuratively, is drawn from a sensitivity to popular culture—spanning music to fashion—as it once informed the imagination of this Senegalese young man and as it now informs Dieng’s reality in America today. Often these references are wholly explicit in his materials which have included black vinyl records, found photos and neckties. You will not be alone if you see in his work echoes of American artists in a pop vein from Rauschenberg to Warhol.
From the time that he arrived in Portland, Modou Dieng has never been satisfied with simply making art. He has had an active curatorial practice as well as playing cultural ambassador between Portland and places like Dakar, Antwerp, and San Francisco. He’s an assistant professor at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) who yearly takes students to Europe or to Dakar for a Global Studios immersion experience.
For five years, from 2007-2012 Dieng ran the independent arts space Worksound, hosting more than 50 exhibitions as well as performances, readings, talks and experimental music concerts. Unique in Portland for its broad ranging programming—poetry to punk to painting—in a scrappy Southeast space, Worksound was, as Dieng has called it a “lab of ideas and curatorial projects.” In addition to regular exhibitions of regional artists, Dieng brought curators and artists from the Bay Area, from Europe and from Australia. And Worksound hosted a residency project for artists and writers, as well.
Once the Worksound space reverted to artists’ studios, Dieng began work with a small group on a much more ambitious project: the NOW Portland Triennale. As initially described, NOW would bring six weeks of exhibitions and programming by an international slate of artists. The idea has been to bring a curator from each of a handful of countries to curate shows of their contemporaries and countrymen and women. The strategy Dieng laid out was to show international work in Portland that United States arts audiences could see nowhere else in the country. The project was announced last year with a symposium planned for this year. The organizers are planning the first Triennale for 2016.
Dieng has been called “one of the most internationally connected artists in Portland” for good reason. Born in Saint-Louis, Senegal, Dieng received his undergraduate degree from Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Senegal and his MFA from San Francisco Art Institute. He has exhibited in Milan, Madrid, Johannesburg, Paris, Brussels and Los Angeles.
Last year Dieng was curated into eMERGING: Visual Art & Music in a Post-Hip-Hop Era at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in New York. And last year, he collaborated with a PNCA alumni, Devon A. VanHouten-Maldonado, on An Interactive Installation at Linfield College based on a history of heroes and antiheroes in Mexico and Senegal. The pair will present collaborative work at Distjecta’s Portland2014 Biennial.
This spring, Dieng co-curated with Mack McFarland an exhibition of work by influential Belgian artist Luc Tuymans at PNCA’s Feldman Gallery + Project Space.