Made in Senegal

Craft & Design Home Workshop
Made in Senegal

Written and photographed by Daniela Steinsapir

Whole families of crafters find ingenious ways to use recycled materials.

Last summer, I visited my sister in Dakar, Senegal. As an artist and art teacher, I was inspired to see that the DIY movement, especially the impulse to find new ways of making things from recycled objects, has roots all around the world.

Like most crafters, the Senegalese exhibit ingenuity in their crafts. They use computer parts, discarded electronics, wood, wire, Coca-Cola and Nescafé cans, books, sand, plastics, natural pigments from trees, car and bicycle parts, spray paints, construction tools, hardware, and anything they can take apart and hack. With these they create tiny sculptures, guitars, decorative shelving, chairs, and frames, among many other items.

Crafters work inside makeshift studios near local open markets, or within their own small, family-run factories. One of the factories I visited, located in the district of Niaye Tioker, is run by Makha Dembele, 59, who has a small showroom facing the street where he sells his designs directly to the public. He also sells to distributors who take his goods to other markets.

Inside the factory and shop, where Dembele has five employees including his brother and nephews, working spaces are divided by different jobs. There is a woodshop area, a wire and metal area, and a can area. Crafters in the can area first remove the lid, then unfurl each can into a colorful sheet of metal. They cut the sheets into shapes that they apply to their designs: a picture frame, a chair, a chest of drawers.

When applying the can sheets to miniature wire sculptures, they cut the metal into tiny shapes and fold them into the wire. Before nailing the sheets onto wood, they first merge the sheets together with very thin screws or staples, then apply those pieces to the furniture.

Once this phase is completed, they might add other elements and materials to give each piece a unique touch. Beginners who start working at these small factories first learn about woodwork and metalwork, and once they’ve mastered the basics, start adding their own personality and experience to the design.

To add decorative embellishments, crafters use bottle tops and tiny pieces of broken hardware from cars or other old mechanisms, such as spray can buttons that become miniature car wheels.

The result is an eclectic mix of new creations that include folklore, tradition, and influences from all over Africa, and show the crafter’s own imagination.

About the author:

Daniela Steinsapir ( is an artist working on a space art project involving parabolic flight. She teaches electronics and robotics in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Above is an excerpt from the pages of CRAFT Vol. 10 (2009).

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