Yelimane Fall is an visual artist and community activist living in Senegal, West Africa. He is also the founder and director of the West African Calligraphy Institute.
Mr. Fall specializes in Arabic calligraphy as contemporary African artistic expression. He is familiar with seven styles of calligraphy, from Ibn Muqla, Ibn Al Bawab, and Muntasimi and the Baghdad School, in addition to the styles unique to black West Africa. With the advent of contemporary art, other styles have also appeared.
Mr. Fall is making a revolution in calligraphy, infusing his work with a specifically African movement and rhythm. He goes beyond the traditional tools of the trade and experiments with pencils, brushes, and acrylics, making the form of his letters naturally graceful, sweeping, and sinuous. In addition to his mastery of a uniquely West African calligraphic form, Mr. Fall is learned in the mystical, numerological, and symbolic aspects of the letters that make up his work. He has spoken on the historical, cultural and spiritual importance of his artworks at various international conferences (American Institute of Maghrib Studies, 2009) and universities, worked with young people internationally, and his art has been exhibited at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, and Boston University, and other museums around the world.
Yelimane Fall’s calligraphy focuses on the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, verses from the Quran, and the Sufi poetry of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, founder of the Muridiyya Sufi Brotherhood, which was started in Senegal in the mid-nineteeth century. Bamba’s poetry and teachings center on the themes of education and community, non-violence and inner peace, and the equation of hard work with blessing and dignity. Mr. Fall refers to himself as “The Messenger of the Faith” (Le Messager de la Foi in French) and signs his paintings “MF” for this reason. He draws inspiration from the philosophy of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba, and his personal motto is: Faith, Uprightness, and Knowledge, for an interior and universal peace.
Yelimane’s goal is to help young people suffering from unemployment and lack of purpose symptomatic of inner-city life in Senegal—and everywhere else in the world. He relies upon his formal training in graphic arts to teach and encourage, and is further motivated by the philosophy and life lessons of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. He is committed to passing his techniques on to the younger generation, in order to preserve the rich Islamic cultural traditions of Senegal and Black West Africa and give young people powerful tools to express themselves and positively influence the communities in which they live.
Through the West African Calligraphy Institute, Yelimane devotes a significant amount of time doing workshops on painting and calligraphy with children from the streets and resource poor communities around Dakar, Senegal. For over 10 years, he worked with the international NGO Village Pilote, which provides shelter, education, and reintegration services for at-risk children who have been found living on the streets of Dakar. Additionally Mr. Fall worked led the XALIMA project with inner city daaras, and brought international visitors and delegations to the refuge to educate them about the work of the organization, Senegalese culture and educational practices, and other youth-related development issues.
At present Mr. Fall continues to produce art, work with young people, and exhibit both in Sénégal and internationally. Currently, there is no school or center dedicated to the art of West African calligraphy for the purpose of instruction or research. Fall would like to build the first permanent home for the West African Calligraphy Institute to receive young people from all over the world who wish to be trained in the Arabic calligraphy of black Africa. We have acquired land and Yelimane is dedicating the profits from his artwork to lay the foundations for the center. Fall is calling for support for this project, and encourages any interested sponsors (individuals or organizations) to contact him in order to assist in this crucial initiative.