Yelimane Fall [1953-2019]

pootmifall.jpgYelimane Fall is an artist and community activist from Senegal, West Africa. He is the founder of the West African Calligraphy Institute. Mr. Fall specialized in Arabic calligraphy as contemporary African artistic expression. He was familiar with seven styles of calligraphy, from Ibn Muqla, Ibn Al Bawab, and Muntasimi and the Baghdad School, to the styles unique to black West Africa. With the advent of contemporary art, other styles have also appeared.
Mr. Fall made a revolution in West African calligraphy, infusing his work with a specifically African movement and rhythm.  He went beyond the traditional tools of the trade and experimented 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 was 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.
IMG_0364Yelimane 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 universal 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.
villagepiloteThrough the West African Calligraphy Institute, Yelimane devoted 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 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.
Yelimane’s goal was 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 relied 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 was 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 the spiritual tools to increase peace in themselves and on earth. Before he left us, Yelimane trained his son Fallou Fall in his spiritual knowledge and artistic technique, and together we continue the mission of building the West African Calligraphy Institute.
FullSizeRender (2).jpgMr. Fall may have left this earth in 2019, but through his artworks in Senegal and abroad, in his relationships with the young people of Senegal, and by the sheer breadth of his work during his lifetime, he sill lives in us and his work continues to work.   Currently, there is a calligraphy school in Nigeria, but there is no school or center specifically dedicated to the art of the West African calligraphic form for the purpose of instruction or research.  Fall is building the first permanent home for the West African Calligraphy Institute to receive  people from all over the world who wish to be trained in the Arabic calligraphy of West Africa, to produce artworks, and conduct related research. We are always calling for more support for this project, and encourage any interested sponsors (individuals or organizations) to contact us in order to assist in this crucial initiative.


2012 Interview with Yelimane Fall by The African Voices Project [click to watch video]

From website:
Yelimane Fall is originally from Ganjool (Gandiole), in the Louga District of Senegal. He studied in a French-medium primary school, and then went to a Technical Secondary School (le Lycée Technique André-Peytavin). He studied woodworking there. After completion, he then served in the army and worked in the Department of transmission, in radio and telephone. He completed his military service in the town of Ziguinchor in the Casamance area. After that he worked as an industrial illustrator in Dakar. He drew up all types of plans in wood. He then became the technical and administrative director of a wood construction corporation.
Along the way, Yelimane became familiar with the Quran and learned to read and write in Arabic. God gave him the inspiration, and made him hunger for Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, the founding shaykh of the Murid movement in Senegal, and to want to work for him, so he left that office position and entered the way of tarbiya.
This interview of Yelimane Fall was conducted by Dr. Alex Zito in the spring of 2012 during Fall’s third trip to the United States, on the occasion of an exhibition of his work in a gallery on the Boston University campus. In this interview, Yelimane Fall speaks in great detail and at length on his own life, his understanding of faith and religion, and the relationship between his faith and his art works. He draws on many sources for his inspiration and for his material, including passages relating to his faith in both Arabic and in Wolof as expressed in the Quran, and also in the works of the founders and leaders of the Muridiyya Sufi order of Senegal. Muridiyya is a powerful movement with its own elaborate system of pedagogy and discourse which Murids adhere to in order to solidify their relationship to the founder of the movement, Ahmadu Bamba Mbakke. Through the means of calligraphic art rooted in Arabic language characters as well as Ajami Wolof characters which involve the use of Arabic language characters to express the Wolof language, Yelimane Fall captures this relationship that Murids have with the Muridiyya Sufi order, its prophets, leaders and practitioners.
Fall said:
“Lack of studying the Quran or Islamic sciences is not a handicap. I liken it to a game we used to play, where one of us would lead, and the rest would place their hands each other’s shoulders forming a chain, then close our eyes. Even though we couldn’t see where we were going, the one leading had his eyes open, he knew the way. So whoever follows the way of tarbiya, finds a godly man who can lead him to his Lord. Wherever such a person is going, he goes there for God’s sake. So if he takes you by the hand and you follow along, wherever he ends up, you arrive there with him.”
“One day, my shaykh explained to me, the Murid way has two types of people: those who work and those who worship God. The one who worships God must have peace and resigned faith: if he finds himself being called back by the things of this world, his worship of God will not be fulfilled. In order for the one who worships God to satisfy his work, he needs a worker to assist him. So when he completes his work, he should also extend gratitude to the one who worked for him and made his own work possible. And that thanks is a blessing. Myself, the thanks of Sëriñ Tuubaa are all I seek. Everything I do, in Senegal, here in Boston, everywhere. If I don’t have the thanks of Sëriñ Tuubaa, I will not have what I want, either in this world or where I’m headed in the next.”