Senegal’s First Female Graffiti Artist Is Leaving a Fearless Mark
Growing up in Senegal’s capital of Dakar, Dieynaba Sidibe loved painting and often used her pocket money to buy art supplies. One day, she came home to find that her mother had thrown out all of her paints. Women shouldn’t be painting, her mother believed, and she encouraged her daughter to be a doctor instead.
“It was war,” recalls Sidibe of the hard-fought years when she went against her parents’ wishes to follow her passion. “Society has created a place for women, and when you try and go outside of that, there’s a problem.”
Despite the pushback, she continued painting and, after turning 18, moved on to graffiti through an interest in hip-hop culture and slam poetry. “I found I could express myself better on a wall as there was more space than a canvas.”
At 24, Sidibe is now considered Senegal’s first female graffiti artist.
She learned the craft thanks to fellow members of a hip-hop community at the Africulturban Center outside Dakar. “It was a little surprising because she was a woman,” says the center’s president, Matador, né Babacar Niang. “It was new for me because after 20 years, the only women we had here were interested in rap, and she was interested in graffiti as well.”
Matador encouraged her interest and saw her desire to break barriers as a positive shift. “I thought that she could bring something new to hip-hop culture because people thought only men were doing graffiti,” he says. “With graffiti she can show the role of women in society. If it’s coming from a woman, it’s even stronger.”
Graffiti art is frequently employed in West Africa as a tool for social change. Sidibe, who goes by the artist name Zienixx, uses it to promote women’s rights, including equal pay and educational access.
Through her work, she wants people to confront inequality in society and recognize the strength of women. “All women, everywhere—whether they are fishmongers, graffiti artists, or office workers—we are all fighters,” she says. “Women are fighting to be free to do what they want, to do work that pleases them, to be paid equally to men, and to follow their passion.”
Matador agrees: “There are so many families in Senegal whose mothers keep them together. These women wake up at four in the morning to go to the market and sell fish, and with the money they make they buy food and make a meal. The young men are asleep that whole time, so they wake up and find food, [and] they have no idea what their mothers went through to get that meal on the table.”
While Sidibe’s family now supports her graffiti art, she’s reflective of the fight it takes for women to exert their independence and abilities.
“What we can say in general is that if it’s a war, women have won a large battle,” she says. “They can express themselves: You find women in offices, women doctors, women in the military—you see them a bit everywhere.”
But, she adds, “one thing that should be spoken about is salary inequality. It’s not right that a man and woman can have the same education and capacity but receive a different salary at the end of the month. Work remains to be done. The fight will always continue.”
A version of this article previously appeared on One.org.