Issa Samb (who used the pseudonym Joe Ouakam) was born in Senegal in 1945 and studied Art at Institut National des Arts as well as Philosophy, Law and Sociology at Université de Dakar in the late 1960s.
Samb’s interdisciplinary work encompassed painting, drawing, sculpting, assemblage, installation, performance, playwriting, essay and note writing, and poetry. In 1974, together with a group of artists, writers, film-makers, performance artists and musicians, he founded the Laboratoire Agit’Art, whose aim was to transform the nature of artistic practice from a formalist, object-bound sensibility to practices based on experimentation and agitation, process rather than product, ephemerality rather than permanence. With a focus on the contingent character of actions, Laboratoire Agit’Art was informed by a critique of institutional power.
Despite never seeking to be exhibited, and preferring to show his works in his studio to escape the conformism of exhibition spaces, Samb co-founded Galerie Tenq – Village des Arts, Dakar. He is the author of numerous plays, poems and essays.
A retrospective of his work was held at the National Art Gallery, Dakar in 2010. His work has been included in exhibitions such as dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012; Biennale de l’Art Africain Contemporain, Dak’Art, Dakar, 2008; and ‘Seven Stories of Modern Art in Africa’, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1995. His first solo exhibition in Europe ‘Word!Word?Word! Issa Samb and the undecipherable form’ was on view at OCA, Office of Contemporary Norway in 2013.
In 2014, Iniva hosted his first UK solo exhibition, ‘From the Ethics of Acting to the Empire Without Signs‘ alongside an artist and curator talk around the work. The exhibition included materials and works shipped from Senegal alongside objets trouvés collected in London’s street markets. Fragments of Samb’s writings were central to the exhibition, as were footage and videos, and the short films of Jean Michel Bruyere, in which Samb featured as actor in Bruyere’s durational performance installations.
Samb passed away in his Laboratoire Agit’Art on 25 April 2017 at the age of 71. He had lived amongst his artworks in his courtyard-home-studio: a living, dynamic exhibition.