A recent awardee of Arts Council England’s Grants For The Arts program, I am participating in a 2 month residency investigating post-colonialism and the uncanny body in Saint Louis, Senegal. With additional support from WAAW Centre for Art, this blog charts my research into narrative and mysticism, as well as the highs, and lows, of life on residency.

Previous entries document my Royal Scottish Academy John Kinross Scholarship to Florence in 2010, an Arts Trust Scotland Grant to exhibit in London in 2011, an RSA Residencies for Scotland Bursary in association with Creative Scotland and the Cromarty Arts Trust for residency on the Black Isle in 2011, and residencies in Cataluna with a stipend from Can Serrat International Art Centre in 2012 and 2014.

@CusworthRebecca |  rcusworth.com



Yesterday we installed Gris Gris at the Newbridge Project, and it think it went rather well.

So if you’re around Newcastle this afternoon, why not pop into the Newbridge Project Annex for tea, or a glass of fizz – both should take the chill off you – brrrr it’s cold out there!


Excuse the hop over to the UK.. I’ll take you back to Senegal next blog post, but I would very much love to invite you to my exhibition opening at the Newbridge Project Saturday 24th Jan.

Senegalese teas will be served tomorrow afternoon 3-6pm, while you can view a few of my sculptures developed from my time in Senegal.


Hope to meet you there!


The sacrifice of food to Mame Coumba Bang has held my interest, appealing to my fascination with turning every day items into tools for ritual and transformation. I’m certain I want to use these sacrificial food stuffs in my own work, and I am going to do it first through combining this notion with the other decisive element in the lives of the senegalese, the making of extravagant clothes.


Women here in Saint Louis adorn their bodies dazzling dresses, figure hugging to the nth degree, tailored to follow the contours of their body exactly. Garnished with faux jewels and sequins, large proportions of money is spent on having new clothes made. Clothes are the statement of success here.

And while small fortunes are spent on having new clothes made for social events, many women dress in fine garments for everyday jobs I’d be more comfortable in slacks and a tshirt. The waitresses and cleaners are dressed exquisitely for work. Amie, WAAWs maid, scrubs and sweeps in beautiful hammered bazin, a flash of red cord accents the turquoise shell of her dress.

These richly coloured wraps of cloth have inspired me to create my own signature fabrics, and I want to create dyes from the foods found here in Saint Louis.


So it’s off to the market.

I cross the bridge towards Guet Ndar, the fisherman’s village I recently wrote about, but instead of turning left into their home streets, I make a right into the labyrinth of their market.

A disorientating maze of high concrete walls, thin paths littered with the debris from the multitude of tailors clustered jungle of shops. Skinny cats slink around hoping to steal scraps from the fish mongers. Disfigured and emaciated, a new mother cat is nestled under a sandal stall attempting to suckle her kittens, one is already has a horrid gouge when his left eye should be.

A few twists and turns, and I find a stall that will sell me a pure cotton, a fabric that passes the burn test. I’d be warned about sellers passing off nylon mixes as cotton, so I’m armed with a lighter to test the cloth before I purchase it. A couple of previous shops couldn’t give me what I needed, but this third shop passes the test, and price agreed I pop the newspaper wrapped package in my bag.



Heading deeper in to the labyrinth of highly stacked stalls, I’m looking for out a herb shop to find the products for dye making. A find a fantastic little place within a couple of minutes, a simple pop up table stacked with furs, skins, bones, and other magical paraphernalia. Perfumes and herbs are wrapped in tight bundles and tumble from sacks. I selected a few to play with, dried hibiscus, usually sold for the making of senegalese bissap juice, bay leaves and turmeric.



Back at WAAW I boil these herbs in water on the little gas stove, reduce them, until I’m left with richly coloured liquids. Pleating and binding the fabric with cotton twine, my first dye tests are ready to try.



A few weeks into my stay in Senegal and I’ve really mastered the art of a well tucked mosquito net (after waking up with a cockroach on your head you really up your game).


Sleep is my holy grail here in Senegal. I consider myself not a squeamish character, so voluminous presence of insects doesn’t irk me much. But I’m unexpectedly disturbed by the constant noise of the city. Unfortunately I underestimate the impact of the nightly calls the pray, the chatter of the fruit sellers and the late night singing practice. After a month, my hopes of becoming accustomed to the noise are growing dimmer.

Luckily I find solace on roof of WAAW, laying on the concrete, watching ospreys and swallows circle above, the open skies comfort me.

Here, reading in the evening light, I’ve been following up on notes of the river goddess Mama Coumba Bang, collected from the residents of Saint Louis.



They are white, for luck

Curdled milk – lait caille. crushed millet – bouillie de mil. sugar, kola nuts, sheep or goat milk, silver coins. Commonest is laax – mixture of curdled milk crushed and millet.

offering cow or sheep,  cut in half. the first half is divided into 30 pieces. 15 for sea, 15 for river. 2nd half is given to impoverished. white ox is the ideal sacrifice

be quiet on way and way back from giving her offerings

a young inexperienced girl makes an offering before rainy season. she takes a pirogue to centre of the river, women sing the entire time.

Her domain – neeg:

‘just along the river on the area on the north end of the island from the Pont Faidherbe to the crane made in colonial times’

next to the bridge ‘waxande MCB – MCB armoir

Small grove on next island next to the crane is ‘son salon’ ‘her living room’

Her sister ‘ mame cantaye’ guardian for the langue de barbarie.


well before sunrise she sits at the edge of the river to get fresh air

times of day – njoloor (noon to 3pm) timis ‘twilight to 2am’ the spirits come out.

comes out end of the rainy season.

‘put red powder around your eyes in order to see Mame Coumba Bang’



I have a lot more research to do on Mame Coumba Bang, but what I’ve discovered so far is already providing a wealth of inspiration for my practice. Ideas for my own interpretations are beginning to fester in my (sleep deprived) mind.


The fate of the Lebou has effected me, and has me preoccupied with the damaging aspect of magical thinking. In my previous works I’ve celebrated magical thinking as a preservation of cultural traditions, a protest of capitalism, and even a festive break from the monotony of modern life. But here magical thinking is a crux of the vulnerable, a place where marabouts amass large fortunes in return for the promise of cures.


More research at the WAAW library reveals further evidence of the Lebou problematic relationship with magic.

In August of 1999, at the peak of the atlantic hurricane season, a tropical depression four developed west of Senegal, resulting in Hurricane Cindy which flooded Saint Louis, destroying much of the Lebou settlement, devastating their fishing livelihood. The Senegalese government offered a pittance of compensation, but this went unchallenged by the fisherman, as they handled the situation with a remarkable passivity. Believing the hurricane was sent to destroy them as punishment for offending the river goddess, the Lebou only sought to appease the deity by throwing curdled milk into the river as an offering.

They turned down an opportunity to ask for vital funds to rebuild their lives, putting all their faith in the goddess.


This goddess is Mame Coumba Bang, a female deity that resides in the Saint Louis river. She has sparked my curiosity so I’ll now be spending some time researching this river goddess who has so much sway of the lives of the Lebou.