One-time Senegal prince opens Iowa City store selling African goods

Crowning Achievement

Photo credit: Buzz Orr Photos/The Gazette

By Amy Jennings
The Gazette

IOWA CITY – Although he does not consider himself royalty, Iowa City resident Abdala Faye wants you to call him Prince.

The 32-year-old grandson of former Senegalese king Mbaye Ndiay Djaly shed the prefix two decades ago when he left his family in the Lebou Republic in Senegal to avoid service in a government that he does not trust.

Now in the United States on a grant to pursue his life passion of painting and sculpture, the rogue nobleman includes the title on his artwork to impart a sing of sarcasm.

“It’s because I want you to know that anyone can be a prince or a princess,” he said. “the only ones (princes) that are real are those that do good things for humanity.”

On Friday, Eastern Iowans will be able to purchase Faye’s paintings and other authentic African goods when his store, Akebuland, officially opens in the lower level of Uptown Bill’s Small Mall, 401 S. Gilbert St. It will carry items crafted by villagers in Ndem, Faye’s former Senegalese home.

Faye said he draws designs of the items and sends them by fax to the village, which is a haven for the practice of a type of Islam he called baayfallism. Faye said the religion hinges on the belief that work is a form of worship.

He has received two shipments of goods from Ndem so far.He said the shop is a way to support the village as well as to raise awareness in the United States of conditions of Africa.

Faye, who moved to Minnesota from Africa in 2001 on a grant for his artwork, said the active art community in Iowa City is one of the reasons he moved here. His artwork also is on display at Galleries Downtown, 218 E. Washington St.

“He is one of the most gentle men that I have ever met,” said Tom Walz, Small Mall director.

Walz met Faye when he and his wife, Jill Faye, came in for a cup of coffee.

A rocky history preceded him.

At age 12, Faye said he knew art, not government service was his life’s calling. Because art was classified as the work of lazy people in Senegal, Faye left his home in west Africa when he was 15 to wander the continent and Europe.

Crowning Achievement
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He traveled east to Burkina Faso, where he learned the methods of batik, which is printing on cloth with wax, and mudclothe, which is printing on cloth with a mixture of mud and herbs. Both mudclothe and batik are available at Akebuland.

Painting with his fingers until this year, Faye used his artwork as a vehicle to express his opinions on the conditions of Africa. Before each show, Faye covered his paintings with brown packaging paper and scrawled messages on the front. In a gesture symbolic of activism, attendees of the show ripped off the paper to reveal the painting underneath.

Faye said he is calling for a cultural revolution in Africa to demonstrate the strength of a continent dominated by foreign interests. The former student protester was shot in the upper right torso by a Senegalese soldier during the breakup of a 1988 demonstration.

“We are not poor, we are very, very rich, so why don’t we use that to tell the world who we are?” Faye said.

Faye said he plans to return to Africa one day. Although he doesn’t not speak with his father, a linguist who created an African alphabet, Faye said that he speaks at least once a week with his mother. His mother is the daughter of the former Senegalese king.

“This is all spiritual,” Faye said. “I believe in sharing with the community and bringing people to understand that there are other people out there with the same philosophy of love, togetherness and work.”