Graffiti to save lives

cover-graffiti-senegalIn Senegal, graffiti artists engage actively in the fight against the coronavirus, by creating murals relating to Covid-19 on city walls, to spread information and warn the population and also to support healthcare personnel confronting the disease. Realised in a very short time by the ‘Fondation Dapper’, the free online book Le Graffiti pour sauver des vies : l’art s’engage contre le coronavirus au Sénégal preserves some of this street art, by definition ephemeral, created during the corona pandemic.

Government measures

In response to the growing coronavirus outbreak in Senegal, the government closed the country’s airspace and shut down restaurants, schools and mosques. On 23 March President Macky Sall declared the state of emergency, imposing travel restrictions and a curfew of 8 p.m. As of 29 June the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has climbed to 6,793 and 108 deaths, and the President stated in a message to the Nation that the fight against the virus is not over yet, but in the interest of the economy, the state of emergency would be lifted on 30 June at 23.00 h. The President underlined the importance of the attitude of the citizens to protect themselves and wearing a face mask remains mandatory at public places, in public transport, at work and in shops.
While strict confinement is very difficult to impose in a country like Senegal, where many people need to go out on the streets every day to gain their daily bread, protective measures like keeping one’s distance and frequent washing of hands are crucial.

Graffiti is communicationgraffiti-sen.2

To raise awareness among citizens, in a country where half of the population is illiterate, street art is an effective means of communication. Graffiti artists have taken on their responsibility, as they see it, to reach as many people as possible by creating murals to illustrate proper hygiene practices and to encourage everyone to stay home at night and respect the curfew. The paintings show people washing their hands with soap and water and sneezing into their elbows, for example. Sometimes, the images are accompanied by slogans like “Took Len Sen Keur” (Stay at home) or “Xeex Corona” (Fighting corona) or an emergency telephone number.The artworks are usually made on walls in public places where a lot of people pass by: traffic junctions, hospitals, schools.

Not only in cities in Senegal, but throughout Africa graffiti artists have been making paintings to educate the public on social and health issues. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, for example, artists painted murals to inform people of the deadly effects of the virus. While in Europe graffiti is often seen as vandalism, and considered an illegal act, in Senegal graffiti has never been forbidden. It is respected as an art. The artists claim the public space not only with an aesthetic vocation, but frequently also with a didactic one. Informing and raising awareness is the essence of this artform in Senegal. They take on themes like illegal immigration, health, the environment, or the respect towards the elderly.


Le Graffiti pour sauver des vies  provides a brief overview of the history of graffiti in Senegal. The author recalls that the identity of Senegalese graffiti artists is tightly connected to the political and social movement of Set Setal that emerged at the end of the 1980s, coinciding with the appearance of hip-hop in the country. In Wolof, Set Setal means ‘clean’ (set) and ‘to make clean’ (setal). After violent rebellions in difficult economic circumstances, the youth started a mission to clean up and embellish Dakar with murals. But besides the transformation of neglected places, the historian Mamadou Diouf explains that “this double term also refers to notions of moral cleanliness in the face of the corruption of the ruling classes.”


The book also contains informative interviews with some of the country’s leading graffiti artists, as well as with Ati Diallo, a manager of graffiti artists, who initiated the first mural dealing with the coronavirus in Dakar.

Finally, the book describes three major collectives of graffiti artists and lists their members:

Created in 1994 par Docta, le Doxandem Squad  was Senegal’s first collective of graffiti artists. Doxandem means ‘nomad’ in Wolof, the one who seeks to share and to gather knowledge. In 2008, the collective co-created the caravan Graff & Santé, which travels the country painting murals dealing with preventive health measures (hygiene, malaria, HIV/AIDS) and offering free medical consultations to the poor. Doxandem Squad was also at the roots of the Festigraff, a leading graffiti festival that takes place in Dakar, bringing together artists from all over the world every year.

RBS Radikl Bomb Shot: This graffiti collective was formed in 2012 to respond to social issues in a manner that would be accessible to youth. Past projects have focused on violence against women and portraits of significant African leaders such as Nelson Mandela.

Undu Graffiti is the youngest of the graffiti collectives. Undu Graffiti specializes in freestyle: the artists create instantly, with bystanders watching on. They were the first to produce graffiti pointing to the dangers of the coronavirus.


This multimedia book offers several links to songs and video footage (on YouTube). For instance, the musical clip ‘Daan corona’ (To overcome corona), with contributions from amongst others Youssou N’Dour and Awadi. 

To find more information in the ASCL library catalogue on Mural art in Africa, click on the subject term below. For Senegal, go to the left-hand column ‘Refine my results’ and select ‘Senegal’ in ‘Topic’.
Mural art

For up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Africa, see

Elvire Eijkman