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Solo Exhibition

From May 01, 2023 to May 31, 2023

The Sufi Brotherhoods of Senegal

Christian Bobst

© Christian Bobst, winner of May 2023 Solo Exhibition

Artist Statement


The photographs in this series are part of a long-term project that began in 2012 and was last updated with new pictures in March 2023. The aim is to provide a broader audience with an insight into an Islamic society that is in many ways very different from those commonly known from the Arab world. The series explores the spiritual practices and rituals of the Sufi brotherhoods and how they shape everyday life in Senegal. It also shows how they maintain peace and stability in the country, as well as their own power and wealth, by promoting a tolerant form of Islam rather than dogmatic rules and oppression.

In Senegal, 95 percent of the population is Muslim and belongs to a Sufi brotherhood, more than any other Muslim population in the world. These brotherhoods, also known as tariqas, are spiritual orders that combine elements of Islam with traditional African beliefs and practices. Their teachings emphasize the importance of non-violence, tolerance, and respect for others.

Although Senegal has a secular form of government, Islam is much more than a religion in the country. It is a way of life that permeates the entire society. The marabouts, or spiritual leaders of the brotherhoods, are highly respected and influential figures in Senegalese society. The Senegalese even practice a strong personality cult around the founders of the Sufi brotherhoods and their descendants. Their names and portraits can be found on countless murals, on the lettering of colorfully painted buses, as posters in shopping malls and textile factories, and on almost all taxis.

There are several major Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal, each with its own unique teachings and practices. The most prominent of these are the Tijaniyya, the Muridiyya, the Qadiriyya and the Layene. These brotherhoods have millions of followers in Senegal and around the world. Many of their followers are involved in various economic activities, such as agriculture and trade, that contribute to the overall economic development of the country.

But where there is light, there must be shadow. Some accuse the brotherhoods of mafia-like structures and shady business dealings. There is also frequent criticism of the contributions that the faithful must pay to the spiritual leaders and the brotherhoods. And last but not least, there are those who say that the brotherhoods are in the pockets of politicians and prevent important reforms that hinder the country's progress.

Nevertheless, it's undeniable that the brotherhoods promote social cohesion and unity among different ethnic and religious groups. Perhaps because of this, Senegal has never experienced a terrorist attack and is considered an anchor of stability in West Africa.

Curator: Christy Karpinski, Founder and editor of F-Stop Magazine

The Sufi Brotherhoods of Senegal


Christian Bobst was born in Switzerland in 1971 and began his career as a photographer in 2008, after having worked for more then a decade in the advertsing industry as an award-winning art and creative Director. Within a few years he was able to make a name for himself in reportage photography, too.

Bobst has received a list of important photography awards and accolades, including prizes at the 2016 World Press Photo Award, the 2017 NPPA "Best of Photojouralism" Award, the 77th Picture of the Year international (POYi) and the 2020 Swiss Press Photo Award. His work has been featured in numerous magazines, daily newspapers and online media such as GEO, Stern, The Guardian, National Geographic, Die Zeit, NZZ, LensCulture and 6mois.

Christian Bobst's work often focuses on social and cultural issues, including stories from a variety of countries and continents, but with an emphasis on Senegal and Africa. He has a passion for capturing stories and moments that are often overlooked. His priority is to cover issues that have received little media attention and bring them to a wider audience through his photography.

Christian Bobst lives in Zurich, works freelance and is a member of the photo agency laif in Germany.

He also still works as an Art and Creative director.