Launch of a Career

The complex place of gender in Sy's personal and creative narratives involves self-affirmation, transgression, and play. In her own life, Sy speaks of her mother's loyalty when she used profits from weaving commissions to buy her talented teenage daughter a sewing machine. Refusing her family's choice of suitors, Sy rebelled and married a mixed-race, Roman Catholic, Cape Verdean. The marriage ended in divorce, however, and at that point she moved around the country, finally settling in the old African district of colonial Dakar, the Medina, with her children. With the help of Dakar artists like Kalidou Sy, director of the School of Fine Arts, she launched her career in Dakar. Sy conceals her struggle in her playful figures of womanhood, especially perfume woman, cy-

berwoman, and calabash woman. The costumes worn by these characters present a subversive, mocking femininity in which icons used to polarize Africa and the West as primitive and civilized societies, respectively, are employed as decoration. She said in an interview for France's TV5, "Europeans think Africa is just too much, excess, and that's what calabash woman is about." She also commented in an interview at the Prince Claus Fund award ceremony, "Women of the future will be complete, outfit, accessories, everything" by looking to origins and reconstructing themselves aesthetically.

Since 1989 Sy has produced costumes, sets, hairstyles, and makeup for seventeen films, thirteen staged shows, and for musicians such as Baaba Maal and Yous-sou N'dour. This has brought her prizes from major festival contests and a much broader audience than fashion shows would allow. In the film Hyenas (1992), splendor adorns not royalty but the slaves of an old woman who was cast out from her home village as a young, pregnant girl and comes back to exact revenge. Obsessed with raw power, she uses her slaves to exhibit her beauty, power, and wealth. While Sy's designs for this woman and her entourage create spectacles in some scenes, their neutral tones fuse with the desert scenery to create visual effects of severity.

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