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First Lady Gets Look at Senegalese Art

Viewing the work of three of Senegal's most prominent artists, first lady Laura Bush singled out for special admiration a somber oil painting inspired by a classic American art form — jazz music.

As President Bush and top administration officials met with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade on Tuesday, Senegal's first lady, Viviane Wade, gave Mrs. Bush a tour of local artwork at the colonnaded presidency.

A trio of paintings called "Composition," with dark backgrounds, colorful swirls and geometric shapes, got Mrs. Bush thinking about the ways artists on both sides of the Atlantic have drawn from each other's cultures.

"Artists in Africa are inspired by jazz just like American artists are inspired by traditional ideas in African art," she said, artist Souleymane Keita looking on. "I like the idea of the wedding of our cultures."

The U.S. delegation arrived early Tuesday on the first leg of a five-day, five-nation African tour. One of the Bushes' twin daughters, 21-year-old Barbara, joined her mother at the art installation.

They viewed Germaine Anta Gaye's glass paintings — a traditional medium — depicting city life before Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.

"Beautiful," Mrs. Bush murmured.

"The arts have always been important to me," Mrs. Bush said after the 20-minute tour. "I'm also very interested in the idea of contemporary art that comes out of the traditions of any culture — still having the opportunity to expand, while not losing their traditional art."

Senegal's 11 million people — 95 percent of whom are Muslim — are deeply proud of their artistic heritage.

Buildings often bear elaborate, hand-painted representations of Muslim leaders. The battered jalopies that transport most Senegalese frequently sport mudflaps, bumpers and panels intricately detailed with ancient religious sayings or pop-culture references.

Senegalese radio largely shuns Western music in favor of Mbalax, the frenetic mix of guitar, indigenous drums and singing popularized by Youssou N'dour.

Senegal's independence leader, Leopold Sedar Senghor, was an internationally acclaimed poet shortlisted for the Nobel prize.