Friday, 2 February 2007

Bamako Blooming

Compared to Lagos, Bamako is like a big village. But I have always been enthralled with the thought of Mali. Its ancient history and traditional cultures capture my imagination and I like to sometimes get lost in the histories and fables about the Malian empire. On my first visit in 2001 for La Rencontre de la photographie Africaine (the African photography Encounters) I made sure I did a whistle stop tour of some important cities and cultural sites. In a jeep with 2 colleagues, in 3-4 days we covered over 900km to visit Bandiagara, the fabled Dogon country and on the way made brief stopovers in Mopti, Djenne and Segou.

It is in Mali you will witness the intersection of the traditional and the modern. One experience I won't forget in a hurry on this visit happened in near the centre of town. As we returned in a taxi to our hotel with its dodgy food, the next thing we noticed are 3 turbaned Tuaregs on their camels passing slowly by without a care in the world. Time stood still at that moment!!! Then my reaction was to take a picture for this blog but I was wisely informed that sometimes they don't want to be photographed. So we all behaved as it if was a daily occurrence and continued on our way. But it was a magnificent sight.

My visit wasn’t about tourism but strictly work with regards to
curatorial projects I am working on, especially the one at the National Museum of Mali (NMM). Samuel Sidibe, (left pic) the affable director of the museum was host to myself, Rachida Triki (Tunisia) and N’Gone Fall (Senegal).
An important development at NMM has been the committed effort to find ways in which to give the contemporary art sector a boost. This is an important catalyst for the revival of the visual art scene in Mali but also in neighbouring African countries. We are co-curators of the forthcoming inaugural exhibition of contemporary art from West and North Africa at the Museum’s new temporary exhibition space.

Sidibe states that ‘
the aim of the museum is to value local cultures, showing through contemporary arts, that they have always been in movement, have always been enriched by the diversity of influences through cultural dialogue, as the exhibition "Niger Valleys" has shown for historical heritage in the region. It is intended to fight against the increasingly idea that there has been a time when African cultures were "pure" and show, as said the Kanak leader Jean Marie Tjibaou that "the return to tradition is a myth.../...our identity lies ahead of us".’’ We are developing our project around the theme of mobility - of ideas, of people and of resources. Watch this space for more information.

Under Sidibe's directorship the NMM has been recognised for its scholarly exhibitions on African art but also for its work in actively ‘preventing cultural looting and trafficking’. It has made the museum a must visit place in any visitor to Mali whether a tourist, diplomat, business visitor or academic. Consequently NMM was one of the Laureates of the 2006 Prince Claus Fund in the Netherlands.

Rachida Triki in front of NMM. Bisi inside NMM grounds.


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