Rencontres de Bamako, chapter 1 – A dwelling made of no one knows which saint to worship
The Rencontres de Bamako – Africain biennal of Photography delivers a high-flying 2022 edition, focused on “multiplicity, difference, becoming and heritage”. Our correspondent Arthur Dayras reports on the first of the five chapters, organized at the National Museum of Mali.
Moving from one museum to another, from one street to another, in the endless flow of cars, scooters and passers-by, can be a curious but tangible way of apprehending a city. Some will say that it is better to frequent its holes in the wall and its river banks. Others will wear out their soles in the ochre dust of Bamako and the saddest will retort that this is not the time for tourist visits.
On the plane, a gold trader was extolling the twenty-four carat merits of the gold trade to my neighbor and living her a list of wholesalers achat would help to make a fortune. The framework was set. The city had for him the promise of a hunt, of a conquest, less perhaps the charm of those first times when one looks curious as a beast at the daily life of others. The unknown in travel always comes from oneself, as if jostled and sensitive to see another world pass to another time. I lost my gold digger. Let us hope that it falls in his mouth the master-word of this biennial: “The people of the person are multiple in the person” (“Maa ka ca a yere kono”).
The theme of the 13th edition of the Rencontres de Bamako supports a photographic vision of identity as multiple and fragmentary. Conceived by Cheick Diallo, designer and General Delegate of the Rencontres de Bamako, and the curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, the biennial unfolds on five heterogeneous sites, with embodied presences, multiple photographic trajectories that are deeply embodied in the intentions of their artists.
The first of the exhibitions unfolds in the National Museum of Mali on ochre and earthy walls. Neville Starling’s “Infinite in nine frames” is striking from the outset for its reference to the sequential images of Eadward Muybridge. Deployed in a fresco with nine prints, the work illustrates the syncopation of a dancer, his play with gravity as much as the patterns of his legs, arms and torsos at work. Its division into several moments as much as the photographic process used inscribes it in conceptual photography when its author prefers to underline its link with what Achille Mbembe has called “the architecture of survival”. Wandering give the “ability to deconstruct, reimagine, connect and recreate objects, relationships and processes in everyday life”.
Neville Starling’s photographic fresco is a perfect illustration of the thinking behind this biennial, which makes the body and the mind a volatile, uncertain, floating whole. The installation of Binta Diaw “Paysages corporels” proves to be more marked in its affirmation. The two photographs displayed on either side of the wall seem to plunge into a mound of earth. The artist forcefully affirms the singularity of the female body, its power as well as its independence by linking it to the primacy of nature.
The festival also gives pride of place to video, through a selection of films with a documentary vocation. Ebti Nabag’s film follows the daily life of the “Tea Ladies of Sudan”, “tea ladies” who are in charge of a cultural, even national ritual, and who fulfill a unifying function for their country through their gestures and their jobs.
The great success of this exhibition is the short series of photographs by Maya Louhichi, “01-05. “And in the earth I remember”. French-Tunisian artist, Maya Louhichi faces the memory of her father, who died in 2018 and gives in a few images a deep evocation of her pain and her attachment. “We both shared the love of photography and it seemed essential to me to express myself on his death and the impact of this loss in everyday life and in my reality. The photograph of these floating, crumpled, absent sheets is as upsetting as this self-portrait, where the photographer’s face disappears into the crook of her elbow. “Where are my memories? Who am I now? And where am I going?” sound like so many questions that photography cannot solve, but simply dig into again and again.
The Bamako Encounters 2022
National Museum of Mali
M252+C6C, Bamako, Mali