Telling Time: Bamako Encounters

After two years of interruption following conflict in Mali, the photography biennale, Bamako Encounters, returns to Bamako.

“For the biennale to be back in Bamako is a revival, not only for the biennale, but also for Mali,” says Bamako Encounters associate curator, Yves Chatap.

It’s time to finally turn a page on Mali’s long-standing conflict, say the organizers behind the African photography biennale focusing on photography and video by artists from Africa and the African Diaspora.

Created in 1994, Bamako Encounters has increasingly become a central event in Malian and African photography circles. Two years ago, in 2013, the biennale was cancelled following a military coup that toppled the Bamako government, jihadists occupying two thirds of the country, and an international military intervention to rid urban centres of the Islamist militants.

As the biennale returns to Mali for the 10th time, the theme is “Telling Time” — for the artists to reflect on time and how it’s perceived.

“We’re asking artists to reflect on the conflict and the current political context but also to focus on the future, something Mali really needs,” says Chatap.

The return of the biennale and the call for artists to submit their work resulted in a massive response from over 800 artists wanting to exhibit.

“It shows that art goes beyond divisions and socio-political and religious conflicts,” says Chatap.

The central part of the biennale is the Pan-African group exhibition featuring 39 artists from Africa and the African Diaspora. Among the artists are photographer and visual artist Lebohang Kganye from South Africa and Malian photographers Seydou Camara and Emmanuel Bakary Daou. Among the many solo exhibitions is South African artist William Kentridge, known for his work based on drawings and animated machines. A special tribute is given to the late J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, who is known for his pictures of hairstyles in his native Nigeria.

The thematic exhibitions explore issues of age and the aging body, as well as the artists’ fantasies and hopes for the future. Mali’s oral tradition and the history of the biennale are presented through archival documents and photographic works.

“Bamako Encounters has influenced and contributed to art in Africa, but also internationally, says Chatap. “We wanted to show its dynamism and especially the continuity between different generations of photographers in Africa and the diaspora. Photography allows us to explore different forms of time, whether imagined or real.”

Yves Chatap is the associate curator of Bamako Enounters. Photo credit: Malala Andrialavidrazana.

The main venue is the National Museum with the National Park. Works will also be shown in the Museum District, at the French Institute, and in public spaces throughout the capital. The public is asked to take part in an exhibition outlining Mali’s conflict with images captured during the crisis called “1384 days,” the period between the start of the conflict in Mali as several cities were attacked by Tuareg rebels in January 2012 and the opening of the Bamako Encounters, on 31 October 2015.

The artistic director of the 10th edition of the biennale is Bisi Silva, the founder and artistic director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos.

During the biennale, which takes place 31 October–31 December residents are invited to rediscover the archives of some of the city’s iconic photographic studios. The biennale is also implementing educational projects in schools as part of a public awareness program.


Katarina Höije is a Bamako-based freelance journalist. Follow her on twitter: @katarinah

Photo: South African photographer and visual artist Lebohang Kganye is one of the 39 artists selected for the Pan-African exhibition. She uses images of her family and friends, as well as sculpture, to realize her art. Photo supplied by Bamako Enounters.


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