5 highlights from the 2015 Bamako Encounters, African Biennale of Photography

Art Radar investigates the 10th edition of the first international platform dedicated to photography and video of the African continent and its diaspora.

After a four-year hiatus, Bamako Encounters, African Biennale of Photography is back and stronger than ever, showcasing the best of African photography and video by artists living on the continent and in the African diaspora.

Malala Andrialavidrazana, ‘Atlas Elementaire’, 2015. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters.  Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Malala Andrialavidrazana, ‘Atlas Elementaire’, 2015. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters. Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

On 31 October 2015, after a four-year hiatus, Bamako Encounters, African Biennale of Photography reopened its doors and ushered in its 10th season of celebrating and promoting photography and video of Africa and its diaspora. Featuring a total of 39 artists across its main exhibition, monographic and thematic shows, as well as a variety of special projects and workshops oriented towards local artists, emerging artists and students, the 2015 African Biennale of Photography reinforces its place as the principal forum for photographers and filmmakers in Africa and the diaspora. As Samuel Sidibé, Director of the National Museum of Mali, wrote in his editorial statement:

For more than 20 years, the Encounters have displayed the work of these artists to a public not just confined to Bamako; it is a public that includes visitors from all over Africa and the rest of the world. The Bamako Encounters are a key agent in the emergence of African photographers. For many of them, it is a powerful engine for creativity, hope and dreams come true – the fact of being recognized and being able one day to make a living from their work.

Mounir Fatmi, ‘History Is Not Mine’, (production still), 2013, video, 5 min. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters.  Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Mounir Fatmi, ‘History Is Not Mine’, (production still), 2013, video, 5m:00s. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters. Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Founded in 1994, Bamako Encounters is organised by the Malian Ministry of Culture, Craft and Tourism and the French Institute of Mali. Two international renowned Malian photographers have been instrumental and inspirational to the Biennale since it’s founding: Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé. The work of the Biennale’s 39 featured artists is displayed across four cultural institutions: National Museum of Mali, Bamako Museum, Modibo Keita Memorial and the French Institute of Mali.

This year’s Biennale, curated by Bisi Silva, independent curator and Founder and Director of the Lagos-based Centre for Contemporary Art, is entitled “Telling Time” and the intention was to clear the path for heightened levels of discourse on the notion of time. More specifically, Silva explains that

“Telling Time” presents a nuanced array of lens-based projects that differently upend and reframe conventional interpretations of time through discrete structures of past, present and future. The artists assembled use photography, film, video and animation to construct perspectives on that are fragmented, disjunctive, or recursive in nature, offering alternative methods of engaging histories, experiences, and desires.

Art Radar profiles 5 artists featured in this year’s Bamako Encounters, African Biennale of Photography, on display until 31 December 2015.

Lola Khalfa ‘Sans Titre 3’, Ephémère,  2013. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters.  Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Lola Khalfa ‘Sans Titre 3’, Ephémère, 2013. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters. Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

1. Lola Khalfa (Algeria/France)

Lola Khalfa deliberately uses the qualities of black and white photography to disrupt our conventional understanding of time. Khalfa’s photographs seem to have been taken in the 21st century, but it is impossible to be sure, and perhaps it doesn’t matter. She is most interested in the intersections between human beings, daily life and their environment.

In the series “Dégoutage”, Khalfa uses diptychs with the face of a male subject in one image, alongside what is presumably a snapshot of the neighbourhood where he lives. All of these diptychs are slightly blurred suggesting quick movement, but the neighbourhoods where these young men live are depicted as stagnated and decayed. For these young men, as time passes, their social environment does not advance.

Mudi Yahaya, ‘For Crown And Country’, 2011. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters.  Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Mudi Yahaya, ‘For Crown And Country’, 2011. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters. Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

2. Mudi Yahaya (Nigeria)

Born in Kano, Nigeria, Mudi Yahaya is a Lagos-based photographer who uses photography to address the gaps between actual events, collective memory and Nigeria’s dominant historical narratives. His intellectual queries are pointed: he wrestles with the fraught history of British colonialism in Nigeria. Moreover, Yahaya identifies photography as having played a dominant role in the maintenance and promotion of colonialism.

In his series “For Crown and Country”, he combines archival photographs with contemporary images of northern Nigerian landscapes that were the sites of defining historical moments in the formation of the country. Yahaya sees these landscapes as a witness to past abuses but also as an arbiter that will move Nigeria into the future, but only after a necessary reckoning with the past.

Em’Kal Eyongakpa, ‘A suivre’ (production still), 2012, video, 33 min. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters.  Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Em’Kal Eyongakpa, ‘A suivre’ (production still), 2012, video, 33 min. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters. Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

3. Em’Kal Eyongakpa (Cameroon/Netherlands)

Em’kal Eyongakpa seeks to enable us to see that which the unaided eye is incapable of seeing: memory, sound, feeling. Eyongakpa incorporates elements of shamanism, which bolster his multidisciplinary practice and provide the basis for his ritual use of repetition and transformation to tease out the substance of our collective histories.

Exemplary of this methodology is his work “BE-side[s]” (2009-2014), the sum total of references and personal memos from notebooks he accumulated over time including conversations the artist had with friends, fellow artists and loved ones. For the 2015 Bamako Encounters, “BE-side[s]” was presented as a part of an installation with Eyongakpa’s 2012 video piece “À suivre”. “À suivre” contains audio excerpts of world leaders’ political speeches past and present. The subject of the video is a headless male figure with flames emerging from the neck. The flames pulsate with each spoken word; a commentary likening political rhetoric to hot air.

Seydou Camara, ‘Manuscrits de Tombouctou’, 2009. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters.  Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Seydou Camara, ‘Manuscrits de Tombouctou’, 2009. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters. Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

4. Seydou Camara (Mali)

At the heart of Seydou Camara’s practice are his ethics and historical sensitivity. Since 2009 he has dedicated himself to study of Timbuktu’s hefty contributions to world culture. Specifically, Camara is interested in the history, content and preservation of Timbuktu’s manuscript collections that date back to the 12th century and are the only remaining writings on African and Islamic history from that period.

In light of the recent invasion by jihadists in 2013 that looted the Ahmed Baba Institute and damaged books in its collection, concerns about the future of this collection are deeply felt. Camara contributes to the recovery and preservation of these ancient texts through photographing them. His images reveal the fragile nature of collective history, but also the power of photography to aid in preservation.

Monica de Miranda, ‘Hotel Globo’ (production still), 2015, video, 9 min. Performance: Andre Cunha and Monica de Miranda. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters.  Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

Monica de Miranda, ‘Hotel Globo’ (production still), 2015, video, 9m:00s. Performance: Andre Cunha and Monica de Miranda. In “Telling Time”, 2015, Musée National du Mali, Bamako, Bamako Encounters. Image courtesy Bamako Encounters.

5. Mónica De Miranda (Angola/Portugal)

As both artist and researcher, Mónica de Miranda’s artistic output is often the culmination of many years of exploration. De Miranda’s video piece “Once Upon A Time” is one such example. In this three-channel video De Miranda takes the post-colonial context of Lusophone Africa, Brazil and the former colonial power Portugal as a point of departure for exploring her own cultural identity that has resulted from this history.

De Miranda situates herself and her family squarely within this investigation. Once all of these places were united under an empire, a single ruling power. Now De Miranda asks, what are the ties that bind, and where does she fit within all of this? The effect of the three-channel video suggests that these experiences are disjointed, but the video itself is the manner in which these experiences are tied together.

Negarra A. Kudumu

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Related topics: AfricaAfrican artistsbiennales, biennials, photography, timevideo

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