By John Owoo
(In Bamako – Mali)
The Malian capital Bamako was last week awash with photographers, curators, critics, academics and arts professional from several countries as the country celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Rencontres de Bamako” – easily the largest photographic biennial on the continent.
Inspired by “Streams of Consciousness”, a 1977 album by South African pianist / saxophonist Abdullah Ibrahim and American drummer Max Roach, the 2019 edition tapped into the sonic dialogue of the musicians – indeed, an animated notion of “Africanness and Blackness”, which served as a frame within which conversations can unfold.
Overshadowed by security issues facing the country – the biennial equally focused on the possibility of exploring the psychological and literary concepts of “Streams of Consciousness” into the realms of photographic practice. This was largely through artists whose works reveal their thoughts and conscious reactions to occurrences.
With exhibits from over 80 photographers / videographers from the continent and diaspora, the Biennial also explored the role of photography in defining and informing our understanding of Abdullah’s album, which according to curator Dr. Bonaventure Soh Ndikung, is spell bounding and enthralling owing to its sheer intensity, entrancement and alchemy.
Indeed, Ndikung, who is also the director and founder of Berlin based Savvy Contemporary, did put together an exceptional program for the Biennial, which runs until Friday January 31 at various locations in Bamako. These include the National Museum, Memorial Modibo Keita, Lycee Ba Aminata Diallo, Galerie Medina, Conservatory of Arts, Crafts / Multimedia and Palais de la Culture Amadou Hampaté Ba among others.
It is showcasing some of the international names in African photography and videography including Felicia Abban (Ghana), Adamah Jalloh (Sierra Leone), Emmanuelle Anndrianjafy (Madagascar), Nirveda Alleck / Katia Bourdarel (Mauritius), Eric Gyamfi (Ghana), Guy Woete (Cameroon), Yasmine Hajji (Morocco) and Fanyama Hlabangane (South Africa) among others.
Titled “Streams of Consciousness – A Concatenation of Individuals”, Dr. Ndikung was supported by a curatorial team comprising Aziza Harmel (Tunisia), Astrid Sokona Lepoultier (France), Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh (Ghana) and artistic advisors Seydou Camara (Mali), Akinbode Akinbiyi (Nigeria) and Cheick Diallo (Mali).
With Gallerist Lassana Igo Diarra as the Delegate General, the 2019 edition is an invitation to contemplate about the artistic practice of photography as a stream of consciousness as well as to consider photography beyond the tight corset of the photographic.
Initiated in 1994, “Rencontres de Bamako” is aimed at promoting the various trends in contemporary photography and video in Africa by creating international exchange among artists, curators, media, collectors and the general public.
It ends on Friday January 31, 2020.