By John Owoo
At large in Bamako (Mali)
Courtesy – Royal Air Maroc
The 10th edition of “Rencontres de Bamako”, the largest African Biennial of Photography, opened on Saturday October 31 with a glimmer of hope for African photography in the coming years.
Titled “Telling Time”, the festival, which could not be held in 2013 owing to the political crises in Mali, is without doubt the rallying and challenging point for young African photographers and their bid to move onto the world stage.
Indisputably, “Telling Time” attempts to present a collection of subjects and problems that tend to reframe the conformist explanations of our time through conspicuous and inconspicuous structures while offering alternative methods of engaging narratives, occurrences and aspirations of Africa.
Curated by Bisi Silva (director of Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos – Nigeria) with Antawan Byrd (Doctoral candidate in Art History at the Northwestern University, USA) and Yves Chatap (independent curator / art critic) as Associate Curators, the thirty-nine selected artists from diverse countries and cultures in Africa expatiated on several issues relating to identity, colonialism, capitalism, politics and culture among others.
The artists made bold pronouncements that hinge on philosophical debates on politics and technology, colonial temporalities and their links to capitalism as well as interventions by liberation movements. Indeed, they offered observers the opportunity to access the role of “Rencontres de Bamako” as an international convener of questions relating to photography in Africa.
Photos by the Ghanaian award winning photographer Nyani Quarmyne, literally turned an unattractive / harsh refugee camp in Southern Mauritania into an appealing one. Images of tea sharing, colourful clothes, tending of animals, football matches and skinning of slaughtered animals definitely tell a different story from constant misery and desperation painted by the media.
Works by South African photographer, Lebohang Kganye on display at the National Museum in Bamako show her as a master craftswoman. She reinvents the presence of her late mother through digital editing thereby leading to imaginary “stalking” of her past and present life.
Employing bold approaches of reenacting and recreating, Nigerian Uche Okpa-Iroha, who won the highest prize, deftly places himself in the frame of black and white pictures from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 Hollywood film “The Godfather”. He creates in the process a separate story that relate to history.
Black and white photos by Nassim Rouchiche from Algeria depict the perilous living conditions of a community of migrants from Sub Saharan Africa in the Algerian capital Algiers. His apparition-like images effectively blend with nondescript walls that tend to place the viewer in the situation of the migrants.
Depressing photographs from the Congolese photographer Jean Euloge Samba show the aftermath of missile explosions and subsequent damage and destruction of a community that is sited dangerously close to a military facility in the capital Brazzaville. They forcefully comment on lack of adequate planning of growing cities in Africa.
Images of health workers clad in biohazard suits by Emmanuel Bakary Daou (Mali) recall horrifying memories of the Ebola virus that wrecked havoc early this year in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The suit, which shields the identity of health workers, equally recalls the activities of undercover reporters who appear at public enquiries completely hooded.
Politically charged photos from the Burkinabe photographer Hipolyte Sama, illustrate chaotic scenes that characterized the “people’s revolution”, which toppled long time ruler Blaise Compaore. Indeed, the images forcefully reveal the mood of Burkinabes, who fearlessly demonstrated their frustration and anger on the streets.
Photographs, videos and presentations of “Telling Time”, which ends on Thursday December 31, will without doubt reverberate throughout the continent of Africa and beyond. Ministry Culture in Mali organized the biennial in collaboration with the French Embassy in Bamako and the Institut Français in Mali.
Nyani Quarmyne, Emmanuel Bakary Daou, Jean Euloge Samba, Hypolyte Sama, Uche Okpa-Iroha and Nassim Rouchiche