Bamako Photography Biennale: Art in a Country in Crisis

“Rencontres de Bamako – Biennale africaine de la photographie”, as the photography biennial is officially called, has been held in the capital of Mali since 1994. At 20 years old, it is one of the oldest art biennials on the African continent. His focus is on contemporary African photographic and video arts.

Bamako, with a population of 2.8 million, is the cultural center of Mali. It has a national museum, a national library, a major music festival, and the photography biennale, known in English as Bamako Encounters, which is co-organized by the Institut Francais.

This year marks the 13th edition of the Bamako Meetings, entitled “The persons of the person are multiple in the person: on multiplicity, difference, evolution and inheritance”. With this approach, general director Chieck Diallo, artistic director Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and the curatorial team want to draw attention to “the spaces in between, what defies definition, the phases of transition, being this and that or neither and both”. . , to becoming, and to difference and divergence in all its nuances”, as indicated on the event website.

Biennial boosts careers, motivates young artists

Malian photographer Fatoumata Diabate works in both Montpellier, France and Bamako. In her work, she focuses on both portraiture and social and cultural issues, focusing in particular on women and youth.

She told DW that the Bamako Gatherings are very important for emerging artists. “Many great artists have been discovered here since 1994, from Malick Sidibe to Seydou Keita and many others, including me,” she said, adding that the biennale has contributed to the creation of other art festivals on the African continent.

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Diabate said that festivals like Bamako Encounters empower young people and women like her. “Malians love photography,” she said. “There are many events attended by many young people. There are many self-taught photographers and some who have trained professionally”.

He added that photographers from all over the world participate in the event. “I am impressed that more young people are taking up photography. I wish there were more of us, especially women,” he said.

Diabate: ‘A profession has no gender’

Diabate is committed to supporting women in photography. Since 2017, she has been the president of the association of women photographers in Mali, which offers creative workshops and other educational opportunities, as well as organizing initiatives and urban projects.

But she said Malian women are still underrepresented in photography. She blames social attitudes in the country, which she said are so restrictive that they rob women of their self-confidence. But she stressed the importance of women’s role in society, be it in Mali or elsewhere.

“Women create life; you can’t forget that. That is also what I try to convey with the association: confidence in oneself and in one’s strengths, ”she said.

“For me, no profession has a gender. Everyone should pursue whatever profession they want,” she added. Diabate says that he chose his profession over the objections of his family.

Security crisis, coups and tensions with France

“There is great potential in Mail for young people to develop in such a way that they can get the crisis-stricken country back on its feet,” said Diabate, who believes the organizers of Bamako Encounters have understood this. In fact, CEO Cheick Diallo has emphasized the importance of the biennale as a sociopolitical event.

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“It is important that this biennale create connections: social connections, economic connections and political connections,” he said before the opening.

In the past two years, Mali has had to deal not only with two coups and security crises, but also with strained relations with France after Mali’s military government banned French-funded NGOs as well as French broadcasters. RFI and France24. The Paris government has condemned this latest step as a violation of press freedom.

Diallo: “We fight for culture, and that is the best policy”

Despite the challenges, Bamako Encounters organizers are looking forward to the photo exhibition, which is taking place at the national museum, train station and other public spaces in Bamako. They also maintain the vital association with the French cultural institute, the Institut Francais.

“We continue our relationship with France,” Diallo said. “We received support and are grateful for the loyal association. We fight for culture and I think that’s the best policy.”

Seventy-five artists from Africa and the African Diaspora have been invited to Bamako. Despite the tense political situation, the organizers hoped to receive at least 60 of them. So far, 49 artists have made the trip to the Malian capital.

The 13th edition of Bamako Encounters will take place from December 8, 2022 to February 8, 2023.

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