Book Review: Rencontres de Bamako, 'Telling Time'
Image Above: ©Lebohang Kganye, Book Cover, 'Her-Story, Ke Lefa Laka' (2012 – 2013), photo / Courtesy of the Kehrer
Art is a form of resistance and a bastion of life. This resilient spirit is brilliantly demonstrated in Rencontres de Bamako (The Bamako Encounters), a comprehensive volume of photography covering the biennial exhibition of the same name. The Biennale focuses on creating an international platform for Malian and African photographers, highlighting the many dimensions of the prismatic African perspective. This particular volume encompasses an especially poignant year in the Biennale’s history.
Image Above: ©Youssef Lahrichi, 'Rêveries urbaines' (2014), photo / Courtesy of the Kehrer
Bamako, Mali is considered a “capital of photography” and is the locus of the Biennale. Since 2012, Mali has been ravaged by violent jihadists, taking innocent lives and stifling Mali’s creative expression and culture. After a two-year hiatus due to the proliferation of violence, the return of the Biennale signals a triumphant rebirth for Mali – a tremendous mark of endurance, allowing artistic Malian and African voices to be heard, loud and clear, on the international stage.
Image Above: ©Ayrson Heráclito, 'Bori - Offering to the Head' (2008-2011), photo / Courtesy of the Kehrer
This edition is tied together with threads of temporality. The exhibition’s theme of “Telling Time” draws connections from the past/present/future, commenting on mortality, honoring traditions, and idealizing possible futures. Certain photographs attempt to make time stand still. Meditative, blooming moments abound in photographs such as Ayrson Heraclito’s Offering to the Head.
Image Above: ©Nassim Rouchiche, 'Ca va waka' (2015), photo / Courtesy of the Kehrer
Notably, Nassim Rouchiche’s stark black-and-white photographs uncover the many temporal fibers that create the present. Ça va waka (2015) shows a time lapse of a man inhabiting his mundane environment. Subject melts into environment, creating a paradoxical sense of distance and connection.
Image Above: ©Malala Andrialavidrazana, 'Figures' (2015), photo / Courtesy of the Kehrer
Many pieces of mixed media and altered photography add personal commentary and serve to reclaim African narratives. Malala Andrialavidrazana creates collages of maps, exploring themes of conquest, identity, and globalization. The video piece History is not mine has artist Mounir Fatmi challenge censorship and biased versions of history by typing on a typewriter with two hammers. In Rencontres de Bamako, the voices are many, the voices are distinct, and the voices are united–these are the images of Africa and the African diaspora, through their own lenses.