Igo Diarra and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng
Respectively deputy general and artistic commissioner, Igo Diarra and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung will present the next Bamako Meetings together from 1 December 2019 to 31 January 2020. Entitled “Courants de conscience” (“Streams of Consciousness”) in refrence to the jazz album by Abdullah Ibrahim and Max Roach, this edition seeks to promote photography as an art in perpetual movement.
This year, the Bamako Meetings celebrate their 25th anniversary. How will this edition be different from previous ones?
Igo Diarra: One of the fundamental changes this year is that Mali is finally assuming its responsibility as producer of the event from A to Z: all production will take place in Bamako, from drafting the programme to management. We believe that photography is not limited to those who take photos: it is essential to structure the entire industry chain. For this 25th year, we wanted to turn the tables and create a scene that was a little out of the ordinary and outside our comfort zones. We want a biennale that is multidisciplinary. Malian writers, thinkers and musicians will take part in concerts and more than 20 video installations.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng: We wanted this biennale to be an edition of contemplation, an in-depth reflection on art, living together and photography. What makes photography, and what can it do? We want to talk about photography by going beyond it.
Why did you choose to call the exhibition “Courants de conscience”?
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng: When I started working on the biennale, I was listening to the Streams of Consciousness album by Abdullah Ibrahim and Max Roach. One is South African, the other African American. Working together on this recording, they bring to life a stream of consciousness, a link between Africa and its diasporas. The central idea of this exhibition is to present Africa as an entity that transcends its borders, a continent that is not limited to land alone but includes water, oceans, Africans living in India, Brazil, France or Germany. I was also influenced by Niger, this river that crosses Bamako but also passes through several cities in West Africa. It forms a connection between six cities (Bamako, Timbuktu, Niamey, Onitsha, Lokoja and Tembakounda). This river is this stream of consciousness: a current of civilisations, knowledge and ideas.
Did you want to make this edition a kind of retrospective of the biennale?
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng: I didn't want to do a classic retrospective that involves bringing in artists who have been winning awards for 25 years, but rather offer a retrospective of the ideas that have been brought up in recent editions. What is photography doing in Africa? What is African identity and culture? Why create a photography biennale in Africa?
Igo Diarra: It will be a retrospective in the form of an investigation into the future of photography.
How did you select the artists for this edition?
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng: The job of commissioner can become very egocentric: I wanted at all costs to overcome this and enter in dialogue. Aziza Harmel, Astrid Sokona Lepoultier and Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh have very different approaches; I wanted to get all these young curators to work together, and with me. We chose the artists and scripted the exhibition together.
During the call for proposals, we received 330 applications from which we chose around 40 artists and selected around 40 others. All in all, we currently have 85 “positions”. I say "positions" and not artists because we have integrated many collectives. This was an important point for me: inviting collectives means asking questions about living together. How can we work together? How can we transcend each other's egos to make art? Ten collectives will be present at the biennale, collectives from Haiti and Algeria, but also trans-African collectives such as Invisible Borders and pan-African collectives such as MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora.
Which other artists will be on display?
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng: There will also be the so-called "solid rocks", artists who have been working for decades. We invited photographer and curator Deborah Willis, Nigerian Akinbode Akinbiyi, who has been taking photographs since the 1970s, and Felicia Abban, Ghana's first female photographer. The “young guard” work alongside Adeola Olagunju, who works on spirituality, as well as South African Jodi Bieber, who will offer a format created from interviews with young people. There will also be Cameroonian conceptual artist Guy Woueté who will present a series of stereotypical self-portraits in which he poses with yams or bananas.
Finally, eight poets were selected to participate in the writing of the exhibition catalogue.
The artists will be exhibited in different locations, including the National Museum of Mali, the District Museum, the Médina Gallery and the Institut français of Bamako. Why have you increased the number of spaces?
Igo Diarra: The number of sites is increasing because the number of artists has increased! And so we think that art should get closer to people. To do this, we have decided to invest in the field of education in addition to museum sites. Some former boarding schools and refectories will become galleries and museums.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng: We actually wanted to decentralise art, and not stay in known places. For the first time, the women's museum will take part in the biennale. And it makes you question what an exhibition is. Should they only be held in museums? Can't they also take place on the streets?
Does photography have a special place in Africa?
Igo Diarra: Bamako is the Mecca of African photography, and all the talents that have emerged on the continent over the last 25 years have made their mark in Bamako. And almost all the great photographers have been through the biennale. It’s an absolute must!
Created in 1994, the Rencontres de Bamako are organised by the Ministery of culture of Mali and supported by the Institut français.
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