The 11th Rencontres de Bamako is part of a broader momentum. Africa is benefitting from a Western
enthusiasm that neither terrorism nor social, political or military conflicts can shake. At the same time, across the African continent, a new generation of thinkers and cultural activists are renewing interpretative frameworks and are staking their hopes on Africa providing solutions, provided it is armed with the right conceptual tools. As stakeholders in this movement, the artists help through their artistic actions to shape the new imaginary worlds of a continent that is in the throes of deep change.
The decision to call this Biennale Afrotopia, echoing the book by Senegalese intellectual Felwine Sarr, reflects a commitment to ensuring that this historic and pioneering Biennale for photography is integral to the new Pan-African forces for change, to embracing them and contributing to them.
The title-manifesto of this year’s Biennale, Afrotopia , conveys an African contribution to a world in which it is necessary to invent the resources of
the future. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon writes that “if we want humanity to advance a step further (…) then we must invent and we must make discoveries.”
This is the plan for the next Biennale, envisaged as a creative space for artists to invent using their own language - a language of images, of new paths traversing our times, of seeing what reality shows us, how it manifests itself, and what it contains.
The artistic project is being built around this contemporary area of focus. This challenging exercise within the scope of a Biennale invites us to reconsider the issues and objectives through a collaborative dynamic and the introduction of a Committee of curatorial advisors, in a participatory spirit that gives the artists an active forum to make themselves heard.
For the Pan-African exhibition, the Biennale’s central artistic project, we have selected 40 significant and committed proposals from amongst the 300 high-quality applications received. Aided in this selection by the Committee of curatorial advisors, these proposals bear witness to the issues currently faced by the African continent.
The exhibitions designed with guest curators form a consistent ensemble and explore in greater depth the themes and concerns of the artists in the Pan-African exhibition. With Clémentine de la Ferronière’s monographic exhibition devoted to James Barnor we examine the resurgence of history in contemporary reality. Justin Davy’s project enables us to put the impact of African music since Independence in an alternative context. Azu Nwagbogu’s exhibition on the theme of Afrofuturism transgresses time and displaces divisions. The exhibition by Nathalie Gonthier reflects concerns related to insular identities and examines issues faced by those on the margins of society.
More than ever before, this edition takes stock of the diversity of image uses and offers an energetic narrative of the fertile crossover of perspectives with the Performing Afrotopia event presented in collaboration with Kettly No.l and her Donko Seko choreographic centre.
In tune with concerns addressed by the artistic offerings in the various exhibitions, we will endeavour to develop the intangible results of the creativity nourished by interactions between artists and professionals during the Rencontres. The National Museum of Mali, which is central to the new model for the Rencontres, will become the Biennale Village, where a Forum will bring people together to explore ideas and exchange views on the theme of the words and gestures of the artist in spaces devoted to collective contemplation and pooled knowledge. The format will be unstructured and open to all disciplines, with speakers from all fields of thought and creation : philosophers, poets, musicians, historians, sociologists, writers, etc.
Three sessions of the Forum will be held in a specially designed area at the Biennale Village during the days dedicated to professionals and on a daily basis during the opening week. Masterclasses and special initiatives such as an editorial area examining photographic practices and new images will complete an ensemble encouraging the forward momentum of the reflective process.
Inclusiveness and to sharing the experience with the Malian public is the focus of particular attention. All the exhibition venues chosen for this edition are suitable for school visits organised over the Biennale’s two-month duration within the scope of an educational programme. The Biennale will also reach out to an audience with little access to art thanks to Cin. Photo Mobile, a convivial artistic project inspired by travelling cinemas and open-air screenings. Designed with the collaboration of Anna-Alix Koffi, Ciné Photo Mobile will present a selection of photographs from the Biennale’s exhibitions to a musical accompaniment in public squares in various districts of Bamako.
Lastly, we are delighted that galleries, community centres and cultural activists have rallied to prepare fringe events that, with the Biennale, will spread throughout the entire city.
Grasping a notion of Afrotopia, as suggested by this Biennale, involves capturing imaginations again with the artists, and creating the opportunity for an experience of commonality that can be passed on, thus rippling outwards to inform and enrich popular consciousness.
Curator of the 11th edition of the Rencontres de Bamako