Destination Diary – #JordanSeeSeries: Rencontres de Bamako

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Bamako is a city of personality, the energy defines the people. The capital and largest city of Mali, this metropolitan is located right on the Niger River and is home to a population of almost 2 million people.

As part of my new project, #JordanSeeSeries, where I explore different cities all around the world, discovering their art, fashion and people, I traveled to Bamako to check out the culture of one of West Africa’s major cities. As i prepared for the trip I was surprised to discover Bamako, as of 2006, the one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and the sixth fastest in the world.

I visited in October 2015 to attend the international photography festival, Rencontres de Bamako. Although the exhibition was open until the 31st of December, 2015, I made the effort to be present for the opening week which held on the 31st of October – 4th of November, 2015 so as to have a front row, first hand experience of the main activities of the festival. My visit was to the great and historic city was also as a result of my interest in its music, its fashion and its way of life in general.

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako 2015 Rencontres Du Bamako

 

Rencontres De Bamako, in English Bamako Encounters, is the African Biennale of Photography and the 2015 edition was its 10th anniversary edition; with its first edition dating back to 1994. Dedicated to photography and lens based practices, this festival focuses on the the people of Mali, a country with a great tradition of art and history that sees a conclave of a grand family of African photographers and artists coming together, as well as professionals from around the world.

It is interesting to note that the theme for this year’s edition is Telling Time was curated by Nigeria’s art veteran, Bisi Silva with associate curators Yves Chatap and Antawan I. Byrd. So I ask, what better way is it to “tell time”, than to tell it through retrospective photographs, shifting one’s rationale towards time through medleys as well as documenting the world and connecting to our societies. Also Telling Time is a way of connecting the present, past and future, as featured artists looked back as well as looking forward into what the future holds in their expressive and emotionally aesthetic works.

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako 2015 Opening Day
Rencontres de Bamako 2015 Opening Day

Jordan Abiola sees Bamako 2015 - Recontres De Bamako Telling Time

 

The opening ceremony was dynamic with guests welcomed by a group of energetic dancers as they wiggled to the Malian tune coming from the live band playing right next to them. How proud I was to be African! As much as my eyes couldn’t but beg for more dance routines from these beautifully and sublimely dressed dancers, I almost hysterically connected to the melodious sound, that admixture of soulful, pop like, and classical tune being danced to. This feeling I wouldn’t exchange for anything else in the world.

Jordan Abiola sees Bamako 2015 - Dancers At The Recontres Opening Day
Dancers on opening day

Jordan Abiloa Rencontres de Bamako 2015 - Dancers on Opening Day

 

I was quite fascinated that all of the guests present brought their A-game to the venue with respect to the way they are dressed and how they appeared. Everyone had a lively aura, and never did I see anyone gloomy.

As free-spirited as I can get at times, especially during adventures and with new experiences like this, I wanderes the venue trying to get a full picture of everyone seated, standing, chatting and engaged in one thing or the other. Hanging around my neck was my camera; what better way to join in and “tell time” other than through the lenses of my Canon? It gradually began to dawn on me that I no longer was in my home country, I’m thousand of miles far away from Nigeria and I began to savour that feeling of being in a new land, of the unfamiliar. I enjoyed making connections with a new culture and many people made comments about the pair of shoes I wore and I didn’t hesitate to tell them they were made in Nigeria by HRM Sneakers.

Jordan Abiola sees Bamako 2015 - HRM sneakers
HRM sneakers

 

My first day in Bamako was adrenaline-filled. I was full of uncontrollable excitement because I wanted to see what this city held for me. I couldn’t wait to see it all and I took a drive around the hotel I was lodged in too see more of the way of life of the people of this historical city, more of its music and her way of life.

At the festival I fed my curiosity to see the works of raw, talented, and practiced photographers as the exhibition officially opened. May I make mention that Mali is a Francophone country hence her lingua franca is French and Bambara, the local dialect spoken by over 15 Million people. The Rencontres is largely sponsored by the Ministry of Culture in Mali and the l’Institut Français; the later being responsible for the implementation of France’s cultural action abroad. I keenly associated myself with the journalists under the aegis of the Institut Français because of my thirst to learn more about the Rencontres as well as the general French culture. If I was ever going to know more than I have, I needed to associate myself with this team of brilliant correspondents.

 

The Art

According to Pablo Picasso, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth”. I saw the Art here in Bamako and I not only saw the truth, I felt it. Right inside of the Musée National du Mali is a display of different works of photographic art displayed at a 45° degrees angle to the viewing eye, with some at 90° and some, 30°. I couldn’t but help appreciate how much thoughtful, inspiring and time-telling these photographers as well as their works are, and also try to comprehend their state of mind when they came up with such ingenious creations.

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako 2015 Musée National du Mali
Musée National du Mali

 

But of all the creations exhibited here, just a few really touched my inner man as I stood gazing at them and obviously being in awe of the message it passes across, how time was being told. One was Ibrahima Thiam’s works, Cliches d’hier. I stood in that box and lost consciousness for a minute as his installation took me back in time with antique characterizations generated from Senegalese photo studios in the early 40s to the late 60s.

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako Mali 2015 Appreciating Ibrahima Thiam’s Work
Appreciating Ibrahima Thiam’s work

 

Also there was the Madagascan artist Malala Andrialavidrazana whose works, Figures, are as pure as her beauty. I’d later go on to sit with Malala at a dinner some days later. Malala held no character back as her formations hyped her brain work on the circulation and how vague knowledge is; she makes use of old maps, currencies and emblems to make collages that subject one’s present to an imaginary world.

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako Mali 2015 Malala Andrialavidrazana
Art by Malala Andrialavidrazana

 

Nigerian artist Uche Okpa-Iroha exhibited s The Plantation Boy, a series of images that subtly examines the place of race and the predominance of western culture, an inspiration to the lives of Black people. Uche in his photography reduplications, took us into Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 Hollywood flick The Godfather, but this time set aside forty original film stills from the influential movie. He would go on to win the most coveted award of the festival, the Seydou Keïta prize.

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako 2015 Uche Okpa-Iroha's The Plantation Boy
Uche Okpa-Iroha’s The Plantation Boy

 

The Fashion & The People Who Stole My Heart

Away from all of the artsy fartsy, I was caught up with the Fashion in this great city. Before arriving in Bamako, I didn’t have a picture what the fashion scene would be, however, I had high expectations due to the fact that Bamako is home to thousands of foreigners and in one way or the other, these foreigners directly and indirectly influence the sense of fashion in the city. 

The Rencontres from its opening day had amazed me as I came across people who had a great sense of style and all through my stay in this engaging city, I fed my curiosity with more visits to different places in order for me to have a vivid understanding of what the Fashion here dictates.

In the end, with all of my experiences with the fashion and style of the people of Bamako, I especially fell in love and had to appreciate a couple of people along the way. Amongst these people was Anna Alix-Koffi, whose personality I pretty much fell in love with the first day I met her. The creative director and founder of Off The Wall Photos, Alix stunned in every one of her looks. On her style choices, Alix held nothing back telling me that she planned to wear all of the designs she brought for the biennale week. Actually, her choice outfits were pieces from her friend’s clothing line – Maison Rabih Kayrouz. Alix had a thing about her look, an African feel, that a of purposeful young woman and is a vision of an African woman. Alix is clearly one of my favorites!

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako 2015 Anna Alix-Koffi

 

Then there was Inna Modja! I encountered Inna Modja when I paid a visit to San Toro, a historical and very popular restaurant in Bamako. I had gone there to see one of the satellite exhibitions of Malick Sidibe’s works. Inna Modja walked into the compound with her  hair in  an Afro and made an immediate  impression with her style. I didn’t hesitate to take pictures of her shoes as well as her overall look. It didn’t take me much longer to figure out that Inna Modja is a popular French musician of Bamako decent and was in town for her Wings For Freedom project. We chatted happily to each other and I made sure I took photos, selfies inclusive. Inna has a kind heart!

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako 2015 With Inna Modja

Jordan Abiola Rencontres de Bamako 2015 Inna Modja's - Shoes by SAWA

 

There was plenty more art, fashion, food and more to experience so I’ll be back with another post about the rest of my trip soon! Thanks for reading.

 

Continues here.

 

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