third day in Bamako

You are dressed like him
You look like him
You speak his tongue
You think like him
You’re just as clumsy in your foreign ways.

Wole Soyinka

I have been thinking about a question all these days: are we oriented or disoriented?
The most interesting part of the Orientation Trip has been precisely its ability to relocate us in areas that exceed their own reality. Istanbul, Lagos and Bamako are those kinds of cities where it is easy to get lost. The proportions and human complexity permits this. A trip includes, always, the experience of being lost. The best way to find yourself is to confront and bring sense to strangeness. So, and again, after this Orientation Trip, do you think that we will be able to say something important because this disoriented situation?

I’m sure others in the group have a better head to sort the ideas and images that we have unveiled this final trip days. For me it is always impossible to condense so much information. I’m slow. I’m not so structured because my heritage of fragile systems or the lack of them. Also I have this personal mania that blocks me when I’m in front of intense, rich and varied surfaces. They come out like visions that are enough to saturate the mind with information and meaning waiting to be decoded. Mali is one of these visions. Here the interweaving of images is immense. During our visit to the National Museum of Mali I could recognize the importance of textiles in a particular political moment. Trough two exhibitions, one of contemporary design and a permanent show of textiles and historic ways of dying, also took me back to my country, Guatemala, where cotton and textiles as well are important cultural and symbolic products. The same use of indigo, the weaving and meanings that come out of textiles are determined by different environments but with the same needs to recognize an identity.

For Mali activist, Aminata Traore, cotton and textiles acquired a central place in the discussion of self-recognition of people when the country is going through many economic and social difficulties. Tracing the importance of these elements in Mali’s history is the possibility to bring back a relation with certain values, specifically the ones that can build ethics. Contemporary times speed and quantity of information and experience is overwhelming us because the levels of mobility are higher than before. So those like us that are “best situated” impose our vision of the correctness. But sharing mental spaces and looking for connectivity opens a wider possibility to understand the meanings and particular developments of contemporary cultures in the peripheries.

After the visit to the museum, designer Cheik Diallo took us to an unimaginable and unconventional place. Trough dusty and muddy streets, in the middle of popular neighbourhoods, we found ourselves in a countless number of situations, persons and workshops of tinsmiths and scrap recyclers. The sound of hammers hitting metal draws a landscape by itself, a “fuerza literaria” opens doors for the most bizarre stories. Also you can speculate about reactions of musicians as John Cage or Tijuana’s electronic music group Nortec in this hypersound experience, the opposite of any kind of Zen evocation or the dignifying of horror vacui. Only after the measures of my own paranoia and familiarity issues, I am able to look more deeply and recognize an alternative structure of economic issues. Chaos is appearance. Like “ready made ready” pushing to be interpreted, the stacking order of objects, the distribution of tasks, the respect of areas for recycling, of melting metals and the distribution of specific areas for waste conform a map of ways of understanding and developing work processes and, of course, one of the universes of men in Mali. Again, Aminata Traore appears in my head with her highlighted discussion about recycling objects from the first world, by and for the consumption of third worlds. Being lost, in the middle of this no place, has a potential proposal for a Fernando Meirelle’s movie, maybe a second Cidade de Deus.

Lost in the aim of translation, trying to understand an experience with epic dimensions… I only have the strength to recognize one of the most urgent discussions for contemporary societies, related to environment and how the use and abuse of its resources is determining more and new boundaries of hostility and discrimination. The new industries of recycling objects in Latin-America, India, Bamako, Lagos and other points of the planet becomes a metaphor that emerges between the negotiations of waste, the one that comes from capitalism and ends in the hands of depressed societies. Trough the eyes of the workers of Mali I can see the ones of Guatemala. In this point the trip does not bring out the sense of otherness but the one of sameness.

– Rosina Cazali

Searching for words to share our impressions, the schedule of the trip demanded us to continue. In the afternoon, the group was welcomed by the vice president of the Conservatoire des arts et métiers multimedia. Brief introductions from our part were followed by an introduction of the history of the conservatory and the architecture of the building.

The conservatory opened its doors in 2005 with three departments; fine arts, music and dance. Today it welcomes 217 students, divided over 6 departments, as in the past years the departments of theatre, multi media and management were added. Admission into the school is selective: Every year a contest is organized through which 10 students per department are chosen. The school benefits from state funding.

In a brief tour of the campus, we witnessed a rehearsal of the music department, in full preparation of a spectacle. We visited the mediatèque, numerous multimedia classrooms, music and recording studios and met a number of instructors from France and Spain, who in two-week workshops, deepen the skills of the students in the different departments.

Before leaving, director of the conservatory and artist Abdoulaye Konate showed us one of his works as a teaser to the studio visit of tomorrow.

After a brief intermezzo, we were invited into the home of the cultural and political attaché from the Netherlands: Astrid de Vries, where we contemplated our Mali-encounters with a number of familiar and new  faces.  Conversations continued later on in a little restaurant called Savana, where a singer brought out the classic song about comandante Che Guevera. As divine presences, the iconic Che Guevara from Korda, a recycled Bob Marley and Obama are stuck in the altar of irony and modernity.

– Karen Verschooren and Rosina Cazali


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