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Competing Against the Odds

 

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Bamako’s Olympic-sized swimming pool is an impressive, Communist-style structure, built in the late 1960’s by the Russians for the 1969 All-Africa Games. The pool had long fallen into disrepair, left to crumble in the harsh Malian climate, but along with a number of other city landmarks, it was entirely renovated as part of Mali’s 50th Anniversary of Independence in September 2010. Less than a year later, the pool was sadly once again dry – the funding designated for its upkeep had run out, and the water was no longer safe to swim in.

In December 2011 I was invited to photograph members of the Malian National Swimming Team, to help raise their profile prior to attending the Olympic Games in London. On hearing the story of the pool, I thought it would be a great location for a shoot with the swimmers. It was eerily quiet and uncomfortably hot, the tiles underfoot mercilessly reflecting both heat and light. The coloured lane dividers lay in a heap gathering dust and fading in the sun. The mid-afternoon light was harsh, but I wanted to capture that intensity, and the strong, playful shadows in my images.

The following morning I accompanied the team to their daily training session in a private pool on the outskirts of the city near the airport. The pool was just 15m long, and the water was cold. Too cold, according to their coach.  The plastic barrel by the poolside contained milk with added protein powder, which the swimmers mixed thenselves each morning. Their regular rice-based diet needed boosting in order to maintain such a demanding physical schedule.

Despite the increasing political instability in Mali in 2012, swimmer Mamadou Soumare and his colleague Fatoumata Samessekou from the Women’s Team did make it to the London 2012 Olympics.

 

Le Récit intime de Fanta Kaba

 

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Le Récit intime de Fanta Kaba is an exhibition of work that grew out of a collaboration with the choreographer Kettly Noël as she developed her new solo Je m’appelle Fanta Kaba. The exhibition includes images taken at various stages in the six-month creative process – from the early exploratory workshops in Bamako with the designer Sahar Freemantle, to a residency at Le Quartz in Brest, and the final rehearsals and world premiere performances in Annecy.

I was interested in tracing my own visual narrative through the development of the piece, exploring ideas that emerged and re-emerged during our collaboration. At the same time my images provided Kettly Noël with a different visual and emotional perspective on her work, serving a new purpose as a kind of visual dramaturgy. The exhibition was shown during the 2011 festival Dense Bamako Danse in Bamako, both as an outdoor installation at Donko Seko, (the contemporary dance centre run by Kettly Noël), and at Bla Bla Club in Badalabougou, one of Bamako’s landmark bars and gallery spaces.

Je m’appelle Fanta Kaba “I knew the name before I knew the woman; her name alone, Fanta Kaba, evokes a story in itself – a carnal story, a woman’s experience, a fantasy, relationships with men, money, prostitution and the dead of night. To dare to inhabit this woman’s life, to expose oneself, in order to go beyond one’s own limits.  Je m’appelle Fanta Kaba explores a disturbing moment between reality and the imagination. Bodies are confused, between the woman and the dancer, the dancer and the performer, the performer and the character, the character and the transformation, the transformation and the performance”. Kettly Noël

 

Ngnima

 

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I met Ngnima Sarr on an artistic residency at La Factory, a small cultural centre and production house in Dakar, Senegal.  Singers, musicians, photographers, writers and film-makers – we had all been brought together for the first phase of a new project to support young women artists in Senegal. This first stage of the residency focused on two young Senegalese women – Mamy Kanouté and Ngnima Sarr – both passionate about music and performance, both bringing very different life experiences and musical traditions to their work.

A recording of new songs was at the heart of the residency, but we were all free to explore our own visual, musical or literary narratives, to share ideas and to create a multi-textured piece of work that reflected Mamy and Ngnima’s stories.

Ngnima is a writer, a visual artist, a singer, an activist. In the studio, her fast-paced and slickly delivered texts in a mixture of Wolof, French and English wove a thread of urgency through Mamy’s rich melodies. Ngnima currently lives in France, but was keen to re-connect with Dakar both artistically and emotionally. We asked her to show us the Dakar she grew up in – the family home at the old Barracks, her secret hideway, her favourite beach. We accompanied her to the mystical island of Niodior, where she also spent much of her childhood, and met other members of her family. Early in the morning, late at night, we walked, talked and laughed.

Griot

 

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I met Mamy Kanouté on an artistic residency at La Factory, a small cultural centre and production house in Dakar, Senegal.  Singers, musicians, photographers, writers and film-makers – we had all been brought together for the first phase of a new project to support young women artists in Senegal, who often find it difficult to access resources and support to develop their careers. This first stage of the residency focused on two young Senegalese women – Mamy Kanouté and Ngnima Sarr – both passionate about music and performance, both bringing very different life experiences and musical traditions to their work.

A recording of new songs was at the heart of the residency, but we were all free to explore our own visual, musical or literary narratives, to share ideas and to create a multi-textured piece of work that reflected Mamy and Ngnima’s stories.

Mamy comes from a ‘Griot’ family of singers and musicians and is steeped in traditional music and culture. We spent time with her in the city of Dakar, as well in Kousanar, the village where she grew up, and where many of her extended family live. After lunch at her husband’s family home one Friday, we were entertained with spontaneous dancing and drumming, not least from Mamy’s three-year-old son Vieux, who performed with such assurance and style – the Griot musical tradition in action. Across town in the working-class neighbourhood of Patte d’Oie, we met several generations of this renowned Griot family descended from the Kanoutés and the Cissohkos, and were welcomed with more exuberant singing and dancing. In Kousanar, we were inspired after meeting Mamy’s oldest relative – a youthful and wise 104 year old woman.

 

 

Performance

 

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A selection of photos I was commissioned to take in Mali and Burkina Faso of festivals, performances, rehearsals, residencies, and workshops.

The 2010 African Dance Biennale (Danse l’Afrique Danse) took place in Bamako, Mali, and brought together dance companies and soloists from across Africa, as well as special guests and work by the emerging generation of choreographers in Mali.

Dense Bamako Danse is the annual dance festival run by choreographer Kettly Noel. In 2011 Kettly relocated the festival to the local neighbourhood of Magnambougou, one of the oldest districts of Bamako. Young choreographers and dancers from Mali, Haiti, Madagascar, Nigeria, Spain and Italy danced under the stars in the rue Ecoma – attracting enthusiastic audiences of around 1,500 local people each night. The festival also spilled out beyond the main stage to find new audiences with site-specific works created for local open spaces, school playgrounds, family courtyards and the street.

Recréatrales is a biennial theatre festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. For ten days, one street in the suburb of Gounghin hosts the festival, and family courtyards are converted into simple, outdoor performance spaces, whilst the local bars and restaurants became the hub of late-night conversations, eating and drinking.

FITD (le Festival international de théâtre pour le développement) also takes place in a suburb of Ouagadougou, with a satellite project in the village of Gana, about 60km from the capital.

Finally, there are some images of dance workshops at Bougou Saba, a small cultural centre in Siby, Mali, that hosts regular programmes for artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festive

 

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Spontaneous festive moments, large celebratory gatherings,  informal arts festivals.

The flowing white and indigo robes of Tuareg dancers and the flamboyant masked Dogon performers at the Festival sur le Niger in Segou.

The urban parade – a carnivalesque procession of traditional performances through the streets of Bamako during Dense Bamako Danse.

Celebrating the organic cotton harvest in the village of Sho, near Koulikoro as part of the Daoulaba festival. Daoulaba supports the communities that grow, harvest and produce the cotton and helps them become more autonomous and develop their business skills.

Pixelini – a festival about digital arts, creativity, and technology.

Urban

 

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Urban life.

Images of the city.

People at work and play.

 

 

Rural

 

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Fisherman casting their nets in Djenne,

Tranquil river scenes in Mopti,

Ancient escarpments and expansive plateaux in the Dogon Country,

The mystical island of Niodior in Senegal at dawn….

Impressions of rural life in West Africa.

 

 

 

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