Station Gare Mali

on September 22nd, 2011

Poster of the Station Gare Mali presentation at HIVOS, The Hague, The Netherlands. 2010 curators: Edith Rijnja, Harald Schole An intervention in public space as result of the first workshop, 18 banners of artists from Benin, Mali, Togo and the Netherlands. Inspired by the Malian proverb: ''ce que le barbe dit le jour, le pagne l' a décidé la nuit'' . A gender variation on ''Man proposes, God disposes''. Passers-by stopped, looked and gave their spontaneus. Two artists, as journalists, recorded the reactions. publication: 48 pages, full color design: Joseph Plateau Grafische Ontwerpers

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STATION GARE MALI an example of a changing art practice
21.06.09

The inhabitants of district ACI 2000 in Bamako were suprised when they saw 18 long banners hanging from the façade of two floors of a building still under construction. They bore texts in French, Bambara and Dutch in a lively confusion of symbols and colours. The artists had depicted in their very own way the Mali proverb Ce que la barbe dit le jour, le pagne l’ a décidé la nuit, and therewith the social and cultural relationship between men and women, the unending universal discussion, also in Mali.

The passing comments were multitude. ’But of course, women have the final word’, ’No issue is that we live in harmony’, ’We women indeed end up having to do everything’.

The banners were made by 18 artists from Mali, Benin, Togo and the Netherlands. They were one of the products of a cultural exchange program titled STATION GARE MALI which took place in the Centre Soleil d’Afrique in Bamako, Mali.

Station Gare Mali was an international art project that aimed to explore new directions. A focus was on the cooperation between artists from different countries and with diverse cultural backgrounds. In Bamako, with Station Gare Mali, we wanted to explore and extend the borders of artistic possibilities and to show the results of this cooperation to the public, as this was one of our topics, to go beyond the walls of the Centre Soleil d’Afrique. We wanted to hit the streets and look for possibilities in art and architecture. Showing Soleil d’Afrique’s indoor activities to the neighbourhood was also a way to try to create awareness about art. Gare Mali also wanted to offer a podium and working space to the artists that reach beyond the usual boundaries: l’art sans frontières.

The artists Hama Goro, Joost van Haaften and Harald Schole were searching for common points of departure, while being open for creativity and recognising their diverse cultural backgrounds. This way of working was not necessarily a guarantee for harmonious results, but that was part of the game. We were therefore happy that Arts Collaboratory put their trust in the project, in spite of an uncertain outcome, more so since we recognise that a predicted result is preferred by subsidizers. The Station Gare Mali concept however, was definitely not a wild adventure. It was intensively prepared over a period of two years.

cultural investments
In 1999, the Centre Soleil d’Afrique was initiated by Hama Goro. With his Centre, he wants to stimulate and support Malian artists and offer them an international framework. The Centre originated from the practice of Bogolan, the traditional Malian textile painting technique. In the years following it became an important cultural platform of exchange for Bamako, Mali and the surrounding countries. Over the past 10 years international workshops have been organised on painting, photography, sculpture, multi-media training, debates, etc. Curators, artists and other disciplines from all continents have since then visited the Centre Soleil d’Afrique. Its programmes and potential justify the subtitle: International Centre for Contemporary Art, ICCA.

mutual exchange
With our project Station Gare Mali we wanted to work together with African artists and to try to operate beyond common cultural frameworks. Mutual exchange was our main goal. Gare Mali implies a meeting point and point of departure. Malian proverbs were our common vehicle, our train of thought. And the motor was our curiosity to meet different points and common grounds. The strong oral tradition in West Africa and Mali produces new wise sayings everyday making Malian proverbs a good starting point for cooperation.

proverbs
There were three points of departure for the different workshops in the Centre Soleil d’Afrique in Bamako: ‘Malian proverbs’, ‘art in relation to architecture’ and ‘public interaction’. During the first workshop day, we all sat around the table with artists from Mali, Togo, Ivory Coast and the Netherlands. Discussing the collected Malian proverbs and sayings was a good starting point to learn to know each others background and culture. Dozens of Malian sayings and proverbs were collected in the previous months by Malian and Dutch efforts. Using the proverbs as starting point was a hit in the bull’s eye.

cherchez la femme
In a philosophical way, the proverbs reflect and respond to everyday situations. When we discussed the proverb Ce que la barbe dit le jour, le pagne l ’a décidé la nuit (translation in Dutch: ‘dat wat de baard overdag zegt, heeft de lendedoek ‘s nacht besloten’ , a gender variation on ‘man proposes, God disposes’) a long and tempestuous debate was the result. The position and the role of women in society appeared to be an important subject among the artists. Some artists stood up gesticulating emotionally about the importance of the power of women. The female artists, in their turn, responded in a more modest but no less determined way. They agreed, but as a proverb is subject to many nuances, it was spontaneously and extensively discussed by the whole group. And finally, the discussion changed into a debate on, to what extent, the women in Malian society have the power. Many daily tasks rest on their shoulders, also in these modern times and in 21st century Bamako. The men agree that women take care of everything both in and outside the house. One of the participating female artists said: ’With a stone, a woman can create an oven’. Often, women advise their husbands when decisions are taken. But, as the proverb says, they do this imperceptibly and between the lines. Finally, when it came to choosing a proverb to depict visually, this proverb was democratically chosen by the artists to work with as the starting point for their individual work.

The combination of text and image produced strong and diverse results. Ibrahima Diakité worked in a graphic and colourful way; Hama Goro, Mamadou Amadou Keita, Bourama Diakité and Djènèba Modul Ly, among others, used the Bogolan technique with symbolic signs; and Youssouf Keita worked with a mixture of techniques. Amadou Sanogo, Tary Keita, Aissata Dao and Amsatou Diallo preffered to use acrylic paint. All possible artistic approaches were applied: sober, abstract, realistic, etcetera.

That week, eighteen, very diverse works, all responding to the proverb, were produced. Several Malian artists used the Bambara version (the local language) of the proverb, in which it is translated as ’Tulu ka la b3se bonbosi la’. Together, we hung all the works on the outer wall of the two-story building still under construction, opposite the Centre Soleil d’Afrique. Passers-by stopped, looked and gave their spontaneous response. Bourama Diakité and Ouassa Pangassy Sangare then decided to form a team in which Diakité took the role of the journalist and Sangaré the photographer and video artist to record people’s reactions.

the tail end
The unexpectedly powerful results of the first workshop did not automatically result in a flying start for the second workshop which took place a weeks later. On that Monday morning, only a small group of participants arrived. Many appeared to have other obligations, as Hama Goro had already warned us. Maybe our expectations were too high, being so impressed by the energy of the first workshop week and the richness of the Malian culture that we had experienced the previous weeks. That Monday afternoon, we drove back to our hotel, somewhat disappointed. In the taxi, Joost and I decided that the next day we would consider the messy roof of the Centre Soleil d’Afrique our domain. Our intention was to clear it up and by so doing, to show that we also can work very well with found materials which would definitely be available after cleaning up. The next day, before starting we were happy to find out that the photo camera’s we had given to the Centre Soleil, three weeks earlier, were being intensively used by several artists. Amsatou Diallo had not only been documenting the workshop process, she had continued to experiment with the camera, as did DIAK. And more good news, the artists were back. We could continue.

Transformation of the Centre Soleil d’Afrique into Station Gare Mali
Together with Hama Goro and the other artists we discussed how we could transform the Centre Soleil d’Afrique and its surroundings into a splendid Station Gare Mali by making use of the three ingredients we had been working with up till then: the proverbs, art and architecture and the idea of interaction with the public. The challenge of a transformation into a Station Gare Mali encouraged and excited the participants. The ideas flowed. The artists of Afric ’Art Réveil, Georges Djodji Akibode and Richard Ahouangassi and Fidel Sossou were to perform together. Akibode would recite a poem to the music of his group members and together they planned a ‘Mama Africa’ performance with their marionettes and music. Amara Sylla came up with the idea of an installation with water-carriers. Amadou Sanogo decided to produce a large black and white wall drawing, as a continuation of his earlier ‘proverb’ work, in which he would depict the Malian family life in abstract shapes. Of the many sketches Ibrahima Diakité (DIAK) made in the meantime, his ‘la femme noir’ was chosen to come a live in the inner courtyard by using hundreds of pieces of coloured cloths, leftovers bought from several tailors in Bamako. After an intensive discussion with Yacouba Lam, we concluded that his work come to its best high up on the outside wall of the building.

And with the idea to turn the Soleil d’Afrique into a ‘gare’, with the hubbub and liveliness of a train station everyone set to work. With the few means available, they got stuck in hammer and tongs. Finally, the artistic content and the physical surroundings matched perfectly. The metaphor of a busy railway station where goods and people come together, where people meet, talk, discuss the merchandise, the family situation and politics, became reality. All artists found their way to deal with the topic. Temporary installations, assemblages, paintings, photographs, video, sculptures, wall objects, a reflection of the urban landscape on the roof and a great marionette show and on the walls of the building across the street, still under construction, the eighteen large banners around the proverb ’Ce que la barbe dit le jour, le pagne l’a décidé la nuit' were put into place. On the roof, we (Joost and me) showed an interpretation of the city, entitled ’Delirious Bamako' (after Rem Koolhaas), with a horizon in an optimistic green. The work is based on the proverb ’Les champs au bout des collines ressemblent plus verts' or Le paysage dehors l’horizon ressemble toujours plus vert' (‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’)

New perspectives and another view on artistic possibilities were presented and embedded in the process of this transformation and an apparently effortless Station Gare Mali was realised with the efforts of the Centre Soleil d’Afrique: Hama Goro and technical and organisational support of Mamadou Amadou Keita, and Bourama Diakité. All their support was great, and of course of all the participants involved, in total over twenty artists from Benin, Mali, Togo and the Netherlands.

During the crowded opening an elegant stilt-walker walked about, between people and the artworks and climbing adroitly the stairs to the roof. The dozens of children who had observed everything quietly from behind the high wall around Centre Soleil streamed in after the opening speeches.

The unpretentious building of the Centre Soleil, since its start in 1999, is still on a dirt road in the now booming district ACI 2000 in western Bamako. It deserves some fresh paint, it’s worth it (it is now - 2011 - well painted). Hama Goro runs his centre for more than ten years, a. milestone, especially considering the often complicated African conditions. Contemporary European terms such as `cradle to cradle' and ’inventive design', innovative use of sparse materials, are in Mali daily wisdoms. And so we were proud when Hama Goro explained `Ahhh…, maintenant vous êtes aussi Malians'.

Harald Schole
2008 Bamako – 2009 Amsterdam

exhibitions in Lloyd Cultural Embassy, Amsterdam 2009 and HIVOS, The Hague 2010