Following a successful application to join a Visiting Arts funded curators’ visit to the Bamako Encounters African Photography Biennal, I found myself with the unexpected and exciting opportunity for a first time visit to Mali in West Africa. After a hot, hectic and enlightening few days of exhibitions, screenings and conferences in the capital city I travelled to visit a number of stunning places to see first hand the people, their arts, architecture and their culture.
I headed first to Mopti, an important bustling port on the River Niger, a vital artery through land locked Mali, where traditional wooden boats laden with goods from motorbikes to sheep and goats head north to Timbuktu and south to Djenne.
From the river I continued on to the remote and stunning Bandiagara escarpment where the Dogon have lived in their distinctive villages hugging the bottom of the cliffs for hundreds of years. Their skills in dyeing indigo cloth are reknowned and new acquisitions for National Museums Scotland were collected. Welcomed into the village of Tireli, I spent the night on a roof terrace under an amazing starry sky, reminding myself that back at home it was wintry and cold.
The next must-see was the mud mosque at Djenne, the largest in the world and a World Heritage site, and I arrived in time for the Monday market, where hundreds of traders set up their stalls in front of the mosque. In this amazing setting the business of buying and selling in this vibrant and bustling arena is a feast for the senses – shopping in technicolor!
Back at my desk, the heat of the Malian sun a receding memory, I know that my experience of Mali like previous visits to countries in Africa, will not only inform my work here as curator of the African collections but provide a source of enduring memories.