In November this year, I was lucky enough to visit Bamako, Mali, for the Rencontres – the ‘Encounters’ – where, every two years, many of Africa’s best photographers and video artists come together to show their work, share ideas, and meet some of the world’s top curators and gallerists. Now in its ninth edition, the biennale is becoming a firm fixture in the international contemporary art calendar, and is recognised as one of the best opportunities to see a lot fresh and exciting photographic work from the continent, on the continent. This time around, the main show’s theme was ‘for a sustainable world’, and much of the work duly considered the problems of environmental degradation, oil exploitation, slums, waste and non-sustainable livelihoods. Hard though it is to get a sense of an artist’s practice from just a few pieces, there was definitely some interesting stuff on display; I especially enjoyed taking another look at Daniel Naudé’s animal portraits (last seen on a conference projector screen), and, in a quite different set of portraits, Khalil Nemmaoui’s trees. Elsewhere, fragile archival images by the great Malick Sidibé were a highlight, as was a ghostly black-and-white account of postcolonial Ghana’s encounter with its past, courtesy of Nii Obodai.
Meanwhile, the varied OFF programme presented a number of diversions to tempt participants away from the main events, and top of my list was a studio visit with renowned Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté. Perhaps the organisers sensed that this would be a popular option: seemingly in an attempt to put off all but the most persistent, accepting Konaté’s enticement to ‘viens chez moi’ involved navigating an obstacle course of confusing addresses (leading to other, less exciting studios-cum-gift-shops), scarce information leaflets, incompetent taxi drivers and barely intelligible phone calls. As it was, after about an hour of circling aimlessly in a bumpy, sweaty taxi, we arrived in the nick of time and, glugging on our cold water bottles, watched as Konaté’s team brought out piece after stunning piece. Having trained as a painter, Konaté now works with textiles. With swathes of colourful strips, funny little sausage-like appendages or even children’s clothes sewn onto the background, his works are beautifully intricate, and moving in their straightforward yet thoughtful engagement with political realities.
And so, to the point: while I was there, I caught a glimpse of what will be Iniva’s new window commission, on view at Rivington St from the 7th December. Even in its unfinished state, it was easy to get a sense of how impressive the work will be once complete. So I really recommend heading down to Iniva some time over the next month to check it out. There’s also an opportunity to hear the artist talk about his work at Iniva on 6th December at 6.30 (admission free).
7th December – 3rd January
Rivington Place, London