Bamako photography biennale rises above conflict.

Author:Collins, Tom
 
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Despite the constant threat of jihadist attacks, the Sahelian city of Bamako in Mali has once again successfully staged its African Biennale of Photography to showcase some of Africa's greatest talents. Tom Collins was there.

In the lobby of an upmarket hotel in Bamako, grim-faced French military figures gather to discuss the 13 soldiers who died when two helicopters collided during anti-jihadist operations in northern Mali.

The accident was the biggest loss of French troops since an attack in Beirut 36 years ago and it has led to waning domestic support for what is being called 'France's Afghanistan'.

Known as Operation Barkhane, France has 4,500 troops stationed in Mali to repel jihadist fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS), who came close to overrunning the country in 2012 after capturing key cities like Timbuktu.

The conflict, which began almost a decade ago when heavily armed insurgents returned to Mali after fighting in Libya, has dominated the headlines for the huge West African country.

Yet despite worsening insecurity throughout the Sahel region, Bamako continues to inspire one of Africa's leading artistic and creative hubs.

On the banks of the Niger River, the dusty capital has largely resisted the insecurity which so plagues the rest of the country.

Bamako's residents are keen to keep Mali's rich cultural heritage alive, ranging from 13th-century Griot storytellers to the electronic guitars of Tuareg blues.

Artists, photographers, designers, curators and journalists gathered in the same hotel lobby as the French soldiers to celebrate the 12th edition of the African Biennale of Photography, taking place under the theme 'Streams of Consciousness'.

Now in its 25th year, the internationally renowned exhibition describes itself as "the principal event dedicated to contemporary photography and new imagery in Africa. Hosted in various locations across Bamako, it presents the work of over 85 African artists.

Streams of consciousness

"As you know, streams of consciousness is a very old concept in psychology which was adopted by writers at the beginning of the 20th century as a way of explaining the flow of writing and thought,' says Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, the biennale's artistic director.

"I wanted to think of this flow in photography because it is a big mistake to assume that photography is [about] a frozen moment. It is constantly in flux. When you move in Bamako you cross the Niger River. That is a stream of...

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