Bamako: Art and Self-Identity

Every first Sunday here in Barcelona the museums are free to everyone looking for a little culture mixed in with their regular weekend outings. As an amateur art lover, I jumped at the chance to go when two girlfriends (two native English speakers!) offered to make the free day a standing date. So every month we select a museum to visit followed by a gigantic mid-day feast and gab fest in English. This particular Sunday we were in luck as we stumbled into the CCCB, the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, and discovered a selection of works on view from the Bamako 7th African Photography Meeting.

Bamako, the capital city of Mali, has hosted a biannual photography festival since 1994 featuring the work of contemporary African photographers who unfortunately don’t receive the same fame or notoriety as their Anglo-Saxon counterparts even though it has been said that photography is one of the most developed spheres of expression on the African continent.

For the last three years, CCCB has supported the efforts of this exhibit with the intention of publicizing the best of Africa’s creative talent and to provide an alternate perspective of a people and place that we all too often view through a distorted lens. Crazy to think especially since Africa is Spain’s southern neighbor. So close yet so far.

This year’s theme titled, In the City and Beyond, focused on the fragility of cities and urban life, honing in on the everyday struggles and resistance among those that inhabit metropolises, the networks of relationships among individuals and social groups (I am not talking about Facebook) and the youth culture that is teeming with defiance and creativity. Through these subjects and images, one catches a glimpse of urban reality which is in fact indefinable (absolutely), constantly changing (agreed), progressing and digressing (without a doubt).

One of the many stellar artists included in the show was Samuel Fosso. I have to admit that before this show I had not heard of him however I took an immediate liking to his self-portraits. His work reminds me a lot of Cindy Sherman but the concept behind their work is a bit different. Cindy “models” in the photos she takes of herself in various settings to commentate on modern day issues. Fosso uses his whimsical and sometimes odd self-portraits as means of exploring self-identity. In the work shown you see him imitating different types or better yet, stereotypes of people, from a demure American woman outfitted in pearls and a little black dress to a preppy golfer and wild-eyed African tribesman dressed in traditional garb.

It made me think about my own self-identity and how I am identified in Spain. Until I left the US I never thought much about being American. In the US we identify ourselves by our race and profession. I was just always “black” followed by “art student” and then “professional.” Here in Spain my identity is very much tied to my nationality, then my race followed by my language– American (Estadounidense), black (negra), native English speaker (idioma nativa ingles). So, what would my self-portrait be? Instead of a photo it would be a performance piece where I would tape myself reciting American slang terms in between taking bites of apple pie.

Going back to Mr. Sam Fosso, I am digging his work and as it turns out others are too. He has shown at the Guggenheim in New York and the Tate Modern in London, two big time museums in the world of art. I will be sure to keep me out for him and fellow art lovers I urge you to do the same.

-Espana Fly

Read the rest of her opinions here .

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