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International News Digest

DAKAR BIENNIAL OPENS

Dak’Art––the biennial of African contemporary art––has opened in the Senegalese capital. As Agence France-Presse reports, this year’s edition features twenty-eight artists from sixteen countries who are presenting works on the theme of “retrospective and perspectives.” Created in 1992, Dak’Art aims to support not only young artists but also emerging critics and curators. Another goal is to develop artist residencies and professional contacts with other biennials, since artists across the continent suffer from a general lack of financing and institutional infrastructures to support exhibitions.

One highlight is the “artistic duel” between the Cameroonian star Barthélemy Toguo and the Senegalese Soly Cissé organized by the Centre Culturel Français in Dakar. “Over the last five decades, the image of Africa has remained frozen in the West,” said Florence Alexis, a cofounding member of the Fondation Afrique en Création. “But Africa changes, and now it’s visible. The market has taken notice of this artistic value. Africa is not artistically marginalized because it’s economically fragile. There is a wealth, a very strong dynamic, due to a renewal of languages.” Dak’Art continues until June 7.

MORE THAN 4,000 PROTEST CULTURAL CUTS IN FRANCE

More than four thousand demonstrators marched last week in Paris against cuts to French cultural budgets. As Le Monde’s Nathaniel Herzberg reports, this second day of protests brought together members of various unions that passed by the cultural monuments of the City of Lights, from the Centre Pompidou to the Palais-Royal where the national ministry of culture is located. Police put the estimate at 4,600 participants. Issues include the unpopular policy Révision générale des politiques publiques (General revision of public policies), which will see every two retired employees replaced by only one in the cultural sector––a policy that sparked disruptive strikes at the Pompidou and spread to other cultural institutions last November. Another hot issue is the territorial communities reform, which could weaken both local budgets and the cultural competence of regions and departments in France. Demonstrations also took place in other cities across France. Another day of protest is planned for June 15.

BRUSSELS’S KUNSTENFESTIVALDESARTS: BICULTURAL HAVEN IN BELGIAN STORM

Le Monde’s Fabienne Darge takes a look at Kunstenfestivaldesarts (KFDS), the annual Flemish-French arts festival that takes place in Brussels, Belgium. A bilingual antidote to the nationalist ills of the country, Kunstenfestivaldesarts is “a haven of bicultural peace in the heart of the Belgian linguistic storm.” As Darge reports, Brussels residents––both the Flemish and the Walloon––are talking about the possibility of the country breaking under nationalist sentiment. KFDS director Christophe Slagmuylder is “disconcerted” by the possibility.

“In the artistic sector, we are moving in the opposite direction of what’s going on in our country,” said Slagmuylder. “While culture has long been a community-run affair for years––with a Walloon minister of culture and a Flemish minister of culture––the (two) artistic milieus have not stopped moving closer together and creating networks for exchange. Fifteen years ago, the directors of Flemish and Walloon theaters did not know each other, and critics from francophone newspapers did not go to see productions in Antwerp unless they were subtitled in French, and vice versa. Today, that’s a given.”

Another given is KFDS’s bilingualism and biculturalism, which have been part of the festival’s identity since its inception in 1994. “We are the first institution to have benefited from subventions from both communities,” says Slagmuylder, a bilingual francophone from Brussels whose team is filled with Walloons and Flemish who are also working in both languages. “We have always invited artists from both communities. But everything in our country seems to contribute to polarization––the younger generations of politicians are no longer bilingual. There are few spaces to meet. The Kunstenfestivaldesarts is one of them.” The festival runs until May 29.

OLDEST PHOTOGRAPHY LABORATORY FOUND IN FRANCE

What is being touted as the world’s oldest photography laboratory has been found in the French region of Burgundy. As Le Monde reports, the laboratory was discovered behind a doorway, which had been sealed up for 152 years, in a house that once belonged to Joseph-Fortuné Petiot-Groffier, an industrialist from Chalon-sur-Saône who died in 1855. Inside were more than four thousand objects: portraits, undeveloped plates, and more than four hundred books published before 1830. The exceptional find––a time capsule of the history of photography––has been sent to the Musée Maison de Nicéphore Niépce in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. Nicéphore Niépce, who was born in 1765 and died in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes in 1833, is considered one of the inventors of photography and took a photograph of the village in 1826. The flasks are being analyzed by the French national center for scientific research, CNRS.

KEÏTA’S TRUNK: LOST AND FOUND

Le Monde’s Nicolas Lepeltier reports on another spectacular photography find, which has evolved into an exhibition at Paris’s Ecole de l’Image des Gobelins, of photographs by the late Mali master Seydou Keïta (1921–2001). The story begins in 2005 with a blue tin trunk that was discovered at the Musée National du Mali in Bamako and which turned out to be filled with six thousand negatives from Keïta. “Curled up on one another, the negatives were in very bad shape,” recalls Emma Hernandez, a student at the Gobelins who was doing an internship at the Mali national museum at the time. It is believed that Keïta put the “treasure” chest in safekeeping at the museum in 1962 while he was organizing his archive for retirement. Since his death, the Foundation Seydou Keïta has managed his estate.

Back in Paris, Hernandez teamed up with others from the Gobelins School and traveled to Bamako to begin the delicate work of saving this photographic heritage. Working with other students from Mali’s Institut National des Arts in Bamako, the group indexed, scanned, and restored hundreds of negatives from Keïta as well as from the collections of the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN) and the photographer Adama Kouyaté. The Gobelins exhibition, “La malle bleue, et les autres” (The blue trunk, and the others) shows the results of these efforts. Keïta’s photographs, dating from the 1950s until his retirement in 1962, include outdoor and studio portraits. The exhibition continues until May 19.

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