Bamako Biennale

Various Venues

International biennials tend to inhabit their host cities uneasily, but in the capital of Mali, one of Africa’s poorest countries, the disjunction seems more profound. The art world’s “discovery” of Bamako’s postwar studio photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé spurred the launch of the first pan-African “Rencontres africaines de la photographie” (Bamako Biennale) in 1994. Yet a significant gap divides the vernacular reception of those black-and-white studio portraits taken for local families in the ’50s through ’70s from their reception as fine art photography by today’s international art audience. The economic disparity between Biennale visitors and the city’s population is glaring; in Bamako, Western viewers faced a sample of the economic and material difficulties that photographers across Africa encounter.

A joint venture between the Malian Ministry of Culture and the Association

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