Côte d’Ivoire’s disheartening recent political turmoil has made us all the more determined to focus on the visual dynamism currently animating the capital. It was also for this reason that we decided to use Hien Macliné’s photos of the October riots to launch the brand-new Africultures photo library on the Internet (cf. www.africultures.com).
The year 2000 was marked by the first edition of the Abidjan Rencontres du Sud last February. We were already familiar with Ananias Leki Dago’s highly graphic gaze, but James Famoux’s « abstract realism », Luc Gnabo’s anecdotal framing, Hien Macliné’s emotional experimentation, or Bruno de Médeiros’s « sculpted nudes » were approaches and works that, for the most part, remained unknown to the general public. These ten or so thirtysomething photographers, benefitting from Ananias Dago’s impetus, correspond to the tendencies that he and other photographers from Senegal, South-Africa or Madagascar have exhibited around the world since the mid-Nineties, and in particular since the first Rencontres de Bamako. Revealing a need for photographic expression, this event has also demonstrated a desire for recognition, for a reinforcing of status, and for an organized corporation. Ananias Dago feels that it is the beginning of a history of photography in Côte d’Ivoire.
How did the Rencontres du Sud come about?
I thought it dangerous that photography be limited to one or two people in Côte d’Ivoire. I thought about how to promote what is described as creative photography, in which the photographer adopts an aesthetic approach, a personal view of day-to-day scenes. In Abidjan, I know several who have things to show, despite the difficulties they meet. Only they aren’t used to exhibiting. And as they belong to no networks, they are not short-listed for events such as the Rencontres de Bamako, and don’t have the means to go there either. I contacted them. Afterwards, things worked by word of mouth. I did some preliminarily research to justify what was going to be shown. In general, each photographer had two or three things. And I said to myself that all of this together could constitute a collection. During an exhibition in France, I contacted people to set the project up. And with Catherine Aflalo as the artistic director, we rooted out all the personal work. We got together 115 photos, 100 by Ivoirians, and 15 by foreigners.
It appears that this wasn’t always easy and that this initiative caused some misunderstandings with the French cultural authorities.
It is true that I was asked to explain myself. Especially with regard to the name. In my mind, a photo month merited a name. At first, I thought of Images d’Abidjan or Rencontres d’Abidjan. And then I thought that it was an exhibition and not a fair, so the first term imposed itself. And as Abidjan is in the south of Côte d’Ivoire, and as I wanted to stand out from the Rencontres de Bamako or the Rencontres d’Arles, I opted for Rencontres du Sud quite simply. Now, if South is taken to designate Africa, so much the better. People criticized me for wanting to create a ghetto between Africans and for setting up a replica of the Rencontres de Bamako. I never saw it in that way. But I think that it is well-chosen because it caused a problem.
The general feeling was that people were surprised by the audacity and originality of the works. What surprised you the most?
That there is zest and life. The approaches as a whole are highly personal. As I participated, I took a back seat, but I had imagined the outcome, both in terms of aesthetic experimentation and in the level of immersion in the context. I am convinced that in the next two or three years there will be some highly significant things to see. But is too new to take ourselves too seriously. It is only a collection. A general contribution and the beginning of a history. That is why we called it « Birth of a collection ». After the rejection of a certain kind of photography, this Rencontres is situated in the continuity of what Doris organized in 1994. We didn’t dare to propose a specific theme for the first edition, for fear of limiting contributions too much. And we first of all needed to see what the photographers wanted to show. Now, for the forthcoming Rencontres, we will let people’s gaze express itself around a theme.
But for the time being, do you think that there is a market in Côte d’Ivoire which will allow photographers to express themselves?
But it’s up to us to create a market for photography! I’m thinking of the advertising agencies or publishing houses, which are too few and far between. At present, we are dependent on the European market. People do not know any photographers in Africa, so they imagine that there aren’t any, or if there are, that the level must be very low… Initiatives such as the Rencontres also aim to create a demand as the market is latent. We just need to add the developer so that it appears. Moreover, it has already born its fruit. Since, some photographers have been approached by a local agency. Before being in residence, I also worked for one of them. It is clear that nothing is organized nor official in the photo milieu in Abidjan. It’s completely informal. But things are taking off now. Photographers are going to come to light, and we are going to organize things together.
How do you feel about the fact that most of the images of the South are taken by photographers from the North?
I don’t think that we should reject everything per se. Europeans have done some very good work on Africa. But for me and for several photographers of the 1994 trend, this was a catalyzer. And there comes a time when you have to impose Africa’s own vision of itself.
Does the visual dynamic generated by the Rencontres du Sud risk being hindered by the recent events in Côte d’Ivoire?
If this visual dynamic means the revealing of talents, I don’t think so. Just to prove so, despite the events, the Goethe Institute in Abidjan is still going ahead with its major photography programme which started out with the Rencontres du Sud. Exhibitions and debates have been organized, and we are preparing an international workshop with the backing of the Institute. The photographers are motivated. And I take this opportunity to thank the Director of the Goethe Institute, Mrs Ute Grauerholz, for her contribution to this trend. We are writing history with her help.
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