Right next to Diama on the Mauritanian border there is a small and picturesque village called Maka-Diama. We had a ride to the village today and visited a project that makes paper out of a weed called typha that grows by the Senegal river. This plant can be used for thatched roofs or cooking fuel, or even paper. In order to create better working conditions for the women who make paper out of typha, the NGO behind the initiative has build a house out of local materials. The building project started in April 2019 and the house is now proudly standing and almost ready to be used. Before operating fully as a work space and a show room, some finishing touches and interior decoration is now all it takes. In the future this beautiful  house will serve also as a meeting point for people interested in local crafts, ecological architecture and design.

The reddish earth that has been used for the bricks  has been brought here from near Dakar and we witnessed how the construction technique with silt provides an amazing cooling effect inside the house: when we entered the building we could immediately feel it. Next to the main building there is a separate lavatory in which the waste water is collected and processed to irrigate a garden of aromatic plants. So the workshops will not produce just paper but also soaps and aromatic oils. If you are on your way to or coming from Diama and crossing the Mauretanian border, do drop by in this beautiful small village. The village women can make you a delicious yassa poulet for lunch in no time at all and while waiting for your meal, you can visit the workshop and cool down in this beautiful house and perhaps buy some handmade paper and fragrant oils and soaps.

The Ocean of Tuonela

Nappkat_Jarmo Pikkujamsa
Nappkat © Jarmo Pikkujämsä

The Ocean of Tuonela: Human and Temporal Impacts

The ‘Ocean of Tuonela’ refers to the Underworld, the realm of the dead, in Finnish mythology. It is the title of a multi-artistic exhibition at Bailiff Starcke’s House at Kyrkogatan / Kirkkokatu in Kristinestad / Kristiinankaupunki, Fibnland.

The impact of time and man on our habitat is the overriding theme of the show, which aims to break borders and serve as a wake-up call. The individual works and the exhibition premises, an old wooden building, are in a constant dialogue on current issues related to life, death, power and climate change.

The exhibition allows you to contemplate decaying murals of mess halls in abandoned Soviet-time military bases, the fate of Senegalese fishermen as their environment is being submerged by the ocean waters and the loss of collective memory. The unique historical layers of the building itself naturally add to the experience: the exhibition spaces all tell their own story. Visitors are finally invited to participate in the Last Assembly (Viimeinen kokous).

The Ocean of Tuonela is a complex and intriguing project. The setting naturally brings attention to life in picturesque Kristinestad itself. The exhibition takes a stand and delves into the heart of the soul, but also surprises you with curiosities. Inside the building, visitors will find themselves in the middle of the surging Ocean of Tuonela. They will move in visual landscapes between the real and the unreal. There is always a glimmer of hope.

The exhibition has been realised by the members of the working group Tuonelan tienviitta, established over the course of the past year. Like-minded they may be, but their different personal points of departure and life experiences in different cultural environments bring a richness of perspective. The working group includes:

Marianne Halenius, physician (Kristiinankaupunki)
Kaisu Koivisto, visual artist (Helsinki)
Teijo Laaksonen, restorer (Kristiinankaupunki)
Staffan Martikainen, translator (Brussels / Saint-Louis, Senegal / Kristinestad)
Liisukka Oksa, conservator (Kristiinankaupunki)
Jarmo Pikkujämsä, visual artist and researcher (Saint-Louis, Senegal)

The exhibition is supported by a grant from the Finnish Cultural Fund Southern Ostrobothnia and is open between 17 June and 31 July 2019.

Hotel Paradise

Who slept in these round rooms? What shape were their dreams? Did they stay awake, listening to the repeating noise of ocean waves and too early calls for prayers? Or were they soothed by them so much so that they woke up late with heavy limbs?

How many breakfasts, lunches, dinners were made here? How many times did people ask for a bottle of Kirène? How many chickens ended up on porcelain plates, drowned in onion sauce and mustard? Who asked: “Medium or rare?”

Who washed the white napkins over and over again? Where are they now?

How many books were carried in luggage to these round rooms? How many of them were read?

How many children were conceived in these round rooms? Did any of them come here later after they had been born, and swallow pool water while their mothers would burn their skin in the hot afternoon sun?

Did the local teenagers come here in secret to eat snacks during the holy month of Ramadan?

Why was everything so round here?

Is Paradise round?

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The full series has 30 photographs. Hahnemühle archival pigment prints, 16:9 ratio (2019).


Cinema Vox

How many of you still go to the movies? Saint-Louis of Senegal has a fantastic annual documentary film festival with numerous screenings both indoors and in the open air, then there are some screenings also at the French Institute, but where can you actually go and watch films that are projected on a big screen? The answer is: nowhere.

There was a time when there were even two cinemas in town: Cinema Rex and Cinema Vox. The former has now entirely disappeared. Step in to the Cinema Vox building and you’ll be entering a world of old asbestos, falling coconut tree branches, wild cats, fruit bats, old records and an array of abandoned things and pieces of a world that once was. When you are inside, you can still sense that there once was a time regularly filled with that pleasant anticipation just before the film starts, unexpected power cuts, shushes to keep noisy children quiet, the sounds of swirling fans in the ceiling… and you wonder who came here? What kind of films did they see? How much did it cost? When did all this stop?

The tickets cost 100 cefa and 200 cefa, depending on the seating area. The Mamas watched Endo* films and when people asked: “What’s your plan for the evening?” they would answer: “Endo!” That was so particularly on Friday nights. There were also crime films. The screenings started at 9 pm and 11 pm. (A.D)

There were porn films, I saw many of them, and then there were those Indian films and Chinese shaolin films. That was karate! These three types of films were shown so that shaolin films and Indian films were shown in the daytime, and the porn films in the night. They were real porn films! The old would sit at the back and the young in front so that when the film was over, the old would walk out fast so that the young would not see them. Porn films attracted a lot of customers, usually the cinema would be full. (I.D)

Already before and ever since Youssou N’Dour bought this building, it has been sadly falling apart, as do so many buildings in Saint-Louis. At the time of writing this, I don’t even know whether this building still belongs to him or whether he has sold it, or simply abandoned the idea of whatever project he had in mind. The rumor has it, that if he ever were going to reopen the cinema in some form, the imam of the neighboring big mosque would not accept it because of the venue being too close to the mosque.

There are and there will always be rumors, but the truth is that this building can still be saved and put into good use. The telephone number of Mr. Youssou N’Dour, anyone?

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* Bollywood films