Afropolis expo: a teaser

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A first milestone in my Afropolis photo project: a work-in-progress exhibition. I framed twelve prints last night to show what I am working on. This small show is combining some sleek-looking photos and rough handmade and “unfinished” frames made out of old windows that are very easy to come by here in Saint-Louis. Doing this show has helped me a lot in both choosing the photos that I want to include in later exhibitions and defining the theme or themes that this project will bring forward. These twelve photos were taken in Addis Ababa and once I will have more material from the other cities – Dakar, Nouakchott and Bamako – these themes will certainly develop more in the process. For now I can say that visually I hope to capture some of the contrasts of neighborhoods that are human in size and “organic” against the modern construction boom with glass and steel buildings reaching up in the skies, and human activity characterized by informality that takes place in between these two dynamics. More of that later with more photos!

Ndar Ndar Music & Café, Saint-Louis: A work-in-progress photo exhibition “Afropolis 2020” with a focus on African urban space: Addis Ababa. The final exhibition material will be made in platinum prints in summer 2020.

Ahmed Ela

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© Jarmo Pikkujämsä

Some photographs stay with you always. I am not talking about actual prints in a shoe box but photos that you stored in some laptop, external memory or cloud and you forgot all about it up until it starts to pop back into your memory and you need to dig it up again and have a look. I took this photo in Ahmed Ela in Northern Ethiopia many years ago while sitting in a moving car and coming from or going to Dallol, I don’t even remember. But there are two things I do remember when I look at it. I remember what it felt like to be in that open space where there is nothing but distant horizon opening in all directions. It’s that fantastic feeling that takes over every time I am in a desert when you realize what a tiny little ant-like your life actually is on this planet. You may be going to places back and forth, you’re being dragged into social whatever drama, you climb some ladder you think you must climb, you want things that you have been taught to want… and so on and then you come to a place like this and everything starts to make sense again. I just love open wide space and the fact that you can look and see far away.

The other thing is that mysterious “highway” in the photo. It looks like a mirage, inviting you to take that road to.. where? Nowhere? Most likely somewhere north towards Eritrea. We left that chance to some other trip though. Oh and there’s also a third memory: it’s that sound when you walk in the heat of the day on that crispy salt, as this soil is nothing but salt that the Afar collect and bring back to urban environment on the backs of camels. If you have seen the Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara’s song Nterini you get the idea of what this place looks like. If you ever wanted to shoot a science fiction film, this is the place! A side note: this clip, quite typically to music videos, has a wee bit too many fancy juggles and fast paced cuts in it, this location would do the trick in a few long shots alone since it’s such a stunning scenery.

Ethiopia has been on my mind lately since we are in the planning mode for a future art residency in Ethiopia. The Dallol desert and the Danakil Depression might prove to be rather challenging environments so we’ll stick to the opposite and run the programme in buzzing Addis Ababa and in the magical town of Harar. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Art happens

This summer I have traveled more than usual, the usual being a summery visit once a year to Europe. More than usual also in the sense that whenever I was able to go to Finland, I would stay in my birth town Turku, but this time I spend an entire month in Kristiinankaupunki where we run an AiR programme every summer. This picturesque town is a member of the international Città Slow network, and rightly so: the town has a lovely somnolent atmosphere with old wooden housing, long narrow streets and neat gardens. Yet it is a functional place with a couple of restaurants, a library, a cinema, and it’s by the sea which to me is a huge plus.

I actively slowed down while in Kristiinankaupunki and took part in this Città Slow pace by spending my days sitting on the steps of an old customs house built in 1680. We had an exhibition of Ethiopian church paintings and my photographs in this house as part of the International Art Week and the annual Open Gates event that attracts hundreds and hundreds of visitors into town for a weekend. We had advertised the event in the local media and as a result there were visitors also from far away neighboring towns and there were guests from even as far as Australia! As this town used to build large ships and had a lot of sailors and fishermen, many also left and never came back. Now their grandchildren or grand grand grand children would come to spend a holiday in town and walk in the footsteps of their family members.

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Archangel Michael © Jarmo Pikkujämsä
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“Deep” © Jarmo Pikkujämsä

The customs house is such a magnificent setting to show art work and as it had been closed for years and years, the locals were now very curious to have a look inside. Some of them would tell stories about who had lived in the house after its original purpose, or argue whether anybody had ever lived there in the first place. Based on these stories I gather that at least in the seventies the house would have been used by three families, and there was also a time when a friendly Roma man called “Black Jack” lived there. “Jack” was “a heavy drinker and always wore black clothes,” customary to the Finnish Roma people.

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The old northern customs house

I mentioned the library.. it deserves a separate thought here. If there is one thing missing in Saint-Louis, it’s the library. Libraries in Finland are notorious for creating public spaces in which you enter and you no longer want to leave! Moreover, if there is a copy of a book in any library in Finland and you would like to borrow just that book, they will order it for you and text you once it has arrived. So I was able to get hold of Arundhati Roy’s most recent novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness that I could dive into with all that craziness of Old Delhi and Kashmir under Roy’s pen. My reading during those quiet hours, sitting on the steps of the old customs house, was only interrupted once in a while by swallows that had ended up trapped in the attic of the customs house. I would wait until they were a little tired first, then climb up those narrow stairs and catch them and take them out.