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.
Hot outside, cool inside
Momordica sharantia known as mbeurbof, here used for making soap
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.
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.
In the middle of this spring’s artists’ residency season the house is full of positive work flow and laughter and discussions about life in general, and about being an artist and looking for opportunities to show your work in particular.
Since long time now I preferred very slow processes just because, and I keep reminding myself that it is all about the process. It’s not about sharing my work to the entire world on the social media, because that process easily takes over and interferes with my creative pulses and subconsciously affects my work while it should just be about my love of making things. I had these thoughts just the other day while I was stitching some fabric for a tie dye workshop. I was amused when I realized how little it actually is that you know about what you will be doing at some later stage in your life… who would have thought that I would prefer to sit quietly in the house, listen to my favorite radio station Radio Wassoulou Internationale, and stitch fabric! It was very relaxing and meditative and while I was at it, I thought I could do this much, much more often and make some surprising patterns and dye these fabrics in various shades of indigo. I was also thinking of Aboubacar Fofana and his impressive textile designs. How often do you seriously stop to think whether you should set sail to a completely new direction in your life?
Maybe it’s because my recent walking trip in the Mauritanian desert that I seem to have the urge to go smaller and keep it “simple”? I’m thinking of small spaces and work that would fit in them. It’s a good time to keep listening to Radio Wassoulou and be playful with tie dyes, photography and writing, and go smaller for a change.
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!