Week Three: Jan 23-29

the workshop

Samedi, 29 janvier - Good work day, mostly - made some progress on the second painting, but it's not quite flowing. Spent a lot of time talking to Anna. Wren was busy still trying to get her show installed. In the evening I walked with them to the Fondation for dinner, but then left when I was able to catch a ride with Denis downtown for an overdue meeting. Dined on brick-fired pizza on the terrace of the Djoliba hotel with MacKenzie Glander-Dolo to have a chat about her distance learning project. Her family history with Mali is very interesting. Seems her grandmother worked with someone who put the Dogon language into written form in the late 1920s. She's married to a Minnesotan but is yearning for her Mali connection, wanting to do some good for the education system. Her father has run a refuge center (medical respite?) for people with chronic (and acute?) health issues.

Later I met with Oussou and Dolo at the Alphabet to review the theft investigation and the situation with Madou which seems to have been an kind of misunderstanding – he was not under arrest, but he was asked to remain at the station, I think, while his statement was being checked against Ioussouf's. Ioussouf had made statements implicating Madou regarding things had supposedly gone missing from the atelier last year – ceiling fans, a sculpture base. But no one seems to have believed those statements and Madou was cleared of all implications. 

Vendredi, 28 jan 2011 - Pavage, Déchées et la Terre = Réclamation
It came to me in the morning – the approach to the sketchmark/quiltbearings in this workshop. It is a paving, a covering over of the earth with the contrived and incidental (sketches and drawings torn up and reassembled as paving – referencing as I have been wanting to do – the “paving” of the streets of Bamako and Segou with plastic bags and bottles. (small bags which hold juice frozen into glaces or Popsicles) (larger black bags which hold the French bread/pain everyone eats every morning, the fabric/tissue, souvenirs and groceries we buy throughout the day, the bottles which hold the uncontaminated mineral water tourists and the affluent enough buy to drink and others sell). As I envisioned the compositional approach, worrying about the references to architecture and how to use the available materials – charcoal, red soil, yellow dust, brown millet ink, leaf dyes and bogolon/mud... I realized that my attraction to what was beneath my feet, the ground I put my feet upon, everyone puts their feet upon all day every day here Mali is also the connection to the ground, the earth, the soil of Richmond. In the group discussion yesterday the many interpretations of what the earth can mean to each of us in the workshop is also what will inform any cohesion and when death was mentioned it hit me that I already had all the elements I needed to move the work forward, except composition. So it was this morning's musings that brought it all together. I walk the ground here – the ground here is “paved” with the detritus/déchés of modern life, a modern life that is struggling (making progress) to free itself from the under-development of 100 years of colonial control. In Richmond we are struggling to reclaim a burial ground tossed aside to become speculation property as soon as it was filled up with bodies of slaves, free blacks, hanged unfortunates and criminals, and paupers of all kinds with no land of their own in which to be respectfully and traditionally buried. This site is paved with asphalt, it is a parking lot – there is no respect for the dead nor for the lives lived in the bodies that were interred there 200-300 years ago. The struggle to reclaim it has come through the justification of the right of the African American community to self-determine NOW the reclamation of this precious cultural site. As contemporary Africans work to become modern, use their impatience and resourcefulness to move themselves into the 22nd century of technology, knowledge and development, their expressive culture remains the vehicle for declaring to the listener how its going – good, bad and otherwise.
Réclamation: Pavage, Déchées, Pavage et la Terre 1 - fini 28 Janvier 2011 – represents my first responses to the contradictions of putting my feet on African soil for the first time and experiencing the city's streets « paved » in dust, plastic bags and bottles, all the beauty pushed to the periphery. The small plastic sacs that hold ginger, bissap and mango juices (beautiful shades of beige, majenta and orange) are dropped or tossed aside to become crushed and beige in the streets, becoming paving for the foot trafic of daily life. 2017 question: Where are the splashes and spurts of majenta and orange? 
Réclamation: Pavage, Déchées, Pavage et la Terre 2 - fini 30 Janvier 2011 – a geographic or cartographic view of the struggle between the earth and pollution, a river separates two active states of being in Mali – the richness of the Mali's ressources (both natural and human-made) and the constant threat of pollution – representing the shock of seeing a beautiful countryside along the river dotted with trees filled with birds that later turned out to be flocks of black plastic bags, and the emotional struggle to deal with last week's thefts from the atelier that incorporated cultural, ethical and personal paradigms. 2017 question: Where are the undercurrents of green and blue?
Réclamation: Pavage, Déchées, Pavage et la Terre 3 - fini 1 Fevrier 2011 – referencing earth-bricked and earth-surfaced architecture of Segou/Mali as it encounters the trash of daily living, this piece represents in a way an optimism emerging in the apparent disorder, from the swirl of trash, activity, ambition, negligence, vision and impatience. 2017 question: Where is the steel and beam of structure and ascendance?

Mercredi, 26 jan 2011
Workshop day 2: getting to know bogolon materials and started doing basic drawings to tear up later, including one of the discarded little plastic sacs used for frozen juice (Malian popsicles).

Mardi, 25 jan 2011
Workshop day 1: First day of art-making activities at the atelier – getting set up, watching Issa get straight to work setting up vats of leaf-dye, tank of mud, and his pre-cut wood tablets. We spent the morning stretching canvases where I earned my first ounce of respect as a stickler for the stretching process. Artists and workers everywhere, lunch with Dolo served at noon, provided by the Foundation and served by Djeneba, after which the place got very quiet as all the men but Issa left to do things in downtown Segou. My absurd problems with telephone communications continued as I was out of minutes due to an early morning exchange with Phil. Ioussouf was headed out so I asked him to buy me a 5000 CFA card, but then couldn't find my wallet. Must have left it at the house. Later Anna called out to say can you hear the singing – there was a boy of about 12 singing for food or money at a doorway on the street nearby – what a beautiful powerful voice he had, along with presence and aptitude for performance (eye contact, full engagement). He made his way to the atelier – it likely being full of westerners and others with money and after Idrissa (of the foundation) explained who he was and what he was doing, I asked him to sing. And so he did. Wow. So I ran off to find the coin I knew was lurking in my purse and returned with a 500 CFA piece. He then sang a song TO me. Did I mention he had a beautiful smile too? Off he went. It must have been at about this time that Anna began to discover that her things were missing. I went back to my studio and a little while later Wren and Madou began talking a little more loudly and Wren came to ask if I was missing anything. It all wound up from there. Apparently someone had come into the atelier late in the morning or during lunch and stolen the entire contents of Anna's rucksack plus her telephone, passport, camera, cash, credit cards... and as it turned out my wallet with drivers license, cash and bank cards. Calls to Dolo, report made at the Gendarmerie, calls to Kida who had returned from Bamako and Oussou... a preliminary scene of the crime review and done. Dinner at the Foundation and home to a fireside chat with family and friends – all about the crime!

Lundi, 24 jan 2011
When we, Ousmane Diallo, Hama Goro and I, pulled into the atelier for our 12 noon meeting at 1:30, waiting there were Amaghire Dolo, Wren Miller and Anna Read. Gradually Issa Kone, Leslie Lumeh arrived and then Amadou Chab Toure and Katy from Carpe Diem. I was relieved when he arrived, probably because we'd already worked together and seemed to share similar sensibilities. But I also really liked his receptiveness when I would show up with Kida's kids; he treated them seriously and immediately gave them tours of the gallery and book following visits with the kids, I found we have like sensibilities and because I like his demeanor with people in general. Katy is quiet, but just as kind as Chab. We must have been 2 hours at the atelier which was not ready for us to begin working in, but it did allow us to get acquainted, eat lunch (prepared by the staff at Savane and served graciously by Djeneba) and experience being in the working space. (As an example of Chab's way with people, as soon as he arrived he asked Dolo the name of our server, Djeneba, who he then greeted by name and whenever he talked to her it was as though she was part of the group. Score 1 for Chab.) We had beer, juice, water to accompany the rice with peanut sauce meal and oranges for dessert. Most of the party then moved itself over to the Foundation's patio by the river and stayed put for the next 3 hours – walking, sitting, chatting, listening. Then we moved our bodies over to Carpe Diem for an hour and glasses of gingembre with citron (lime or orange) all around before returning to the foundation for dinner – that lovely Malian spaghetti with meatballs, a side of sliced and dressed roma tomatoes, papaya for dessert. Beer, juice, water. A band set up and was playing still when Ousmane drove me home at 22:15 at my insistence.

I stay worried that I'm a huge burden and annoyance to Faty, but she was so warm when she greeted me this evening I felt ashamed of my narcissism. I'm learning the daily rituals, the complexities of the roles of women and men and children, family duties and communal expectations. I'll be at the house so little in this 2nd to last week, it seems an anticlimactic tapering off to the friendship that's just begun to grow precisely because we've shared the daily routines. But Kida has now been in Bamako since Sunday and I'll be gone everyday, all day now for a week. So, there it is.

I meant to describe breakfast chez Sissoko. When I wake up its either to the sound of “Ana. Aaaanaaa. On mange.” That would be Kida already dressed and waiting at the little table in the courtyard where breakfast is always served whether the weather is a balmy 100 or a frigid 85. OR a little tiny voice, calling an equally persistent “Bonjour Ana. Ana Bonjour.” tinkles into the room sometimes sucking her thumb, sometimes searching while saying “...photo bem”. Anyway, the little table holds tins of Nescafe instant coffee, Nestle's powdered enriched whole fat milk, sugar, a sac of baguettes, butter and jam. On Sundays, protein is served – so far it was eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onions, pickled sardines drained and sauteed in oil, and canned beef (spam bologna looking substance). This meal is followed by the traditional Malian tea, as is every meal if you don't rush off. Mornings have been very nice. The courtyard is shaded by the house itself and there has been some kind of breeze every morning.

Dimanche, 23 jan 2011
Kida left for Bamako sometime after 10 am, when Faty, Lalu, Sidi, Batoma and I left to attend the wedding party of Mah's petite soeur - a last minute invitation for me initiated by Kida after Mah stopped by to say good morning. My strongest memories of the wedding will be the never-ending variety and overlay of incredibly beautiful fabric that splintered my vision like the lens of a kaleidoscope, that we spent 2 hours in a small room while the real activities took place outside somewhere, that women came in to rest or change clothes or eat or nurse their babies; and that people's primary response to my presence was to ask “who's the tubabu?”. (Margit might not get this, but for Allma and I it's a done deal) Upon return I spent an hour secluded in my room grooming my fingers and toes. That was blissful. Then Mamy came in and invited me to take a walk to the Festival grounds to see how the setup was progressing – she, Bouba and MAHmadou Ibrahima Traore (bright-eyed, clever friend of Bouba's who rides a bike everywhere). Ran into Ina, discovered mention of crime after dark on certain streets, stopped with the kids at Carpe Diem for niamokouji and jus d'orange. These walks are very hard on Mamy because she is asthmatic - I don't know how she survives this time of year, except that she is acclimatized.

And finally last night at about 6pm Ousmane Diallo called to say I was required at a dinner in honor of Abdoulaye KONATE, with all most of the other artists in the workshop (Wren Miller, Anna Read, Hama Goro, Issa Kone, Leslie Lumeh and Amaghire Dolo, notre chef) and Souleymane Diallo who is taking Konate's master class along with Sonia Keita, a transplanted Frenchwoman studying at the Conservatoire in Bamako, and Amara Sylla “Amsyl” arrive tomorrow from Bamako. I met Amsyl earlier in the week, the day I did the interview with Magma Gabriel. He likes to party. It took until the evening was almost over for a chance to talk to Konate and discuss Dad. It was then that Dolo understood who Dad was and both then shook my hand again, a little more enthusiastically. Sonia works at the Bla Bla in Bamako which is one of the only stand-alone exhibition spaces for contemporary artists; it's also a bar and she is a wineseller.