Martin Kharumwa, Centre Soleil d’Afrique — Mali
As part of the KLA ART Labs program we were offered a selection of countries and southern hemisphere arts organisations to apply to visit and spend a month-long residency with. Though I imagined more exotic residencies in Asia and a chance to see South America would have been my first choice, I found myself drawn to Bamako, Mali with Centre Soleil d’Afrique.
I should say it’s always been a personal goal to see as much of the continent that life and circumstance can afford me but, my application to the Bamako Recontres Photography Biennale had just been rejected, and I thought it would be an opportunity to go confront the organisers and inform them of their drastic error in judgement. A month or so later, following a short Christmas break and reports of a possible pandemic in China, I found myself at the Medina Gallery, sitting at the desk of Igo Diarra the Founder of Bamako Recontres.
At the time we were in Mali, the violence between IS (Islamic State) militia and State forces was escalating and still to this day a threat to stability of the region.
Coming from a modest concept of post-colonial national identity. What I didn’t truly grasp until I was in Mali, was the scope of its heritage. Its borders were formed centuries before colonialism, and maybe only by sheer magnitude was t’s culture was able to survive it.
The conflict affected which parts of the country we could visit, Timbuktu is no longer accessible to foreigners, and the Segou arts festival was guarded by French and Malian Soldiers. This hasn’t stopped the work of Mamou Daffe of the Kore Culture Centre and who invited the arts community to the banks of the Niger for the Segou arts Festival
I was unable to shift my gaze from the military presence outside of Bamako, and for the rest of my trip explored my own experience living under a militarised state, and the conditions that draw people into military service.
We were tasked to work on an exhibition in consideration of the theme ‘polophonie pour la paix’ and I worked with Centre de la Formation en Photographie in Bamako to create an image to contribute to an exhibition in Mali.
Following our return to Kampala, we took on more group lab sessions to help process our experiences collectively however, our lab sessions were interrupted by the pandemic and we’ve been in lockdown since. I look forward to returning to the sessions and work towards contributing to the KLA ART festival.
I happened to pick up digital illustration whilst I was in Mali, and those experiments in digital illustration combined with my research and time in Mali’s national museums have now lead to the Creativity is Life grant from Africalia to develop digital illustrations from a series of archival references.