Bamako Encounters has evolved…


For the 12th year running the Malian capital, Bamako, is hosting this major event dedicated to photography, become the largest of its kind in Africa. Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the project, Encounters is expected to attract some 5,000 visitors between 30 November 2019 and 31 January 2020, and is likely to send ripples far beyond Bamako. In a country weakened by the violence of its recent past, the holding of an artistic event of this magnitude is an act of resistance in itself and a clear rejection of obscurantism: “Photography is about light, and light is what we need during these obscure times when some would have us believe it is the opposite… No, no, no… we reject these dark times” says Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, coordinator of the Union African for Arts and Culture.

athi patra ruga

Athi Patra Ruga, The Knight of the Long Knives I, 2013

What’s new?

Of the 85 artists from the African continent and the diaspora, half are women… a strong sign of the evolution of Encounters. Another advance: the number of exhibition sites has almost doubled compared to the previous edition with 12 locations this year, from the train station hall at the Palace of Culture where the Biennale first started, to the girls’ high school Ba Aminata Diallo, whose former boarding house has been transformed into a museum-gallery. Previously co-organized by the Malian Ministry of Culture and the French Institute, the event is organized this year by the Malian Ministry of Culture and the French Institute has become a partner. As a result, for the first time, nearly all the 1,500 images exhibited were printed in Mali.

Entitled Streams of Consciousness, Les Courants de conscience, this 12th edition explores interpretations of how photographers point (their cameras), perceive, interpret and think about the world they occupy. The selected projects are therefore very varied in both form and content. Keen to go beyond the frame of photography as a visual experience, the event addresses textuality, tangibility, performativity and especially the sound of photography.

Artists’ Focus

Bamako Encounters is a biennale of African Photography that offers the Malian public an exceptional opportunity to discover the richness of photographic creativity on their vast continent. It is also a unique platform for established photographers, allowing some to gain faster access to an international reputation.
Bamako Encounters has helped to develop the careers of several generations of African artists such as the Malian Malick SIDIBÉ, the first African artist to receive a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale (2007). More recently, we have seen the emergence of Athi-Patra RUGA. Still unknown a few years ago, his prices are currently rocketing. At the beginning of 2019 one of his photos fetched a new auction record at over $108,000, almost ten times its low estimate! The work in question was an elaborately composed ink-jet print on Photorag Baryta: The Knight of the Long Knives I, 2013.

The South African artist Zanele MUHOLI was noticed during the 2009 edition of Bamako Encounters, receiving the Blachère Foundation Prize. Ten years later, she exhibited at the Rencontres d’Arles, at the Venice Biennale, at the AKAA fair and she was selected by Paris Photo 2019 to create the fair’s communication media. An LGBT activist in South Africa, she fights prejudices through photos that are both politically and emotionally powerful. In 2017, she was made a Knight of the Arts and Letters in Pretoria. Her work has since been exhibited in some of the most prestigious museums and events around the world (Documenta 13, Louis Vuitton Foundation, etc.) and her collectors are rapidly growing in number.


Zanele Muholi, Isililo XX, 2014

Among the trends highlighted in this new edition, the place of the black woman’s body in society is a subject that has been widely explored, notably by Buhlebezwe Siwani (South Africa), Emmanuelle Andrianjafy (Madagascar) and the Italian-Senegalese artist Adji Dieye, who takes the advertising codes of a stock cube very popular in Africa to demonstrate how they perpetuate stereotypes about the way African women are supposed to be and act.

A market that is also changing…

While the photography market accounts for less than 2% of total global auction turnover on Fine Art, the share is growing in Europe’s capitals. The lines are also moving within the Contemporary African art market, with a growing number of African buyers (South Africans, Moroccans, Nigerians), an increasingly well-informed population of Western buyers and the proliferation of dedicated fairs such as AKAA in Paris, 1-54 in London, New York and Marrakesh, MarraArt X in Lagos, Nigeria, the Rabat Contemporary Art Biennale, and, last but not least, the Venice Biennale, which is giving more and more space to African countries.

The auction results show an upward trend for major African photography signatures with new records obtained in December 2018 for Seidou Keita (Sans titre (l’Odalisque), $73,000), last February for Malick Sidibé (Exuberant photographs highlighting graphic elements of West African culture, $87,500), in April for JD Okhai Ojeikere (Modern Suku, Hairstyles Series, close to $15,000). These records were hammered in Paris, New York and London respectively. Clearly international buyers are now interested.


Seydou Keita, (1952-1955) Untitled