A. Chab Touré on Malick Sidibe, Malian Photography, Aesthetics, Contemporary Art, & on & on

I post these links because I think it is important to hear what Malians (and Continental Africans, on and of the Continent) are saying about their own work and their own artists. I think it is particularly important to hear from the those who are still on the ground and trying to get more visibility and build craft and critical capacity of the artists of their country(ies).

Bamako Encounters 2015: Tradition and change in Malian photography

Mali’s Era of Independence, in Photos originally published on Creative Time Reports

Midnight in Bamako: In search of the late Malick Sidibé and the rhythmic roots of his legendary photographs.

a few video interviews with A.Chab Touré

L’esthétique en Art – Rencontre avec Chab Touré from les inachevés on Vimeo.

Chab Touré nous parle d’esthétique, de la naissance de l’Art (4’40”), de la relation Art – Religion – Pouvoir (7’28”), de la naissance de l’Art Moderne (9’14”), de l’oeuvre et de sa valeur symbolique (12’00”) et de l’Art Contemporain (14’20”).

Art et concept – Rencontre avec Chab Touré from les inachevés on Vimeo.

Chab Touré nous parle de:
– L’Art contre la culture, contre le société
– La conceptualisation, une prise de distance avec la réalité.

Long time

Yeah…I know it has been a looonnng time since I have been here, but life has kept me quite busy lately. Trying to keep up with 2 little ones 2 years old or younger is not an easy task, but I am loving every minute of it.

I just wanted to jump on here and share a little bit of news. A poem that I wrote here in Mali, entitled Currency, has been published on PRIVATE.

It seems like a great publication, I have been following them for some time now and I hope to collaborate with them on some projects in the near future.

Check it out when you get a chance—>PRIVATE.


Back in Bamako

A piece from an exhibition called KAWRAL: Malian Visual Artists contribute to Mali’s Revival curated by Janet Goldner

It is good to be back in Bamako…So much has changed here and I come back to Bamako 4 months later a changed person, a father…a family man. Everything looks different now, even the blank page, screen, canvas or looking through the viewfinder of a camera. As it should be…

me & Naomi

me & Naomi reading My Baby by Jeanetter Winter

My Baby by Jeanette Winter

Coming back to Bamako is always a little tough, particularly while trying to be a grad school student and now a father…I will spare you the details. That said, I would not change a thing. In a lot of ways, I feel like I am staring all over again, but this time around I feel like I have  found a community here too (more on that later) and that helps tremendously. No community will ever replace my DC folks, but I am starting to build a group here of cool folks.

Anyway, it has been a while, but i just wanted to let you all know I am still here I just had to take some time as the sands started to shift…

Stay tuned…more soon come

“Every line means something”

“Every line means something” – Jean-Michel Basquiat

There must be something in the Harmattan , over the past few months as I have been thinking about written language, mark  marking , “vernacular architecture” and various aspects of how peoples make and communicate meaning from the material they have their environment.  Not only have I been thinking about these things, but something in the Harmattan wind and dust that blows over West Africa this time of year, kept blowing things my way.

Around that same time, I had been reintroduced to Ron Eglash’s work on fractals, which involved some of the complex mathematical principles at work in numerous aspects of West African life and culture. Seeing Eglash’s articulate so many things that  we have become so used to seeing, but never quite saw the complexity in it really made me think hard about other things that we take for granted yet are highly complex and involve complex thinking and being. See Eglash’s work here  , here  , here  and here 

Another string of thoughts that blew on the Harmattan’s winds came by way of a blog named Renegade Futurism run by Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, a post from a website called Another Africa ( a piece on African Writing Systems, highlighting the work of Zimbabwean typographer Saki Mafundikwa, peep his work here , here , here and here) and an online conversation I was having with another poet about the Cursive Hebrew and Kongo Cosmograms (see here and here ) in the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Ga (where my grandma was from).

This all came to head for me when my wife and I were in Segou, Mali, for Festival Sur Le Niger, a music and art festival along the banks of the Niger River in Segou, Mali, 3 hours north of Bamako.


Segou , was the capital of the Bambara Empire. My introduction to Segou was from Marsye Conde’s  novel of historical fiction Segu, which I first got hip to working at the late Karibu Books. Although I never got through the whole book (I just started reading it again when I moved to Bamako), from the little bit that I did read I have been able to envision what that world might have looked like.

In addition to the obviously awesome people and music we experienced while in Segou, we had the opportunity to meet the ladies of the Sinignessigi Atelier & Boutique. These ladies specialize making eco-friendly Bògòlanfini (mud cloth) and other handmade textile items. While browsing their workshop and boutique I saw these signs that explained what the lines meant, they were translated in French, English and Bamanakan (Bambara); “every line meant something.” Although these lines made beautiful designs, it was nice clear that all the lines and patterns on these textiles had specific meanings and were a language that communicated something to the viewer and owner of the cloth. In a way I have always known that these designs had deeper and more intentional meanings, but I cannot quite explain the feeling that came over me to see it spelled out, made plain.

It was similar to the feeling I experience way back when I found out the significance of quilts as communication objects in the in the African American resistance to enslavement; every stitch meant something.

I wish I had taken pictures of the text and some of the cloths inside the boutique, but I was trying not to be so intrusive, as well as soak in the somewhat sacred moment when your receive a breakthrough, a new revelation, or when the pieces of things you have been thinking about for a long time come together in such a serendipitous manner. All in due time.

I have only been in Mali since early October 2013 and so far the experience has already been an enlightening and humbling experience…I am looking forward to the journey forward, onward and upward.

PowerShot 071
photo by my wife, Melanie Spence Joiner

Some other references:
Nettrice R. Gaskins: check out her whole blog but here are some recent highlights
 Africa in The Matrix: STEAM, African Futurism & Myth
Techno-Vernacular Creativity: Shotgun Homes & Porches
High-Tech Textiles & the Syncopated Rhythms of the African Diaspora


for Clemson

12:00am Christmas Eve, my Uncle Clemson Russell Joiner passed away…Uncle Russell was a Vietnam Vet, who returned with an able body, but whose mind never quite returned. The smile that was one of the things he was most famous for was dimmed and he would oscillate between fighting the voices in his head, the demons attacking him and the long silences in between.
When I was a young boy, he was much more vibrant than he would later become in his older age.  I would go on walks with him around the neighborhood, him dressed in jeans or slacks, superclean , starched, with a razor sharp crease and the both legs rolled out about an inch or two. Then there was was the North Philly bop of a walk that probably would have looked like George Jefferson swagger if my uncle was not so slim and cool. I really valued those walks around the neighborhood because it made me cool be association at a time when i did not feel so cool.

My father always talks about my Uncle Russell with a type sorrow in his voice, which, as I have gotten older and learned more about my Dad and my uncle and the choices they both made, I have begun to understand this sorrow quite a bit more. I think my Dad felt sorrow for the way my Uncle’s life turned out. To hear my father tell it, mu Uncle Russell was the best musician in the family. He played trumpet. I wish I had known this as a younger person, I would have asked him to play. It seems that in my fathers family music is like a second religion, everybody something or sang. In talking about my uncle i think my father always felt like he never really got a chance to live a full life. In some regard I agree, because for the past 30 years leading up to my uncle’s death, it seemed like he was more silent, more distant everyday. He mostly would stare out the window onto my aunts lonely street or out into the backyard. He never quite got a chance to live up the electricity in smile and i think my Dad thought about every time Uncle Russell’s name came up.

So what does all this have to do with Bamako? In no small measure my Uncle Russell is probably one of the biggest reasons why I would be be open to living in Africa. Because on many of those long walks he would tell me in very simple 8 year old terms about how great Africa was. He was the first person to show and explain to me how the United States could fit into the Sahara Desert, he told me about the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana and the Kingdom of Mali. My uncle was also a gifted artist (or at least the 8 year old me remembers him that way), he draw the most amazing sculptures similar to the variety that I have been seeing since being here in Mali. I am not quite sure how my Uncle knew about all these things, but they appeared to be so vivid in his mind to the extent that he filled any scrap of paper he could find with these drawings- he gave me a few of them, I pray that I still have them buried somewhere.

But I do find comfort in having made my way here to Africa, I find comfort in the effort I am making to live as an artist and family man here and I find comfort in knowing that my Uncle Russell is with me here and that in some small way I am making a dream of his come true.

I am sure poems will come of this, but right now I prefer to live the poetry instead.

Small world, crossing water

Every once in a while I get reminders of how small and wonderful the world can be…be warned fellow technophiles and gadgets freaks this post is not about technology as we know it. No this is more about that ancient advanced idea of opening yourself up to new ideas, new experiences and new people. Today was a lesson for me to continue to be open to these types of opportunities. As some of you may or may not know I don’t not swim…elegantly…at all. In fact if you ask my wife she will tell you that I do not swim. However I always say to her and to those she tells I cannot swim, “if you through me in some water I am going to find my way out.” This usually precipitates a nice laugh on all of our parts. Well today a friend I will call Bil, Melanie, once of Mel’s Peace Corps friends and me decided we would take an uncertain boat ride across the Niger River to an island owned by Salif Keita. Now Melanie and I have had quite a few experiences on water: para-sailing in Hawaii, small wooden speedboat trip to Tobago Cays from Carriacou (don’t do this), assorted ferries Lewes to Cape May, Grenada to Carriacou, etc, so I totally trusted our judgement in making this decision. Niger River Boats I must however admit that what I know about boating in this part of West Africa did not instill much confidence in me, but knowing that this men AND women use these boats for their livelihoods meant more to me than my somewhat cushy ideas about boats. Turns out the boat that we were to take was a metal boat (which made me a feel a bit better) and the trip was only 2-3 minutes. Cool ! I am ready…we are off… Below is a shot of us approaching the island ApproachingApproaching2

This is me enjoying the ride…
me chillin
So we get to the island and we are greet by a man whose name I did not catch…I did not take his picture because I was not sure he would like that but is was very nice. He explained to us that that the island was not official open for business but we were “welcome to come and sit and Salif Keita would come to greet us later.” WAIT!?!?! WHAT!?!?!  encore s’il vous plait!!?!?  I Ko Di?!?!?! The he said again (en Francais) “He will come greet you all soon (soon can mean a long time in Africa, but I was willing to wait)!” At this point I did not care what else was going on here on this island that fact that I was going to meet Salif Keita…So we sat under a thatch canopy and chilled
us under canopy

About 20 minutes some friends Bil’s who we had run into at a bar earlier showed up, with them was a very distinguished looking man who I later found out was Afel Bocoum , whose music I just learning about today…get hip..he was the one of the most gracious and humble people I have met since I got here, which is quite a feat because I have met quite a few gracious and humble folks…
Me & Afel Bocoum
After a brief walk around the island to check things (Gazelles, Caymans, and the a beautiful grove of mango trees) out we came back to our canopy to a feast of  mouton, onions and mustard along with some great french bread and an assortment of homemade drinks including my favorite jus de gingembre ( ginger juice). Of course, after the music a gregarious, lively brother from Burkina Faso says to all of us ” how can there be all of these artists and no music!’ Someone then gets up and goes into Salif Keita’s bungalow and gets one of his very nice Gibson acoustics and hands to Afel Bocoum, who then treats us to some of his music and then passes the  guitar to other musicians one of which (Ismail) proceeds to play sing a Tracy Chapman song and a Led Zepplin song in perfect English, another plays a song by Green Day and a song by Oasis  in English and the yet another talent brother named Ibrahim who sand to us in Bamanankan and another language that I could not identify… it was quite a surreal feeling to be in such an intimate setting with such talented people and to hear some many languages being spoken and despite not totally understanding all of it still being able to get a great vibe from it all.

So after we got our fill of good food, good drink , good company and good music we started to get a little anxious that that “soon” time frame for Salif Keita’s arrival would not ever come. Although I was a bit disappointed I totally understood…this was Keita’s escape, a place where he could come and go and be with family and invited guests and he has earned the right to choose to come out and greet us or not. To be honest, I was already satisfied with the glimpse I caught of him as we entered the island. So our little crew (Mel, Leigh, Bil and Me) decide we would cross back over to the Bamako side of the river. As we were beginning to walk back to our boat the same gentleman that greeted us told us that Salif was ready to receive us now, but that there could be no pictures..fine by me… When get to Salif’s bungalow he is engrossed in a phone conversation with his back to us. While waiting for him to finish I strike a conversation with Ismail (the Tracy Chapman singing brother) and he says in slightly giddy voice ” I have never seen him either and I live here!”…to which Mel and I chuckle…then I tell Ismail this my first time to Mali and to West Africa and he smiles and look me directly in the eye and says “welcome home.(I will have to discuss this in more depth later).” I did not have much time to let those words sink before I heard a hearty “What’s Up!?!? What’s Up?” As soon as I turn around Salif Keita’s hand is extended at me and gladly shake it and greet him briefly in Bamanankan and slide out of of the way. When I turn around the entire delegation of is in line behind me waiting to say their hello and greet Keita. On our way back across the river, I felt a very simple and pure sense of joy that I was open to crossing these waters in the first place, to the island today, to the country and to this continent…Yes “welcome home” indeed…

K’an ben seeni — See you soon in Bamanankan

On Garbage

I know many of you who know about this blog may be thinking, “i thought you said this website would be about art, design, poetry and other fun stuff.” I am getting there…I promise.

It’s just that Mali is a really rich and complex place and before I can begin to understand the art I am trying to understand the how, why and the where from which their art is created. Being here (in Mali) and watching how some segments of the art world functions, I notice that we  (some artist in the West) place a lot of value on detachment and restraint in the work. Here, of the artist that I have seen or heard about thus far, their focus always seems to be on creating work that is connected to family, community, nation, etc..these appear to be of the utmost importance.

So it is in that spirit and energy that I share these thoughts…

My journey thus far here in Bamako has been a humbling and inspiring one, the sincerity, authenticity, ingenuity, and generosity of the Malian people has been very comforting  and have made the challenges of this transition much easier to bear.


Garbage…I never think about it much, I don’t think I am unique in this regard. I don’t think the average American thinks about it beyond the curb we put it out on before someone comes, picks it up and takes it out of our sight.
Because our trash, is for the most part, out of our sight (at least for most of us), we tend not to think about. In Bamako, there is nowhere to hide from trash, this is not meant to be an indictment of Bamako, just an observation. I have a whole other post about international aid, infrastructure and development work, perhaps one day that will find its way to the interwebs…
So I could say a lot more, but I won’t….Anyway…I was sitting around scribbling, thinking about all this and this draft came out:


Waste -Waist

I am losing weight, my mouth
is shrinking, my stomach is now
right-sized for my eyes

I have seen where everything goes
to die, things the earth cannot swallow
cannot return to dust

litter is landscape,
the usuable burns

When I take out the garbage
I feel shame, oversized trash bags

say greed, say I own,
say consume/d.

before nightfall, what I thought waste
will be in someone’s home
or stomach.

In the morning I will
stare at my refrigerator
& ponder its rotten swell

So it begins…

or rather it has already begun…

I have been in Bamako now for exactly one month and it still feels new. Obviously, this is connected to new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures., but I think the most compelling thing that will keep Bamako new for me during the time my wife and I are here is language. While French is the “official” language, I hear some many languages spoken on the street as move through them. Bamanankan, or as it is often translated Bambara, is probably the most widely spoken but there are almost 40 other languages that you may hear as you walk through the marche (market in French), or listening to the taxi drivers talk to one another.

I am currently learning Bamanankan (Melanie and I are in a class together) , I am also brushing up on my French. I have already encountered a few occasions where using even a little Bamanankan goes a long way, so I look forward to getting stronger with it. It is really a beautiful language that appears to be constructed in a very logical manner and has a nice call and response to it that is very comforting as a student of African American idioms to actually witness these things on this side of the Atlantic.

Anyway, there will be much more to come. This is my space to share with you what I am seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and making…pens.lens.canvas.love..Boom For Real! Bamako…