Sometimes an unplanned visit can turn out to be the most rewarding.
Ljubljana, Slovenia: This was a free photographic exhibition in the Ljubljana City Hall in Old Town from 13th June to 17th August, 2013. We were just walking by and were attracted to it by the advertising board with photos of African males in traditional garb. We are originally from Africa too and are always keen to learn more and to find out how others see and interpret Africa and its peoples. It was a real eye-opener and we’re so happy that we chanced on these wonderful photographs. They were arranged on the walls and pillars of a couple of the courtyards in the City Hall, a place with lots of natural light, so one could see the images in all their reality. Some are small, some huge, some with single figures, others with large groups, all telling a story.
This exhibition was inspired by three main experiences of Philippe Bordas:
First, in 1988 he shared the everyday lives of Kenyan boxers in Mathare Valley, the largest slum in Africa.
Second, between 1994-1999 he entered the closed world of Senegalese wrestlers.
Third, and perhaps most important, this is based on Mali hunters whom the artist discovered in 2001, in Bamako. About 30,000 hunters from many West African countries traveled to Bamako on horseback or by bicycle and met all together for the first time for more than 7 centuries. They filled the streets with their weapons, traditional garb and living trophies, such as snakes and hyenas, that they showed without muzzles demonstrating how well they had the animals under control.
In 2002, Bordas became friends with an old hunter called Sidiki Traoré, who was trying to save the hunting heritage. Bordas travelled with Traoré for several years all over the bush on a moped and carrying a tape recorder to meet some other old hunters. Traoré followed them for seven years. Bordas produced an astonishing account of these meetings.
Three of the hunters, including Traoré, attended the opening of this show in Paris in November 2011. It’s a fascinating study of the intersection of modern days and ancient rites and rituals.
These hunters are protected by amulets (gris-gris) and special clothes and hats, and are equipped with old rifles, and many still follow the legacy and traditions of old kingdoms from the area, probably from as early as the Soundiata Keita king (1190-1255). At that time there were hunter collectives/brotherhoods that existed to train the men and pass on needed skills, and men were initiated with secret rituals. They operated much like a western guild, as they also discussed work, organized hunts, settled grievances and protected the local community. In traditional belief, wild animals killed by the hunters released a nyama, a destructive spirit, so the community could benefit from the kill.
Even these days, these men still ignore the borders created by colonization and cross between Mail, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and part of Ivory Coast, and in so dong they are transmitting the oral story of the ancient Malian empire of Keita—which fortunately has been largely recorded now by Bordas and Traoré.
Philippe Bordas is a French photographer and writer. He was born in Paris in 1961 and lives and works there.
He has had exhibitions in Paris, Colombia, New York, Mali, and Russia.