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Out of Africa

The art of Malian storyteller, author, and children’s book illustrator, Baba Wagué Diakité.

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills” *…

Well, not exactly. Let’s start again …

I was a sojourner in Africa, kicking up clouds of red dust, so typical of the Sahel, with every step that I had the privilege of taking there. And my footprints, covered in sand by morning and by the multiple years of mornings that followed, were left, if only ephemerally, in a place that I called home, Mali, West Africa.

Flat, arid, baobob-ed … that is the Africa that I’d come to know. Dynamic, culturally vibrant, oozing with a sense of humanity … that is the Africa that I would come to cherish and respect.

I can still feel the throbbing of djembes piercing the night with each lunar eclipse, can still see the fluttering of crisp, almost technicolored cloth in winds from the more northern monochromatic Sahara. And then there is the faint whiff of Africa, acrid and earthy, that still lingers between the pages of books or photographs taken there.

I read everything I could get my hands on by Amadou Hampâté Bâ, “ Sage of Bandiagara”, while my children wandered through the wondrous world of the reknowned artist and storyteller Baba Wagué Diakité.

 

 

‘From old mouths to new ears’ [Malian Proverb]

Baba Wagué Diakité’s art evolved from the rich tradition of storytellers, musicians, artists and griots that is so pervasive, so beautifully resilient, in West Africa. From the fabled city of Timbuktu to Gao to Bamako, words from old mouths still resonate in ever new generations of ears. And traditional aesthetics, from the carved symbolism of ceremonial masks to the historical, mythological and utterly iconic patterns of Malian mudcloth [bogolan], now reverberate across borders through a more modern medium, the picture book.

‘Whenever an elder dies, it is a library burning.’ – Amadou Hampâté Bâ

Wagué, which means “A man of trust” in his native Bambara (a language which I struggled to master, if not for the long, eloquent salutations!), was himself entrusted with a ‘library’: his grandmother’s trove of traditional legends, oral histories, and folk stories, passed down from the most ancient vocal archives. It is through this artist’s murals, ceramics, and bogolanfini tableaux that a ‘library’ is ever preserved.

Our copies of The Hunterman and the Crocodile, The Hatseller and the Monkeys, and The Magic Gourd may have traces of fine Harmattan dust and years of page-flipping, but the tales, with such rich illustration, have lost none of their poignancy. Their utter universality, their Aesopian/La Fontaine/Slobodkinan resonance as if from a distant common voice, makes us aware that we truly are ‘one humanity.’

Jadilanna’- Diakité, the Artist

His work is grounded in a universal language of life’s celebratory nature, a lyrical dance of our collective experience.  – Peter Held

 

Hand-painted Ceramic Illustration from The Magic Gourd

Ceramic Illustration from The Magic Gourd

 

Illustration from The Hunterman and the Crocodile

Ceramic Tile Illustration from The Hunterman and the Crocodile

 

Illustration from The Hatseller and the Monkeys

“Hee Manum nin koi kadi sa!” Ceramic Tile Illustration from The Hatseller and the Monkeys

 

3 Figures tile, Symbols of Bogolan

“Three Heads”: Hand-painted, Slip Cast Ceramic Tile – Exhibited at the Eutectic Gallery, Portland, Oregon

 

 'Weaving' a Bogolan Mural, Ko-Falen Cultural Center, Bamako, Mali, West Africa

Artist and Storyteller Wagué Diakité, ‘Weaving’ a Bogolan Mural at his Ko-Falen Cultural Center in Bamako, Mali, West Africa

 

And for a glance at our artist/storyteller at work, an absolutely captivating short film by OPB’s Emmy Award-winningOregon Art Beat“:

Video interview with Baba Wagué Diakité.

 

*Out of Africa by Danish Author Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen

On preserving these ‘libraries’:

  • The Ko-Falen Cultural Center, founded by Baba Wagué Diakité and Ronna Neuenschwander, to promote cultural, artistic and educational exchanges between Malians and the people of the United States.
  • Quand Le Village Se Réveille [When the Village Awakens], a project dedicated to collecting, preserving and diffusing Malian traditional culture through texts, recordings, videos and interviews of village elders.

On ‘reading Africa’ through children’s books:

More about our ‘Man of Trust’:

  • From Old Mouths to New Ears [Interview with Baba Wagué Diakité]: Send a Cow Blog  [and discover, at the same time, Send a Cow’s sponsored initiative, “Read to Feed” created by Heifer International.]

 

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