theartsdesk in Mali: Creation, Conservation and Restoration | Features reviews, news & interviews
theartsdesk in Mali: Creation, Conservation and Restoration
The battle to bring Mali's architectural and religious history into the digital age
Timbuktu, the legendary "End of the World", does actually exist, and as everyone now knows, it's in Mali. It has just been thrust into the world’s focus after its recent liberation from the Al Qaeda-linked extremists who have occupied the north of Mali during the last 10 months.
Timbuktu’s ancient mosques are protected by their UNESCO World Heritage status. It is the "city of the 300 saints", which is one detail that did not please its recent jihadist occupiers who did not agree with the worship of saints as practised by Timbuktu's population. Many of the town’s mausoleums were therefore destroyed. In addition, as a final flourish the jihadists set light to the ancient Arabic manuscripts which had been stored at the Ahmed Baba Institute, a state establishment for the preservation of Malian manuscripts.
Irina Bukova, the UNESCO cultural envoy, accompanied France's President Hollande on his triumphant entry into Timbuktu on 2 February, after French troops had liberated the town (Timbuktu's Sankore mosque, pictured right). The pair carried out an inspection of what had been destroyed and Mme Bukova vowed to come up with funding for the rehabilitation of the town, since announced as €5m.
This is all very commendable, of course. The people of Timbuktu suffered grievously under the Islamist occupation and need every encouragement. However, as an expat living in Djenne, Mali where I have a hotel (www.hoteldjennedjenno.com), I confess to a somewhat jaundiced view of how such overseas funding might be spent.
Firstly, the mausoleums which UNESCO will reconstruct: about 80 per cent of these are made of sun-dried mud brick which is then plastered with mud. Some are built with the characteristic Timbuktu stone. But in both cases, I do hope that UNESCO will let the people of Timbuktu reconstruct these mausoleums themselves. The cost of rebuilding a traditional mausoleum in local material and using local masons is negligible. But more importantly, it is surely the pride of the city and something the people would like to do themselves? I fear that UNESCO will be sending in "experts" in 4x4s.
There is a museum in Djenne which was built a few years ago with European Community money. This museum has still not opened and has no exhibits. This is a scandal, and the reasons why it is still not open remain shrouded in mystery. Designed by a Bamako architect, it was built with mud in the traditional Djenne style and is a very handsome building. The masons of Djenne were employed as "advisers" or as labourers. Why? Because they cannot read and they cannot find their way through the labyrinth of bureaucracy which has to be conquered before being employed by the European Community. The fact that they and their ancestors were the very ones that invented this building style seems to hold no importance (the Djenne Manuscript Library, pictured above).
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
To coincide with her retrospective 'Hard Beauty', the sculptor talks about philosophy, language and the conflicting roles of artist, mother and wife
The long-serving former culture minister calls on the UK Government to increase arts funding
Introducing an intimate film of a painter working with music, premiered at Raindance
The cellist and writer on a new book annotating a great composer's wisdom
Biggest and boldest event yet for Scotland's early autumn musical harvest
In 'War Paint', four women transform themselves for a night out. A performer explains how
Remembering the playwright who fearlessly looked under the surface of the American Dream
Danish jazz-fusion pianist on how to blaze a trail after JazzKamikaze
Open-air adventures from an epic Turkish oratorio to solo strings by the sea
Bill Knight on his prizewinning photograph and the competition that turns advertising screens into art galleries
The Brecons beckon sensitive rock aesthetes
The eye-popping back story of Houndstooth Records' house sensation