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Memory and the current state of art in Mauritania

February 24, 20226:00 p.m.
Casa Árabe Auditorium (at Calle Alcalá, 62). 6:00 p.m. Free entry until the room’s capacity is reached.
In French, with simultaneous translation into Spanish.

On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition “Memories in Motion: Contemporary art from Mauritania,” we have organized this round table discussion with four of the artists appearing in the exhibition. It will be taking place in Madrid on Thursday, February 21.

Despite the geographical proximity and close historical and cultural ties between Spain and Mauritania, the situation in this country, which belongs to both the Arab and African cultural realms all at once, is very poorly known in Spain or Europe.The possibility of getting to see the work of artists from this country in the Sahel region has also been very limited. In order to make up for this lacking knowledge, Casa Árabe and Casa África have jointly organized the exhibition “Memories in Motion” with works by eleven artists in oil painting, photography, sculpture and installations.

The official opening event will include a round table discussion in which we analyze the role of artists and cultural producers from Mauritania, and hold a conversation about cross-cutting subjects for creators from the region, such as the following: what are the most important problems affecting cultural institutions and artists?; what are the reactions in the country to the apparently increasing interest in creation from outside of the North Atlantic area?; how decisive are technological change and global connection becoming for the artists’ community in Mauritania?; in what way do artists and cultural producers relate with the tradition and memory of their cultures?,in addition to other questions.

The conversation will be led by the curator of the exhibition, Aicha Janeiro, with the participation of the four artists present in Madrid when the opening event is held: Oumar Ball, Malika Diagana, Béchir Malum and Amy Sow. 

The round table will be followed by the opening of the exhibition “Memories in Motion: Contemporary art from Mauritania.”
Mamadou Anne
A visual artist born in the southern Mauritanian town of Bababé, Mamadou Anne discovered painting during a stay in Italy. A telecommunications and civil aviation signal engineer, Mamadou Anne is one of the pioneering painters in his native country, having taken part in the first group exhibition dedicated to Mauritanian plastic art, Démarrage de la peinture mauritanienne contemporaine (Beginning of Contemporary Mauritanian Painting) at the National Museum in 1979. In 1987, he began to devote himself fully to his calling for art by holding exhibitions in Mauritania, Senegal and Algeria. In 2016, he dedicated his solo exhibition, Maayo (“River” in the Pulaar language), at the Zeinart gallery in Nouakchott, to the legends which enlivened his childhood, also highlighting the problem of water control and management around the world. His extensive work, which fluctuates between the figurative and abstract, can broadly be defined by themes whose inspiration lies in the traditional oral tales from Mauritania’s various cultures, Islamic mysticism and the imbalance between ecosystem and human activities. Mamadou Anne defines himself as a visual “griot” (storyteller), thus evoking West African figures who express themselves through music and tales, wisdom and cultural memory. One of his most recent works, Kané Massiné (2021), consists of a series of seven paintings inspired by a story from the Soninke oral tradition in which three brothers endure different trials in order to marry a desired maiden, in much the same style found in rites of passage from various tales in the region. Known for accompanying his works with music or storytelling, Mamadou Anne rounded off this series with an audio recording of the story which inspired it, initially taken down in writing by musician and cultural promoter Siré Camara with the intention of rediscovering the value of oral tradition that lies at its origin.

Oumar Ball
A painter, sculptor and illustrator born in Bababé, a village located a few kilometers from the Senegalese border, it was in this predominantly rural environment that he began his journey into the world of sculpture. His father, photographer and painter Issa Ball, introduced him to painting. At the age of fifteen, he put on his first solo exhibition at the Centre Culturel Français, now the Institut Français de Mauritanie, in Nouakchott. Since then, his work has been shown at exhibitions and biennials in many countries like France, Spain, Senegal, Luxembourg, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. At the Ouagadougou Sculpture Biennial (Burkina Faso) in 2021, he was awarded first prize for his work Chimère (Chimera), which now forms part of the Fondation Blachère collection in France. Lying between the abstract and figurative, his work portrays objects, animals and people, in everyday scenes from Mauritanian life often related with the artist’s childhood and designed with a combination of natural and recycled materials: earth, sand, aluminum, animal dung, steel, iron, tin, etc. His best known installations, sculptures of migratory birds made from different recycled metals, express a message of freedom and hope sent by the artist to himself and to his public. Cormoran (Cormorant) and Marabout (Marabou) form part of this series of sculptures which Oumar Ball began exhibiting in 2011, with the title Oiseaux Migratoires (Migratory Birds); executed in iron wire, as of 2016 he named it L’envol (The Flight), developing new techniques of récup’art (recovery art) from recycled tin cans and iron plates. Inspired by childhood memories, one of his most recent paintings, Les Confidents (The Confidants), includes animals and everyday objects in anthropomorphic figures, creating a narrative about the relationship between humans, animals and objects.

Zeinab Chiaa
A visual artist born in Nouakchott, Mauritania, her vocation for painting arose in 2005. The following year, she joined the Maison des Artistes in Nouakchott, and in 2007 she made her debut with a solo exhibition at the Institut Français de Mauritanie, while at the same time beginning private lessons in the plastic arts for girls and young women. During a long stay in China, she held an exhibition in the Mauritanian Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and took part in courses and workshops dedicated to Chinese calligraphy. As a result of this, she grew interested in Arabic calligraphy, which marked her creative style when she returned to Mauritania. In late 2010, she once again held a solo exhibition at the Institut Français de Mauritanie and, after a break from 2014 to 2017, at the Art Gallé and Sinaa galleries in Nouakchott. Zeineb Chiaa defines herself as a “fannana tashkiliyya” (“plastic artist” in the Arabic language) whose work, which lies between the abstract and surreal, includes mostly imagined calligraphic symbols that take on meaning through their lines and framing in geometric shapes which evoke landscapes, animals, stars, and so forth. The artist adds features, techniques, instruments and materials from other cultures, like those of China and Japan, using water color, oil paint, sand, pigments, Chinese and Japanese ink, or even coffee, rice paper and gum Arabic. She often composes colorful mosaics in which, through the technique of collage, she recycles pieces of fabrics from previous paintings in the récup’art style. Her paintings are based on poetry or song, inspired by calligraphic signs from different cultures and allude to universal themes such as beauty, freedom, love, old age, death or nature.

Daouda Corera
A photographer and computer engineer born in Nouakchott, his vocation for art began after winning the prize for best photograph of Mauritania in the 2012 SahelProduction competition. His photos have since been exhibited at the InstitutFrançais de Mauritanie (Mauritania), at the “Off” section of the Dakar Biennial (Senegal), the American festival LOOK3 in Charlottesville, the Photoville festival in Brooklyn and the Addis Foto Fest in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). They have also been published by UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Program and Apple, as well as magazines such as Jeune Afrique Magazine, Takepart, Die Zeit, The Sunday Times Magazine, Der Spiegel and the New York Times Lens blog. In 2015, he collaborated on the multidisciplinary art project Paroles d’un Prosopis (Words of a Carob Tree) with singer and stage director Moussa Abdallah Sissako. The following year, he was selected to form part of the Everyday Africa project, a photographic group working to broaden views of Africa stretching beyond the stereotypical newspaper headlines usually seen. He is a founding member of the Café des Arts, a space where artists meet and share in Nouakchott. His work attempts to bring a convergence of Mauritanian cultures closer to the public, drawing on common themes such as modes of transportation, life in markets, interactions between people, the colors and textures of traditional clothing and landscapes. In 2017, he began a street photography project called EverydayNouakchott, in which he takes snapshots and uses social media as a showcase. Using his phone, he has traveled through virtually every neighborhood in Nouakchott to show its daily life and the diverse lifestyles, forms of dress and work of the city’s inhabitants, revealing “pieces of each person’s story in each day of everyday life.” This is the series that illustrates the billboards and posters for the exhibition.

Malika Diagana
A photographer and cultural entrepreneur born in Nouakchott, from an early age she was influenced by the work of her uncle, Julien Lopez, owner of one of the first photo studios in Saint Louis, Senegal. After studying computer graphics at SUP’IMAX: Institut Supérieur des Arts et Métiers du Numérique in Dakar (Senegal), she began exploring her passion for photography with Senegalese artist and photographer Djibril Sy. This she combined with a career as a graphic designer and her foray into video and lighting direction. She has held exhibitions at the Festival du Sahel (Senegal) in 2013 and the Bamako Biennial (Mali) in 2015, and she was the coordinator of the Cultural Day for Women’s Rights in 2019, as well as the Tremplin Danse event for urban dance, from 2018 to 2021, at the Institut Français de Mauritanie, and other events. With visual artist Saleh Lo, she co-founded and coordinated the D’art Espace des Créations in the Mauritanian capital, which promotes the arts and hosts her personal studio, Studio Linguere. Lights and shadows are her two favorite subjects for creation, mainly using black and white photography to portray everyday scenes, people and places. One of her most recent projects, Silence de l’Humanité (Silence of Humanity), is a series of black and white portraits taken in Paris and Nouakchott, constituting the first conceptual exercise in which the artist proposes a staging of her own and other people’s experiences, feelings, reactions and perceptions under lockdown and throughout the recent pandemic. In order to explore the staged aspect of this work, and with the support of the African Cultural Fund (ACF), since late 2021 she has been coordinating an artist-in-residency program in collaboration with performance artists, combining photography, contemporary dance and music.

Béchir Malum
A painter, sculptor, illustrator, photographer and video artist born in Liberia, Malum discovered his artistic calling at the age of nine years, when he met a Guinean artist from whom he would be given his first notions of painting. Marked by the war which ravaged his native Liberia, Béchir Malum moved from Guinea to Mauritania in 1999. He has held exhibitions at the Institut Français de Mauritanie (Mauritania) on several occasions, as well as the Espace Van Gogh in Arles (France), the Salon de Provence (France) and the “Off” section of the Dakar Biennial (Senegal) in 2016, in addition to completing several artist-in-residency programs. In his artistic production, he mixes the figurative and abstract, thus giving form to stylized, intuitive, symbolic animals and people, in the style of West African cave paintings. He draws inspiration from the geometric symbols used by traditional Mauritanian craftsmanship of Tuareg origin and the graphic symbols appearing in medieval
Arabic manuscripts. Béchir Malum’s work can be recognized by his frequent inclusion of various techniques such as collage, drawing, painting and photography, using the last of these as his main source of inspiration and the starting point for many of his creations. One of his most recent works, Conditions Humaines (Human Conditions), which he began in early 2020, is a series of paintings that mix a wide range of techniques like oil and acrylic paint along with natural pigments. In them, he focuses on the ups and downs in the condition of human life, above all the impact of climate change on the environment and migration. According to the artist, these canvases reflect his first-person experience as a migrant and refugee during youth, as well as his experiences while working on the many humanitarian photographic reports he has completed in disadvantaged areas of Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Benin in recent years.

Saleh Lo
A hyper-realist, abstract visual artist born in Nouakchott, Saleh Lo has exhibited in various solo and group exhibitions in Nouakchott, Tunisia, Barcelona and Paris. In 2017, he completed an artist-in-residency program with Raw Material Company in Dakar (Senegal), where he learned about new experimental tools, as well as different artistic and curatorial techniques. After participating in an artistic residency with Schlesische 27 in Berlin, he was named a representative of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA) in Mauritania. In an artistic residency at the Clark
House Initiative in Mumbai (India) from 2017 to 2018, he grew concerned with discrimination based on the caste system, and at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, in 2019, he devoted his work to the topic of immigration. He also held exhibitions at the Dakar Biennale in 2018, the Mauritanian pavilion of the Dubai 2020 World Expo (UAE) and Partcours, in Dakar, in 2021. Collaborating with photographer Malika Diagana, he is a founder and the art director of D’art Espace des Créations in Nouakchott, which works to further artistic and cultural promotion.
His art is often based on researching the subjects and people he portrays, using photography and video as sources of documentation and inspiration. With the intention of pointing out the complexity in terms of identity and the inner brokenness of the people portrayed, the works often appear somehow unfinished, with parts of the canvas or sketch uncovered. Highlighting his owned mixed-race ancestry, another of the author’s favorite subjects is Mauritania’s cultural admixtures. Métissage 1 and Métissage 2 form part of a series on this issue, begun in 2020 during his artist-in-residency program in Rome (Italy). They show a Mauritanian boy and girl, Mamadou and Eye, of differing mixed ancestry, to display the complexity of contemporary Mauritanian society and, more generally, of the whole world.

El Moctar Sidi Mohamed, “Mokhis”
Born in the city of Rosso, in southwestern Mauritania, he is one of the country’s first painters. Known by the name of Mokhis, he trained with Denis Reed, an artist of Canadian origin, in the 1970s. Throughout his lengthy career, he has exhibited in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. In 2008, he held the exhibition Regards sur le passé (Looks at the Past) on the history of modern Mauritania, and in 2019 he produced several canvases for the United Nations
Population Fund (UNFPA) in which he bears witness to child mortality, the violence perpetrated against women and female genital mutilation. On several occasions he has served as President of the Union des Artistes Peintres de Mauritanie (UAPM) and the Maison des Artistes de Mauritanie, as well as collaborating as an illustrator on the work Al-Fan al-tashkili al-mu’asir fi Muritaniyya (The Contemporary Plastic Art of Mauritania), by Mauritanian historian Torba Omar, which was published by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) in 2021. His work often consists of deconstructed images of animals, people and
architectural elements intermixed with symbols of Arab-Berber craftsmanship and Tifinagh script. Among the themes inspiring his extensive work are those of a social nature, Arab-Berber cultural heritage and the historical memory of Mauritania and the Maghreb region. Two of his most recent works, La joconde du désert - Methe Mint Ababe, and Ould M’seika, allude to two figures from Mauritania’s collective memory who lived during the French colonial period: a woman praised for her great beauty and generosity and a controversial figure who is remembered as a hero or a
criminal by different communities, as a result of his prowess, skills and criminal acts attributed to him.

Amy Sow
A visual artist born in Nouakchott, she began painting in 1999. Then in 2004, she exhibited for the first time at the National Museum of Mauritania. A promoter of artistic creation in her native country, Amy Sow is the founder and director of the Art Gallé (“Come Home” in the Pulaar language) exhibition and residency space founded in Nouakchott in 2007, and vice-president of the M-Art collective for the promotion of Mauritanian art. She has put on exhibitions in France, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, the United States and Spain, and has taken part in the Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres in Dakar (Senegal), as well as exhibiting in other countries. Her international presence grew stronger after helping design the costumes for the film Timbuktu (2014), directed by Abderrahmane Sissako and nominated for the Oscar Awards and Cannes Film Festival. In 2019, New African magazine selected Amy Sow as one of the hundred most important African personalities of the time. Somewhere between figurative and abstract, her artistic production is expressed through photography, installations, performance art, sculpture and acrylic painting. Her work is meant to be a means for reflection and catalyst for social change. It is acknowledged for its examination of womanhood. In 2020, she created the project L’art de lutter contre les violences faites aux femmes et aux enfants (The art of fighting against violence against women and children), a platform that uses various artistic media, including a bus painted with colorful graffiti that travels the country to raise awareness about the issue of systemic violence against women and children. In her latest project, Au fil de l’eau (By the flow of water), presented at Art Gallé in 2021, she uses photography, installations, performance art and storytelling to address the problem of water scarcity and the difficulty of access to water, denouncing the burden which this places on women in their everyday lives.

Mohamed Sidi
A visual artist born in Mederda, in southwestern Mauritania, at the age of nine he moved to Dakar (Senegal), where he made his initial contact with the plastic arts during his frequent visits to the workshops of local artists. He returned to Mauritania in 1988 and settled in the capital, where he became a student of Brahim Fall, one of Mauritania’s pioneering painters, trained at the Manufacture Sénégalaise des Arts Décoratifs, directed by Senegalese painter Papa Ibra Tall, in Thiès (Senegal). In 2001, he held an exhibition for the first time at the Centre Culturel Français in
Nouakchott (now the Institut Français de Mauritanie), and in subsequent years he took part in group and solo exhibitions at the National Museum, the Centre CulturelFrançais and the Centre Culturel Marocain in Nouakchott. In 2014, he won first prize in the painting competition held by the Union des Artistes Peintres de Mauritanie (UAPM) and the European Union. Two years later, in 2016, he participated in the DeafNet Africa Conference in Johannesburg (South Africa), which works for the empowerment of deaf-mute people in Africa. From 2017 to 2021, he held group and solo exhibitions at the Zeinart Gallery in Nouakchott. A member of the former Maison des Sourds in Nouakchott, he currently teaches Plastic Arts to children with disabilities at the Centre Commercial des Sourds. His work, between figurative and abstract, is defined by snippet images placed in a colorful patchwork, in the style of the Thiès school. In them he weaves together intense colors and pastels while playing with perception. His most recent paintings, like Fishing Woman, were produced in acrylic and illustrate his memories of scenes with animals and people, which the artist observed or imagined at the artisanal fishing port of Nouakchott. They also focus on the relationship between the sea and humans, and man’s impact on maritime resources.

Moussa Abdallah Sissako
Born in Paris, Moussa Abdallah Sissako, better known by the pseudonym “Afroriginal,” is a singer, slammer (theatrical poetry performer) and stage director living in Nouakchott, Mauritania. A versatile artist, he performs in different musical styles, ranging from dancehall to electronic music. He has participated in different projects like Original Slam and Tout feu, tout slam, both under the EMI Music label. In 2010, he signed on to the company L’âme orale de l’histoire, for a show written and directed by Nebil Baghsen and Laura Couturier, and performed at the Parisian theater La Reine Blanche. Moving between Paris and Nouakchott, he collaborates with Blackk Shadow and Oliver DrumDreamers on the Ti Boss project, including both hip-hop and reggae, resulting in an EP released in 2015. That same year, he released the album DBFam, which was accompanied by different music videos, with his hip-hop group Dream Big Family. In 2017, he produced the soundtrack for the show “Les actes du désert - 180°” by choreographer and dancer Smaïl Kanouté, put on by the Compagnie Vivons and performed many times in France throughout 2018. He then took part in creating the soundtrack for a multimedia project surrounding the graphic novel “Au pied de la falaise” (“At the Foot of the Seacliff”) by the cartoonist Mökö. It was published by Éditions Noctambule in 2017. Since 2020, he has been cooperating with Mauritanian choreographer and dancer Pap Klé Fall to re-adapt his first stage direction experience, “Paroles d’un prosopis” (“Words of a Carob Tree). Conceptualized as of 2014, this piece was presented in the form of a musical tale mixing visual projections, Chinese shadows, dance, slam (performance poetry) and hiphop, and in 2016 at the Institut Français de
Mauritanie, with the collaboration of the M-Art collective for the promotion of Mauritanian art and various international artists, including Emannuelle Hiron and Daouda Corera, who in 2017 exhibited watercolors and photographs made for the project at the same institution.

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