L’École du Caméléon

L’École du Caméléon, a film in the making commissioned by De Appel*. A project by Karima Boudou, Renée Akitelek Mboya and Aude Christel Mgba. 12th edition of Bamako Encounters - African Biennale of Photography December 2, 2019 , Musée de Bamako.

‘Let me tell you a story. For all I have is story . . . The story depends on every one of us to come into being. It needs us all . . . needs our remembering, understanding, and creating what we have heard together to keep us coming into being.’  _Trinh T. Minh-ha

On the last day of November 2019, we - Aude, Karima and Renée - travelled from Amsterdam 
and Dakar respectively, to Bamako, Mali. On the occasion of the 25 year anniversary of the Rencontres de Bamako, which was also incidentally the marking of 25 years of the Curatorial Programme of de Appel, we sought to create a document that told of the ways in which these institutions tell different stories about their growth and the social and cultural landscapes of Bamako and Amsterdam.
The complexities proffered by filming in these different contexts were manifold, and always distinct. In Amsterdam we struggled to foreground a telling of the archive that didn’t see itself as the centre of the centre of the world. The archives in Bamako were burdened with West facing narratives of colonialism and forms of modernity obsessed with homogeneity.

L’École du Caméléon is a film in progress and through it we find ourselves in a dynamic engagement with language and translation, location and new forms of learning. In the process of making the film – which is also a way of making a world, and building an archive of our time and our experiences – we zoom in on the biographies that emerge from within the archive. We honour the ways in which personal histories, anecdotes, and the domiciliary organise archives and leave traces there. We learn again and again that history exists in repertoire and not just inside the Western tradition of archiving. The codes we read here feed into an unfinished archive that has the potential to invite larger communities into its representative framework. These groups might in themselves represent institutions or ‘nations’, but they are not static or bound.

The idea that an archive can indicate a greater socio-political narrative, through specific historical moments, allows us to materialise a reality that stretches across epochs, languages, and experiences. Our film cuts between Amsterdam and Bamako from the 1970s to the present time, in search of telling cultural motifs. Speaking multiple languages across disparate temporalities we recognise the influence of translation as an injunction, and that sound - music - has the power to transcend.
What if archives are gestures rather than documents that seek to impose some specific mode of authority? Might these gestures be found in the voids and borderlands? How can documents, poetry, rap music, lyric and objects collide to form a constellation of images; in other words, a movement?

We invited Issiaka Bâ dit Amkoullel to contribute with a sonic reading of the film by making a playlist, a compilation of songs that will be shared and listened to on site and which are considered to be elements of an acoustic archive that invokes different periods in the heritage of Mali.

Here is the link to the playlist:

Nell Donkers Maaike Lauwaert Liza Nijhuis Monika Szewczyk The team of De Appel Arts Center, Amsterdam, Aziza Harmel, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, The team of Les Rencontres de Bamako, Bamako Issiaka Bâ dit Amkoullel, Ganda Tounkara, Oumar Diop - Agence Malienne de Presse et de Publicité, Tidiane Sangare - Maison Africaine de la Photographie and Amadou Hampâté Bâ

Renée Mboya is a writer, curator and filmmaker.

Aude Christel Mgba is an art historian and curator.

Karima Boudou is an art historian and curator.

Renée, Aude and Karima have been participants in the De Appel Curatorial Programme (respectively 2015, 2019 and 2013).

* Produced by De Appel on the invitation of Bamako Encounters with the support of Stichting DOEN