Young Photographers Bring Mali to Life

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 12, 2006; 4:16 PM

WASHINGTON -- Some of the people look you in the eye, others go on with their daily routines. Their homes and animals and places of worship come to life in photos of the West African country Mali taken by youngsters who live there.

Titled "Visual Griots of Mali," a display of these photos is on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History until April 29.

In West Africa, Griots are storytellers who carry on traditions in song and spoken voice to pass family and village traditions from generation to generation.

Adding a visual component to that, the Washington-based Academy for Educational Development provided cameras and training to sixth-grade students in two small villages and sent them out to record life as they saw it.

Malian ambassador Abdoulaye Diop told a luncheon marking the exhibit about showing the photos to some American students and asking for their comments.

One student told him: "It looks like Mali is not a very rich country, but all the people in the pictures think it is."

Stephen F. Moseley, president of the group sponsoring the show, said the students captured a country that is "rich in people, rich in ideas and rich in energy."

Indeed, the people in the pictures pursue their lives with dignity and pleasure. They are not surrounded by many of the riches of Western life, but they have their homes and family, their animals and their daily work and traditions.

Two round thatched buildings are framed in one of the black-and-white shots by Efio Thera. "These are my family's granaries. After the harvest we fill them with millet grain that we eat throughout the year," the 13-year-old explained in the caption.

In another photo a girl uses a large piece of wood to pound nuts in a large, flowerpot-shaped vessel while village children crowd around to watch.

"We are helping our mothers to make shea nut butter. We use it to cook with and to make our skin soft," explains photographer Christine Thera, 17.

Other photos show a youngster with his donkey, a pond "where cows come to drink and pigs play," the altar of a a village church, guinea fowl cooling off in the shade of a wild raisin tree and the mosque at the larger city of Djenne, visited on a field trip.

Describing the project, Malian photographer Alioune Ba said in a statement: "We must stop thinking that everything must arrive on a wave from the West. We are capable of creating an image of our own that can ride its own wave in the opposite direction."

"This is a gift," said Shawn Davis, who directs the project. "This exhibit gives us the opportunity to see Africa through the eyes of African children."

Plans are being developed for the exhibit to travel to other U.S. cities.


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