African Photography Biennial Rencontres De Bamako announces 2017 winners

A photographer raising awareness of violence against women and a self-taught student documenting life in Algeria are among the winners of this year’s awards

Miss Azania - Exile is waiting by Athi-Patra Ruga, winner of the Grand Prize at Rencontres de Bamako
Miss Azania – Exile is waiting, 2015 by Athi-Patra Ruga, winner of the Grand Prize at Rencontres de Bamako. Courtesy of the artist and WHATIFTHEWORLD/Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg

Recontres de Bamako was founded in 1994 to champion contemporary photography and new forms of image-making in Africa.

The event is organised by the Malian Ministry of Culture and the French Cultural Institute. The 2017 edition opened in Bamako (Mali’s capital) on December 2 and photographic exhibitions are on display across the city until January 31.

The Biennial also awards photographers who are raising awareness of social issues or making innovative use of the medium.

South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga is the winner of this year’s Seydou Keïta Grand Prize and will receive €5000.

Ruga’s work combines fashion with photography and performance art. He often portrays fictional characters and imagined utopias in projects that explore cultural identity and nationhood.

His 2014 project The Future White Women of Azania reflected on the death of Nelson Mandela and the idea of a perfect post-apartheid state through photographic portraits, colourful tapestries and floral sculptures.

In 2016 he created Over the Rainbow – a performance piece featuring video projections, a marching band, a choir and Ruga in character as ‘the Versatile Queen Ivy’ (pictured above) – for New York’s Performa Gala. The piece referenced the Wizard of Oz as well as South African’s national anthem and questioned the idea of a ‘rainbow nation’.

French-Caribbean artist Julien Creuzet is the recipient of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie Prize, awarded by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).

Creuzet combines photographs, objects and poetry in mixed media installations that explore cultural identity and Caribbean heritage. He will receive €3,000 and assistance from the OIF to develop a project of his choice.

Head-to-head, hidden head, Light, 2017 by Julien Creuzet

Documentary photographer Fethi Sahraoui is the winner of the €2,000 Léon l’Africain Prize awarded by Royal Air Maroc. The prize recognises emerging artists who are based in Africa and explore social issues in their work.

Sahraoui – an American civilization student at the University of Mascara – is self-taught and uses his iPhone to document daily life in Algeria. He is also a member of Algerian photography collective Collective 220. His project Mercedes Island captured life in refugee camps in the country’s Tindouf region while Stadiumphilia documents match days at football stadiums.

B as Bouchentouf, 2016-2017 (Algérie) by Fethi Sarhaoui

“Football is Algeria’s most popular sport,” says Sahraoui. “According to the Algerian law, people younger than 18 are not allowed to enter the stadium without a guardian but it’s not really the case – a boy of 14 years old or even younger can buy himself a ticket and enter the stadium without any control, exposing himself to many dangers. When you take a deeper look at these children you will understand that they are not here for football. The stadium is just a loophole which allows them to escape the society’s pressure because of the lack of any other kinds of entertainment.”

Johannesburg-based visual artist Gabrielle Goliath has been awarded the Institut Français Prize and will receive €1,500. Goliath addresses social issues, violence against women and inequality through a range of mediums including photography, video, performance art and participatory installations.

Her performance project Elegy brought together female vocalists to enact a ritual of mourning while a 2014 project Faces of War featured portraits of people ‘who may or may not be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence’, drawing attention to the private nature of domestic abuse and the anonymity of abusers.

Still from Gabrielle Goliath’s video installation Personal Accounts / Christolene, 2013, courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery. Personal Accounts aims to illustrate how difficult it can be for survivors of rape to tell their story. Videos were manipulated in editing to ‘interrupt’ each survivor’s speech, making it difficult to work out what women are saying

Winners were selected by Koyo Kouoh, an exhibition curator and founder of Dakar arts centre Raw Material Academy; Ingrid Masondo, curator of photography and new media at Cape Town’s Iziko South African National Gallery; Emeka Ogboh, artist and co-founder of the Video Art Network (VAN) in Lagos and Moussa Ouane, a filmmaker and former director of the Malian National Cinematography Centre.

A fifth award – the Bakary Diallo prize – was selected by a separate jury and awarded to Moïse Togo. Togo will receive a two year scholarship to study at Le Fresnoy National Studio of Contemporary Arts in Tourcoing, France after completing his studies at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers Multimédia in Bamako.

This year’s biennial includes a Pan-African exhibition featuring 40 projects from image-makers across the continent. The theme of the exhibition is ‘Afrotopia’. Curators have selected projects that capture “alternative stories about Africa that forge new links with the past, illuminate the present and open other perspectives for the future.”

Also on display is an exhibition of Ghanian photographer James Barnor’s photographs documenting life in Ghana in the 1960s and 70s and ‘Afrofuturism’ – a display of work that presents imagined worlds and narratives.

For details about exhibitions taking place during Les Rencontres De Bamako see