Without an Image in Mind
Before the Internet, having an idea of what a far-away place looked like was pretty different, I must say. In my room I had a couple of crops and black and white copies of the pictures of African architecture and design I found in books and publications. I had never seen these shapes anywhere else. I didn’t know where all this was, exactly, nor the faces of the people who have built these incredible structures.
Before the Internet you had no mental image of a place. Everything would seamlessly appear in front of your eyes once you arrived.
My friend Josep and I spent long hours talking in front of those walls covered in pictures, imagining and fantasizing about the places they depicted. The stories from artists Miquel Barceló and Javier Mariscal —who traveled across the Sahel— influenced me and made me realize that it was actually possible. Without the Internet, we had no idea what we would find there. A couple of photos and stories was all we had. We knew nothing more.
Before long we had a ticket to Mali in hand. We only carried a guide, three books, and a reservation for one night in the capital.
Niger, the highway of Mali
Mali, a landlocked country stretching from the southern extreme of the Sahara desert to the tropical savanna, is a place enclosed between the Niger and Senegal rivers. We came here to search for architecture. Leaving behind Bamako, we travelled up north following the major waterway of Mali, the Niger. The Niger is the lifeblood of this land. With marsh grass stretching along the length of its brown waters, it runs elegant and powerful across Mali, one of the most arid countries in the world. The Niger gives solace and connects the country’s residents, allowing communities both to settle on its banks and to travel down its waters.
Bamako was our last gateway. From that moment on, we followed the serpentine curves of the river until we reached the north of the country, where the mythic city of Timbuktu and the land of the Dogons lie. Gliding up the Niger River we saw some extraordinary sights: the visionary mud mosques in the region of Mopti and the astonishing beauty of the Peul people; the Bozos, masters of the river, hand-throwing their net from a pirogue.
Nomadic tribes, cities of mud, fishermen, borderless lands, and asper cliffs.
The captivating beauty was disorienting.
We arrived. The Dogons settled here a thousand years ago: a rocky plateau enclosed by a huge precipice marking the limit of their world.
The Land of the Dogons
We had reached the land of the Dogons. A small crowd of children rushed towards us. They were greeting us. In a ritual that somehow imitates the flowing of life, the youngest led us by the hand across their town, and brought us in front of the eldest man; The Hogon, spiritual leader of the village. He spoke poor French, as did we. We explained our intentions, and managed to understand each other. He let us in.
Photography. Antoni Arola
Words. Vincenzo Angileri
Watercolors, drawings and sketches. Antoni Arola
Thanks to Valerie Steenhaut and Júlia Rossinyol