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Visual Griots of Mali

Visual Griots of Mali

December 19, 2007 – March 9, 2008

Forty-nine black-and-white photographs taken by young people in Mali capture their lives on film while evoking the honor they feel for the traditions of their villages. The Malian sixth graders’ photographs are the result of the Academy for Educational Development’s Visual Griots project, a series of interactive workshops in Mali led by U.S. and Malian photographers that empower and engage youth in a powerful process of self-exploration and expression through the lens of a camera.

Exhibition In Depth

(griot n.- a storyteller in West Africa who perpetuates the oral traditions of a family or village)

In January 2005, the Visual Griots workshop engaged twenty-two sixth graders from Mali in an exploration of the power of photography. A team of Malian and U.S. photographers guided the students through camera basics, then the students put to work their newfound skills to honor the people and traditions of their community. Forty-nine photographs from the project will be on display at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from December 19, 2007 to March 9, 2008 in the exhibition “Visual Griots of Mali.” These arresting black-and-white images reveal these young people’s perspectives on their rural West African lives.

The young photographers whose work appears in this exhibition live in two small villages 500 miles southwest of Timbuktu, Damy and Kouara. Taking inspiration from the role of the griot (gree-oh), a traditional West African storyteller who carries on a family’s or village’s oral traditions, the students’ portray the day-to-day delights and duties of community life. Images of people caring for animals, going to school, and tending to family chores take on an intimate tone as the photographer’s first-person captions reveal their close relationships to the subjects and activities.

The Visual Griots workshop and this exhibition are projects of the Academy for Educational Development, founded in 1961, a nonprofit organization working on major areas of human development, with a focus on improving education, health, and economic opportunities for the least advantaged in the United States and developing countries throughout the world.

Exhibition Credits

Made possible by Barbara and Joe Goldenberg.

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