Spirit of Mali: Kosar’s Corner – Part 1


The Spirit of Mali was brought to St. Catharines to celebrate Black History and African Heritage Month. Opening on February 3rd, 2023, in the Robertson Theatre of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Center, the exhibition presents textile art, sculpture, puppets, masks, musical instruments, games, and wooden crafts.

Stève Viès, the curator of this exhibition and a multidisciplinary artist based in Montreal, celebrates and honours the work of the artists and craftsmen Boubacar Doumbia, Mamoudo Nango, Tiorri Diarra, and Abou Konan.  The exhibition will provoke excitement and curiosity in its audience, inspire artists with the aesthetic forms practiced in Mali, and spark conversations about different ways that art explores spirituality and brings a community together.

According to Stève, exhibition preparation takes years. The completion of some artworks in the exhibition has taken more than a hundred hours of work.  The collection of the objects has required multiple travels to Mali.  This exhibition was first planned for February of 2022 but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 risk management policies in place at the time.  The installation of the exhibition, alone, took almost 22 hours! Lighting, sound and technical professionals, managers, supervisors, publicity and hospitality teams from the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, and students, staff and faculty from Brock University came together to make this event happen.

The process of preparing and installing the exhibition began late on a Sunday evening and soon after the arrival of the collection from Montreal. The first pieces to hang were the large format textiles, some measuring as large as 11’ x 19’.  These artworks tell the histories and myths of Soumaoro Kanté, a king of the Sosso people; Sunjata Keita, the first ruler of the Mali Empire; the Battle of Kirina, a battle between the Sosso king Sumanguru Kanté and the Mandinka prince Sundiata Keita. The patterns on the textiles include stories, symbols, and patterns, all painted with natural dyes and colors. The textiles were installed individually and as the background for the masks that would follow. During the guided visits of the exhibition we learn about the important role of these textiles in the presentation of objects like masks and puppets. Proper installation and effective lighting in this non-traditional exhibition space were an important part of the process. The installation planning and coordination was led by Professor David Vivian of the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture/Department of Dramatic Arts, assisted by students from the Department of Dramatic Arts, staff from the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture, and myself!

On February 3rd, Stève Viès led us on a guided tour by followed by a mini symposium hosted by Professor Jean Ntakirutimana of the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures of Brock University. This was followed by an opening celebration on February 4th, resplendent with dance, musical performance, and discussions in theatre, accompanied by food and beverages from Mali.

The Spirit of Mali is on exhibition until the 10th of February, with a public celebration on the closing night. Smaller elements are installed at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts as part of the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture project: Museum in the Hallway / Boîte-en-valise. You may visit this exhibition on the second floor of the MIWSFPA, near the entrances to the MIW Theatre.

In my next posting about the Spirit of Mali I will talk about some of creative and critical responses to the work in the exhibition, and the important work that is done when we invite our community to experience new and remarkable experiences from diverse places and cultures in the world.  See you soon!

For more information: https://brocku.ca/miwsfpa/stac/2023/01/16/spirit-of-mali-visits-st-catharines/

This is the first in a series of short postings by the STAC curatorial assistant Kosar Dakhilalian, recently a student of the Master of Arts in Studies in Comparative Literatures and Arts at Brock University.  Kosar will introduce you to the backstage and onstage experiences of making meaning in material culture at the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture.

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