Between 1995 and 2002 more than forty commemorative monuments were built in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. Their number, scale, presence, and placement make them striking additions to the city's built environment. The monument project is associated with the presidency of Alpha Oumar Konaré, an archaeologist and historian. As public sculptures, the monuments are designed to represent a particular vision of good government, patriotism, and citizenship. They are intended to be national lieux de memoire, wherein citizens, especially young people, can engage in the performance of a shared history and national purpose.
This study takes the capital and its built environment as the primary site for analysis. It considers the role that the city has played in constructing a Malian modernity, and looks at how public monuments contribute to an image of this modernity. It examines messages encoded in the monuments and the ways that these messages are tailored for Malian youth. Finally, it identifies how these monuments have become inserted into the field of commercial and popular images of a Malian modernity that circulate within the city and the nation, and increasingly within a global arena.
Focusing on the new Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, South Africa, this article considers the role that the architecture of public buildings, and more particularly the decorative programs in these public buildings, are playing in constructing the national imaginary of "unity in diversity" in contemporary South Africa. It proceeds from the understanding that architectural ornament, far from being merely an elaboration of the appearance of the building for the sake of visual pleasure, is in fact central to the way in which a building can carry social meaning. Ostensibly innocuous, certainly unthreatening (these ideas, after all, are implicit in the definitions of "decoration" and "ornament" as essentially superfluous—indulgent afterthoughts to the serious business of structure), architectural ornament provides fixed points of reference for connecting a building with notions of place. It enters into the debate around the beliefs and perceptions that constitute citizens' longings for the tangible proof of identity—of being in the world—afforded by the fantasy of an inalienable sense of place.
The architectural solutions that the Constitutional Court and other recent examples discussed in the article offer are fairly modest, but their decorative programs are consistently driven by the need to establish a rhetoric of "community." They enable a shift in the discourse of public architecture—away from staid notions of civic decorum and conventionalized grandeur, and toward open-endedness, inclusivity, and a sense of a deliberate playing with the elements and expectations of public space in relation to notions of individualized and personal place. They thus raise interesting questions, around not only the notion of constructing, both literally and metaphorically, "imagined communities" (to use Benedict Anderson's phrase), but also the centrality of visual experience to urban experience in the construction of postcolonial, urban identity in post-apartheid South Africa.
Since late 2003 or early 2004, Pape Diop has been adorning the walls of inner-city Dakar with graffiti depicting Cheikh Amadou Bamba (1853–1927), the Senegalese holy man whose writings and life lessons are central to the Sufi movement known as the Mouride Way. What differentiates Diop's works from those of Dakar's other street artists is the layering of his portraits: he paints image upon image. In doing so, he produces astonishing effects, among them a three-dimensionality known as auto-stereopsis, which seems to reach out to viewers, or to receive them into mesmerizing intricacies. Bamba's portrait is based upon the only known photograph of the man, taken in 1913; yet Mourides consider the portrait to be an active presence, which conveys God's blessings (baraka). Diop's mystical graffiti refabulates or transforms the streets, making them protective and promotional of well-being, while the images' pronounced repetition recalls zikr (dhikr), half-chanted , half-sung "recollections" of God, which provide the cadenced pulse of Mouride life. Fruitful cross-cultural comparison can be drawn to devotions addressed to Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine icons.
This study focuses on display and performance at one of the most widely attended, high-visibility events throughout urban Kumasi, the customary funeral rites held on public grounds and side streets each weekend. In particular, it examines the dynamics of competitive status-seeking display (poatwa) in the form of funerary presentations orchestrated by Kumasi wives to proclaim the superiority of their marriages. These presentations are the adesiedee, a presentation of burial gifts, staged immediately before the burial, and the adekyeredee, a presentation of prestigious funeral donations, staged during commemorative rites held after the burial. The expressive impact and prestige associated with these events are enhanced by aesthetic strategies of visual display, concerted movement, and female oratory.
The strategic efficacy of these events is inextricably linked to Kumasi's environment and its mixture of the local and the global. For more than three hundred years, this city has provided the stage, audience, and material resources for high-visibility performances of wealth and superior status. Its combination of customary practice and global visual culture, as epitomized by adesiedee and adekyeredee, is a contemporary expression of its indigenous cosmopolitanism.
Photographs can reflect the excitement, calm, vitality, decay, alienation, and intimacy of urban environments, yet they not only record the city, they create it. To demonstrate this point, I analyze photographs by Alioune Bâ, a Malian, and Zwelethu Mthethwa, a South African. These images, though void of human beings, address the urban realities of movement, migration, and labor. I frame this analysis with the spatial theorizing of Michel de Certeau, who posited that individuals' everyday practices (such as photographing) are significant for understanding the invention of spaces (such as cities and the meanings they embody). Ultimately, I argue, the city as the content of these photographs intersects with the city as a context for them, creating a sense of place and engendering a discourse of belonging.
Nollywood—the Lagos-based Nigerian film industry—has become the third-largest film industry in the world, and it is by far the most powerful purveyor of an image of Nigeria to domestic and foreign populations. It consists of many small producers working with tiny amounts of capital; it therefore has not been able to build its own spaces—studios, theaters, office complexes—and remains nearly invisible in the Lagos cityscape, apart from film posters and the films themselves, displayed for sale as cassettes or video compact discs. Material constraints and the small screens for which the films are designed shape the images of Lagos that appear in them. Nigerian videos differ markedly from typical African celluloid films, both in their "film language" and in their handling of the city. They present Lagos as a turbulent and dangerous landscape, where class divisions are extreme but permeable, and enormous wealth does not buy insulation from chaos and misery. They show supernatural forces permeating all social levels, particularly the wealthiest. A shared realism, born of location shooting and common strategies for imaging the desires and fears of the audience, creates a considerable coherence in the representation of Lagos, despite the size and variety of the city and the industry.