Africa’s big photo show is asking some big questions.

What does it mean to be an artist in Africa? And what does the future hold for the continent?

“The Bamako Encounters,” the 11th African Biennale of Photography, explores the heady topics of identity and possibility through the theme of “Afrotopia.”

“What I wanted to do with Afrotopia is let the artists describe or analyze or [imagine] what is for them the reality of Africa today,” says Marie-Ann Yemsi, curator of the Biennale.

“Everybody is saying Africa is a continent of poverty, of diseases and nothing works,” says Yemsi. “But this is absolutely wrong. Sure, the issues are big. But it’s probably from that continent that will come new ideas, new economic systems.”

At the same time, Yemsi is all too aware of the problems the continent faces: “Afrotopia is not only about utopia, it’s also dystopia. A lot of things failed. The artists are questioning: Can Africa can learn from that failure?”

For the Pan-Africa exhibition at the National Museum of Mali, the heart of event, there were more than 300 applications. The 40 selected come from across the continent, from Morocco to Ethiopia, Tunisia to South Africa.

But Yemsi stresses that she doesn’t want to pigeonhole the artists, as the West often does, in her opinion: “I don’t want them to be always considered as African artists. They are contemporary artists from Africa.” Read more