Seydou Camara (Mali)

Musée National du Mali

Manuscrits de Tombouctou (2009 – 2013)

Whether producing intimate and revealing portraits of African albinos or documenting political strife in Northern Mali, Seydou Camara’s dynamic photographic practice is driven by ethical convictions and sensitivity to history. Since 2009, Camara has researched the illustrious past of Timbuktu through its contributions to world culture. He has particularly focused on the town’s extraordinary manuscript collections that date back to the 12th century and detail African and Islamic history through topics including astronomy, law, science, and philosophy. The series Manuscrits de Tombouctou is composed of vivid photographs that offer multi-perspectival views of manuscripts stacked neatly or strewn in large trucks, bound volumes bundled with twine or leather, and pag- es of Arabic script weathered by time and natural elements. With this project, the artist investigates the history of producing manuscripts, the culture of sharing them, and the exigencies of their pres- ervation and storage.

When jihadists invaded Timbuktu in early 2013, their assault on the town’s cultural heritage included looting the Ahmed Baba Institute, damaging books in the library’s extraordinary collection. This violence reignited local anxieties about the future of these irreplaceable objects―anxieties that have persisted for generations following the looting of manuscripts during the Moroccan invasion of Songhai in the late 16th century. In recognizing the precarious history of Timbuktu’s written heritage, Camara participates in collective efforts to salvage and preserve the manuscripts by honouring their materiality through photography. With close-up views of volumes held by careful hands, or loose and misshapen sheets of parchment resting on carpets, the images in Manuscrits de Tombouctou underscore Camara’s aesthetic and intellectual fascination with the treasures of Malian culture, and his ethical ambitions to ensure their posterity.

Born in Ségou, Mali in 1983 –
Lives in Bamako

Institut Français
Ministère de la Culture de l’Artisanat et du Tourisme du Mali