States of the Arts



by Béchir Malum

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At first glance, this painting seems impenetrable. The top half of the canvas is dominated by dense, copper-tinged clouds that roll across a troubled sky, produced by the artist’s rubbing and rough brushstrokes. The very bottom of the work is similarly blurred, but what it depicts is less clear; this could be dusty ground or fog, or perhaps a reflection trapped in muddy water. A central strip of stricter, perpendicular lines offers the viewer a sense of structure. As our eyes adjust to the earthy tones, previously undecipherable forms drift into focus: a satellite antenna bowing in the wind, the skeletons of buildings, and a street that stretches into the distance.

Words by Katherine Fieldgate


directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
Feature film

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A young footballer prepares to take a penalty, his teammates watching in anticipation, only for a passing donkey to kill the suspense. There is no crowd, no turf on the pitch, or even a ball in sight. The Islamist extremists occupying Timbuktu have decreed that sports are banned, but these children’s imaginations remain unbounded. They continue to kick thin air and celebrate fantasy victories, pausing their make-believe game only when their oppressors bike by. In another scene, a pair of French jihadis discuss their favourite football clubs from back home, betraying the hypocrisy behind their actions: they are quick to enforce their rigid, tyrannical rules, but less keen to live by them.

Words by John Wadsworth

Poetry and I

by Mbarka Mint al-Barra’

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‘The sin is that I wasn’t a stone / And the troubles of the world make me sleepless’. Weighed down with knowledge of global suffering, the narrator of ‘Poetry and I’ seeks solace in the written word. It acts as both a protective ‘shield’ and a familiar ‘satchel’ that holds all manner of evocations: ‘thickets of prickly branches’ and ‘palm fronds loaded with dates’. Yet this exaltation is coupled with lamentation; poetry’s noble strengths and its greatest failings are seen to stand abreast. In the final lines, the narrator’s tone shifts to one of resignation, acknowledging the art form’s relationship with not only love and beauty, but also pain.

Words by Hugh Maloney

Yar Allahoo

by Khalifa Ould Eide & Dimi Mint Abba

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A tidinit, a West African string instrument, springs to life. As its owner works his way through a flurry of musical ideas and phrases, energy fizzes from its soundbox. Once the listener has become accustomed to this propellant accompaniment, Dimi Mint Abba enters with a lead vocal line. Her voice pierces the texture, high in register and steady in pitch. A series of verbal excla mations follow, each separated by a considered pause. We would be content to hear her soar freely, ever onwards, but after a couple of minutes she is greeted by company. A group of pounding percussionists and jubilant backing singers burst into the fray, their enthusiastic, unexpected entry taking the song in an exuberant new direction.

Words by Hugh Maloney

More to discover

Béchir Malum: Visit the artist’s website here.

Timbuktu: Watch the trailer here. Read an interview with director Abderrahmane Sissako by Conversations about Cinema here. Violet Lucca has interviewed Sissako for Film Comment, as has Danny Leigh for The Guardian.

Poetry and I: Read the poem here.

Yar Allahoo: Listen to the song here.

Question of the day

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