Alioune Bâ Biography

Bamako, Mali, 1959 -

Alioune Ba was born in Bamako in 1959. His intellectual father encouraged him to complete both his primary and secondary school education, but when the Malian schools closed in 1979 due to student strikes and riots, Ba stopped his studies and started work at the National Museum of Bamako, which had just opened. His first job there was as a tour guide, but he progressed through training in the audiovisual field and quickly became a multi-skilled employee. The museum's demand for specialized bodies of knowledge encouraged him to go into the subject area that most attracted him: photography.

Ba was placed in charge of documenting all of the items in the museum's collection for the archive, and subsequently traveled throughout Mali covering numerous subjects through photo-reportage. Combining inventory and identification, the job of museum archive photographer thus led Ba into the pursuit of details - from the most important to the seemingly insignificant. As the years passed, Ba established himself as a prodigiously talented photographer. He took charge of the National Museum of Bamako's laboratory, where he oversaw the handling of archive pictures and those included in museum exhibitions. Since then, he has formulated his own artistic philosophy:

'Aside from my work as a photographer and photo-librarian for the museum, I try to have my own approach. I have an artistic eye, which allows me to leave my own interior world of feelings and vision and communicate with the people surrounding me. Through this approach, I have done work on mental patients, on women, children, etc. But very often I don't stray too far from home in searching for pictures. I think that what is closest to us is what we like and it's the world that we live in every day.'

Ba speaks with deliberation, in short bursts, and he perceives the exterior world in the same way that he speaks: taking a selective view of life. Themed around the more poetic aspects of life, his images often close in on their subjects, recording the delicate traceries of traditional skin decorations on the feet and hands, for instance, or creating cross-patterns by framing a bejeweled hand against African fabrics. His photographs have the immediacy of documentary shots, but the order and form of posed images.

'Details are what are always near us, but which we don't always have time to see for what they are', says Ba. 'When I photograph my own foot, it's only then that I see it in a new light. I see it better.' Gazing deeply into things, and maintaining a freeform approach to his art, Ba invariably records the details of his subjects in black and white: 'I chose black and white in order to follow the work through from beginning to end. I take my own pictures and I develop them. I frame and hang my own pictures myself.'

Ba's work was first encountered by the West - along with the other leading lights of so-called 'African' photography - during the early Bamako art summits in 1994. Over the last decade or so, Ba has developed a constant aesthetic pursuit centered on a free relationship with his subjects. This freedom has allowed Ba to photograph from the most unexpected angles and to capture that which transcends reality. Liberated from the type of photography that portrays the subject as a whole and in its natural state, Ba searches for the most beautiful pictures hidden in the detail of a hand or a jewel, and in an unforeseen reality


Kai Gallery, Osaka, Japan, 1997

FNAC Forum, Paris, 1995

'First African Photography Festival, Bamako, Mali, 1994

French Cultural Centre, Bamako, Mali, 1994

Bremen, Germany, 1994

Copenhagen, Netherlands, 1993

Palais des Congres, Rouen, France, 1993

'Adapting Technology and Salvaging Materials and Regards Croises', Alioune Ba with the American photographer Eliot Elisofon, Mali's National Museum, Mali, Africa, 1988

'Dying Textiles in the City and Images of Mali', Mali's National Museum, Mali, Africa, 1987

Jamana Gallery, Bamako, Mali, 1987


Alioune Ba, Alioune Ba, Photographs1986-1997, French Cultural Centre, Bamako/French Cooperation and Cultural Action Mission in Mali, Mali, Africa, 1998

Alioune Ba, Archeological Collections, Text by S Sidibe, 1991

Alioune Ba, Le Dama, burial ritual in Dogon Country, text by A Sylla, 1991