One of the DLR’s raisons d’être is that we maintain there is often an overlap between the worlds of art fairs and warfare. Wartfare, perhaps.
So, it has come to pass again that an art fair was at the heart of an armed conflict. This time: Mali. In 21 March, a coup led by a captain (a captain! The cheek of it! And we used to think Colonel Gadaffi was a bit above his station) seized control of Bamako.
The coup was apparently launched because the soldiers are unhappy with material support they gained from the government in their failing campaign to suppress an insurgency by Tuaregs in the north, who also happen to be some of the coolest-looking rebels you’re ever likely to see.
Nearly coinciding with the coup was the New Spaces for Negotiating Art (and) History in African Cities. Several individuals connected with the contemporary artworld were trapped in the country as borders were closed. Apparently the coup wasn’t inspired by the show. Other international personnel were trapped, such as Kenya’s foreign minister, who was stranded for four days. In fact, it almost appeared to be an accidental coup, or a mutiny getting out of hand: it started with a protest against the defence minister during a visit to the Kati military camp and ended with soldiers sealing off the presidential palace.
The current interim government has branded itself the National Council for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State. This is a bad sign: the longer and more unfeasible the name of the interim government, the longer it intends to stay in power. Myanmar’s State Law and Order Restoration Council promised to stand by the results of multiparty electionst that would be held soon after it seized power in 1988. Elections were eventually held in 2010 with a pro-military party winning more than 75% of the vote. Go democracy!
Probably aware of this history, ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, has issued an ultimatum for Sanogo to return the country to its former political status quo or face sanctions and a blockade that would likely cripple a country that relies on energy imports. It’s even threatened an intervention force, although exactly who would be willing to commit troops to this force is unknown. The situation is extremely fluid, with the military disunited, popular support for both sides and political actors. The international pressure may well tip the balance, but we are betting on the ability of artspeak to baffle the Touaregs and to send them fleeing, like Morley Safer, back into the cultural desert.