March 25, 2008

Mali Intersection, Urbana Crossroads

Isn’t this cool? What a way to mark an intersection! Here’s what artist Janet Goldner writes about it:
The Association Segou-Laben, a group of artists in Segou [Mali] including bogolan artist Boubacar Doumbia and sculptor Amahiguere Dolo, invited me to collaborate with them to create a steel sculpture for a traffic circle on the major highway that leads from Bamako to the north of the country. The work is based on Bamana history, symbolism and mythology. The sculpture plays an important role in of the renewal of Segou.

I just came from an Urbana City Council meeting where it was voted to table the public arts commission again, although the council seems to be moving toward consensus. But some of what is lacking for me in these meetings is the kind of imagery and creative energy evident in this collaborative Malian work. The talkiness of meetings, the sterility of the room, the formality of Robert’s Rules of Order don’t come close to sparking imaginations or galvanizing people around some wonderful visual marker on a major intersection. Instead our crossroads are marked by another humdrum three-story panel-brick building that will have more shops, places to spend money if you have it. I know, these commercial properties generate taxes, and maybe some jobs, not a small thing. But I’d rather have a crazy, large-scale piece of art.

2 thoughts on “Mali Intersection, Urbana Crossroads

  1. The Segou provided a means for citizens to claim public, civic space in a way which was unthinkable during the years of dictatorship and colonialism. Public art promotes the civic role of the arts, incorporating civic participation and cultural preservation. Embarking on this project became possible as the new Malian democracy fostered a feeling of ownership and responsibility for public space among its citizens.

    How do we take back our public space?

    Janet Goldner

  2. Hi Janet!
    Thanks for your comment. I think your idea of “ownership” is central, aligned with Toby Miller’s “crisis of belonging.” How do we get people to want to belong? Not in the sense of a cultish, lock-step belonging, but what Doreen Massey calls a “coexisting heterogeneity” that would be celebrated?

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