This is the third time that the author is examining perceptions of his own past by looking into someone else’s present as a mirror.
Jeliba, muette delves into a quiet space and makes its tracks within. This kind of silence emerges when conflicting memories stop compromising in a society. Massive tectonic narrative plates slowly start grinding against each other. Cracks open revealing the weak points as individuals, ethnic, and social groups hurry to patch them up, tell new stories, set new ideas. They have to. Fear of living without a narrative is universal. Growing up, author lived with that fear. It’s a need to define a relevant set of questions that you ask yourself constantly.
The project evolves along the banks of the Niger river (Jeliba in Bambara) at a time when ripples of the Arab spring have reached sub-Saharan West Africa. Mali has been shaken and thrown into imbalance. Like every other region with, as it’s often phrased, rich history, layers are thick and outlines of narratives blurred under their own weight. Sedentary and nomadic (mostly Tuareg) communities have been clashing for centuries, looking for a political expression of their own values. In the contemporary constellation where a colonial past is mixed with formal and informal influences of West and East, state and non-state players, these attempts may seem slightly futile and naive. But they are deeply grounded in the before mentioned fear of existing without a narrative.
There is a point where Mali looks so familiar to everyone who inherited or participated in the history (or more precisely histories) of the Balkans. Divided societies swinging back and forth with their ears covered, eyes closed and thinking of a ‘happy place’. The familiarity allowed the author to move past simply observing manifestations and current events. He wanted to look into how relevant are these events for the common narrative, whether they translate into a common public discourse and where is the invisible line in the mundane everyday where they lose their significance. By what he sees and how he recognises, he can judge the value of his own memory. It also serves as a tool to dissect the simplified narrative on a society imposed from outside.
Jeliba, muette is not about war, it’s not about exotic space/time. It’s about stories we all tell. Question is, whether we stand by them or hide behind them?
Danko Stjepanovic was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1980. After joining the French photo agency Sipa Press, he worked as a photojournalist for several years, mostly in the Balkans, as well as North and West Africa. During this time he started to work in parallel on a sequence of photographic series named Cenotaph. With strong reflective references to his own past, these focused on mechanisms behind political, economic and social tides. A big part of his overall photographic practice consists of collaboration with other visual artists, writers, architects and theatre. He lives in London, UK.