Diakaridia Traoré: Exploring Mali’s Religious Cultures

Diakaridia Traoré:
Exploring Mali’s Religious Cultures

African Art Online: a series of online exhibitions of emerging African artists
Curated by the University of North Carolina African Studies Center

Thanks to Prof. Alioune Sow, University of Florida, for introducing the African Studies Center to Diakaridia Traoré’s work.

With sparse compositions on textured canvases, Bamako-based artist Diakaridia Traoré addresses themes considered taboo by many people in contemporary Mali: alcohol and the pre-Islamic religions sometimes characterized as animism. The region that is today Mali has a long history of as a center of Islamic scholarship and artistry, reaching back more than a millennium. The country encompasses expanses of the Sahara Desert—a route for trade and for the spread of Islam from North Africa—as well as the Inland Niger Delta’s famed city Timbuktu, whose university and libraries have for centuries made it a center for Islamic education. While approximately 95% of the population is Muslim, Mali also has rich traditions of religious belief that predate Islam, and that continue today. This confluence of Islamic and pre-Islamic religion fuels Traoré’s artistic expression; his paintings remind viewers that both practices have a place in the country’s cultural mosaic. The country is today struggling through multiple military coups and surging extremism that has devastated the livelihoods of many Malians. In this context, Traoré’s work is vital.

His 2023 series of paintings <<Sèrie dans le bar>> (“Series in the bar”) addresses this religious diversity through depictions of the places where people gather to drink. Alcohol figures both in Islam and in pre-Islamic practices. While Islam encompasses many schools of thought and traditions of practice, in contemporary Malian practice alcohol is broadly viewed as un-Islamic, not to be indulged in by observant Muslims. On the other hand, in many pre-Islamic Malian religious practices, alcohol is a crucial element of prayer and sacrifice. Alcohol, then, stands in between these worlds—in one, alcohol is anathema, in the other it is an essential element of religious rituals. It is a beverage for the living and a libation for spirits and the dead, yet its consumption is forbidden under Islamic law. Through paintings, Traoré asks viewers to consider these legacies.

Traoré’s artistic influences include the large-scale textile assemblages of famed contemporary Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté, as well as the mid-twentieth century American artist Mark Rothko, whose shimmering paintings depict fields of color that resonate with Traoré’s gently modulated surfaces. Traoré studied with Ludovic Fadaïro, a Beninois artist who taught in Bamako. Fadaïro’s canvases, like Traoré’s, are enriched by the layers of cloth that create a textured background. Traoré’s minimalist figures pop from this ground, most depicted through bright red rectangles that signal bodies and energetic lines that indicate limbs. Traoré’s drinkers float in a non-specific space, making the viewing experience more universal; the viewer can project a location onto the image, making these images simultaneously familiar and strangely dream-like.

–Victoria L Rovine, Director, UNC African Studies Center,
Dylan Seal, MA Student, Department of Art and Art History

Diakaridia TraoréBamako-based Diakaridia Traoré (b. 1992) is originally from the Sikasso region of Mali. He is a self-taught artist, who grew up with family members in the arts, encouraging him to pursue his own artistic vision. He was a member of the artists’ collective Badialan 1, and later established his own studio. In 2018, he exhibited his work at the renowned biannual art exhibition Dak’Art (Dakar, Senegal), and his paintings have been featured in solo exhibitions in Bamako galleries Taxi Bamako and Villa Soudan.



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