The visual exhibit navigates the East African coastline through the lens of international artist Guillaume Bonn to reveal a region perennially poised at a crossroads between two worlds. The photographs capture old Africa in its unrelentingly vibrant native culture, in the midst of modern skyscrapers, new highways, and purported technical improvements, and offers an insight into its diverse geography and colonial legacy.
Mr Bonn, a lens based artist born in Madagascar and brought up in Djibouti and Kenya, spoke at the event about living in Africa and explained how he began to realise he could no longer recognise his own home. “Ten years ago I felt that wherever I was going in East Africa… things were changing quite rapidly and I felt kind of not connected to it anymore because I couldn't recognise my place anymore,” he said.
A place that was so familiar to him was becoming foreign and unrecognisable. He questioned if he would ever recognise and re-connect with the beautiful Africa he came from, and so decided to capture and document the landscape through photographs.
At the event, Mr Bonn participated in an on-stage conversation with Dr Dayo Forster, to whom he recounted the stories behind some of the photographs exhibited. Ms Forster was brought up on the coast of West Africa, has lived in Nairobi and Boston, and now resides in London. She has amassed a number of accomplishments, including publishing a novel entitled Reading the Ceiling, developing software, conducting research, launching start-up enterprises, and leading large projects.
The Ismaili Centre, London was the ideal host venue for the exhibition, according to Mr Bonn, due to the connection between his work and what the Centre represents. During the conversation, he discussed with Ms Dayo the common thread with Africa and the Ismaili community in Africa along with everything this project is about.
Exhibition partners the Royal Geographical Society, the Aga Khan Foundation, and Aga Khan University were also represented at the event. The exhibited items go hand in hand with the work that the Aga Khan Foundation does and what the photographs are trying to capture.
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) promotes peace and actively seeks to empower and improve the quality of life of local communities in Africa and around the world. Just as Mr Bonn’s work seeks to preserve the legacy of the past while opening up new horizons, so too does AKDN.
The exhibition in the Zamana Space of the Ismaili Centre offers a lesson in geography and utopia, providing both reminder and reckoning on the need for post-colonial healing and social transformation, while implicitly asking: how to construct a new dream, authored by whom, and through what means.
The Zamana Space aims to foster dialogue among communities about the arts, society, and culture of the Muslim world. Dreams and Dystopias is the fourth exhibition to be held in the space since its reopening earlier this year. The Ismaili Centre, London is proud to share this exhibit with the public and encourages visitors to critically engage and imagine how and by whom a new dream for Africa will be constructed.
The exhibition is open to the public between 11 AM and 6 PM daily until 3 November 2019.