The organisation Culture Por Tous (Culture for all) describes cultural mediation as the deployment of intervention strategies – activities and projects – that aim to introduce publics to a variety of experiences in the context of art and heritage institutions, municipal services, or community groups. Hamidou Moussa, TARA intern and culture student and practitioner from Niger, explained it to me as creating an opportunity for the meeting of art(works) with the public.
On an afternoon in August, Moussa led one such cultural mediation with a French class at the Alliance Française in downtown Nairobi. He introduced African rock art, showing various examples, and spoke about TARA’s work documenting and conserving it. He then launched into a consideration of the values that one might derive from a consideration of rock art.
I sat down with him afterward to find out more about the médiation culturelle and his thoughts on rock art.
Wangũi: Tell me about your background and how it relates to rock art.
Moussa: I used to be a teacher in primary school in Niger, then I stopped teaching to go study literature at the university. As I finished with literature the university started an arts and culture programme, and I decided to study that as well. In my literature studies we studied history and heritage.
When you talk about heritage, when you talk about art, rock art is an important part of all of that. My physical meeting with rock art however, happened because I needed to do an internship for my arts and culture degree.
W: You led a cultural mediation at Alliance using different examples of rock art. Tell me what cultural mediation is.
M: It’s a concept and practice born in France and used in France and Canada. It means to create a meeting between the public and a work of art. You have a determined public – students, workers, members of parliament, soldiers, etc. – you choose your public. Then you choose your type of art – music, dance, painting, and so on. Then you create a meeting between the public and the work of art.
In the meeting you provoke a reflection on universal values like freedom, tolerance, duties, rights, respect, the relationship between humans and nature and so on. The public will then react to the work of art and/or to the values you bring up. There may be a discussion, and you may give them a task to perform, or even ask them to create works of art of their own in response. A cultural mediation can have various objectives, all linked with an engagement with art.
W: The mediation was in French, could you give me a brief summary of what you covered?
M: We started off by discovering TARA with the public. And then we discovered rock art: what is it, where is it, why rock art, etc.
After that we focused on the Dabous giraffes as the case study to look deeper into the importance and meanings of rock art for prehistoric peoples and for us now: spirituality, knowledge, economic meanings and so on.
Then we worked in groups to reflect on the relationship between humans and nature. We rounded it off by looking at where rock art fits into all of this.
“When I discovered rock art, I learnt that we have to learn again.”
W: What values do you think rock art evokes? What values does rock art evoke for you?
M: Rock art can mean liberty, freedom.
Take for an example the Dabous giraffes- you can think about the size and type of the art, it’s being an engraving, the quality of the engraving.
Everybody should ask themselves, how much time did the artists take to make it? So they must have had free time in order to make it.
Then it is in the desert. Somewhere outside, not in a house- therefore nothing to hide the artists. Therefore it is an indication of freedom.
We in Niger, to whom the rock art belongs now, we should also be free to protect it from vandalism, from mining companies and such like.
Rock art can mean beauty, it can also mean development. When you have rock art you have something to give to the world since it attracts tourists.
It can mean meeting points between different people in society, people from different cultures hence tolerance. I came to TARA in Kenya because of rock art. People who visit rock art come from different places.
W: You will be going back to finish your Masters in Niger now. What wisdoms do you take with you, and how will rock art be evident in your future work?
M: In my course at the university we studied the history of culture from Ancient Greece to now. We studied architecture, painting… and it was a lot of knowledge.
When I discovered rock art, I learnt that we have to learn again. Of everything we learnt in art history, there was nothing more beautiful or more interesting than rock art. I think I will focus my research on rock art now when I go back.
From TARA I learnt new methods of work. I had a chance to practise English for work. I also learnt a new way of working because at TARA people really work, and I take this work culture with me.
From Kenya I learnt to be nice to people. Kenyans are nice and always ready to help foreigners.
(Interview has been edited for clarity)
by Wangũi Kamonji