Vibrant and living African cultures

News 2008

​Vibrant and living African cultures – Sadria in ICOMOS delegation to Timbuktu

September 11, 2008

​In July 2008, AKU-ISMC Professor Modjtaba Sadria and Lazare Eloundou of the World Heritage Centre in Paris led a delegation to Timbuktu, Mali on behalf of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and UNESCO. The delegation explored the way that the redevelopment of the Ahmad Baba Centre will impact the World Heritage listed Sankoré Mosque.

The Sankoré Mosque, recently restored with the assistance of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, is a building which is active and alive as a place of knowledge, learning and worship. While in Mali, the delegation also looked at the Djingarey Ber mosque.

The mission was an opportunity to look at different local initiatives implemented by and for the local people in Timbuktu, whose networks exist on three levels – local, national and transnational, between people and organisations that support and understand them.

During their time in Mali, the delegation met with architects, urban planners, high ranking officials, bureaucrats, international organisations and international NGOs. These meetings provided the delegation with information about the process of preserving the Sankoré Mosque.  

Sadria explained his impression of the preservation of the mosque, “first, you have this amazing living heritage, and the consciousness of local people to restore and improve these buildings, as a material expression of their heritage.  Second you have the issue of the preservation of texts of and about Islam, about science, mathematics, literature and astrology from the 11th to 17th century.”

During the visit, the delegation met with the Imam of the Sankoré Mosque, who has requested support for the establishment of a library to contain and preserve the 4000 manuscripts belonging to the mosque, as well as further assistance with the upkeep of the building. The delegation also examined work currently being conducted on the Djingarey Ber Mosque, which is supervised by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

 “The amount of care and attention to the work ensures that it is close to the spirit of this heritage, ensuring its protection. The project also has the benefit of rehabilitating traditional know-how, training and educating, and local expertise related to specific aspects of the preservation of this building, so that they can protect it themselves in the future.”

The project ensures that individuals and small institutions at the local level are able to actively cooperate with one another. Beside the mosque, a manuscript centre has been constructed – enhancing the educational resources of the city by providing a library and computer training centre. 

Another project, Kasobané, run by the group Boubacar Doumbia, works to preserve the local cultural heritage in a practical way while also exposing the work to the outside world. Kasobané is a collective of six artists from Mali: Kandioura Coulibaly, Klètigui Dembélé, Néné Thiam, Boubacar Doumbia, Souleymane Goro and Baba Fallo Keita.

The group innovatively uses natural, locally produced dies on textiles, working with traditional motifs to integrate them into modern design. Very active at the local level throughout Mali, the group has set up professional schools for both women and men to train future artists, and works to expose their work to audiences around the world. The group also has a studio in Bamako, the capital of Mali.

“Out of the issues related to the appropriation of cultural heritage, one is related to how to allow elements of a cultural heritage to emerge as a living aspect in a contemporary setting. The other is how those elements can contribute to social empowerment. Kasobané allows this through actualising an original design as well as using locally sourced materials on the one hand, and a participatory process of production and learning on the other. The combination of these elements provides genuine and original responses to these issues," Professor Sadria noted.


Razia Velji
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations