The presentation of Crossroads, Youssouf Sogodogo’s photography series on plaited and braided Afro hair is extremely timely, needed and a huge breath of fresh air! Crossroads is both celebration and validation of the beauty of natural afro hair as well as the skilful practitioners who twist and shift its structure to form the most spellbinding adornments.  The braid of Afro hair, the rhythm of its making and the final resulting crown is something quite mystical to behold. Dig deeper, beneath the aesthetic beauty and there lies something yet more meaningful.

Sogodogo likened the partings in the braids to roads or roads converging creating junctions or crossroads – hence the title.  They could also be likened to the vein like patterns in plant life or skin. In fact in some images you just catch a faint trace of those patterns in the skin of the sitters backs and as if a magnification they merge with their more pronounced patterns in the partings and plaits of the sitters hair. Crossroads in its very name suggests both journey as it does a merging or union. To think of journey in this context, and the contentious history and journey of Africa’s diaspora is forefront of mind.  It’s a journey that the diaspora afro also shares. It has endured as much violence, policing and hate as the black body and has fought back just as defiantly only to be forced into assimilation.  Recent years however have seen a significant and purposeful shift. We are discovering power in our afro, or should I say we are REDISCOVERING THE power in our afro. Letting it take shape in a new visceral style and voice.  New visceral styles such as the sculptures of diaspora artists Irvin Pascal (UK) and Vanessa German (US). Their inclusion, a tangible embodiment of the materiality, aesthetics and geometry depicted in Sogodogo’s images.  Pascal’s use of ‘Pascollar’ a material he invented which fuses his own afro hair with amalgamated natural materials and German’s bird like sculptures made from box braids and wire hangers – longing to be set free to fly – evoke the resilience, dexterity and creativity of what AFRO is.

And then we have Crossroads’ sartorial reflections in Africanism, Ozwald Boateng’s collection, which so elegantly frames Sogodogo’s works. Again the same patterns appear this time as printed and woven accents as though an inherent symbol imprinted and passed down through ancestry. In describing the range, similar themes emerge, that of history, ancestry, recreation and the inner self/real you.  The interconnected expressions of Africa and its diaspora are self-evident.

Perhaps, by committing the hairstyles to film, Sogodogo’s Crossroads are in fact maps. Maps that when joined with their diasporic reflections become the key that charts the diaspora’s way back to source. Just as our path back to natural afro hair is a path back to our truth of BEING. As Sogodogo put it,

“..braids still form a connection between Africa and these communities of the African diaspora. By preserving this craft through my images, I hope it will help these different communities to relate and eventually meet at a crossroads.”

Enam Gbewonyo, curator

Youssouf Sogodogo (b. 1955) is a Malian photographer who lives and works in Bamako, Mali. Sogodogo originally studied painting at the National Institute of Arts, Bamako, but discovered photography while working as Director of the Sahel Museum, Gao (1982 – 1985). He found photography spoke to him more as a medium and allowed direct contact with his audience. Unlike much of his cohort, Sogodogo intentionally forewent studio photography preferring to step out into the world and document his environment. Something his contemporary Malick Sidibé encouraged. Sogodogo’s works have been exhibited internationally in Senegal, Japan, Switzerland, France and Morocco. He has also exhibited in the 1996, 1999, 2001, 2005 and 2009 Bamako Biennales.

Alongside photography Sogodogo has continued to cultivate his institutional career with Conservator and Restorer roles at the National Museum of Mali (1986 -1995). This followed a role as the Head of the Cultural Heritage Office of the Regional Youth Directorate of the Bamako District (1985-1986). Sogodogo is now the director of the Photography Training Centre, Bamako (known as CFP) where he has served since 2005 nurturing the next generations of Malian talent.