Inside the Library

Bushman Café, Abidjan

C& regularly takes a look into book collections holding rare publications. This time, Keren Lasme introduces five interdisciplinary books on art she found in Abidjan.

Bushman Café, Abidjan

By Keren Lasme

Stepping into Bushman Café in Abidjan feels like entering an antiquarian den. The small journey from the main entrance to the stairs leading up to the first floor where books dwell is a whole experience in itself – a time-traveling one in fact. One is greeted by lush greenery, marvelous wall paintings, ancient wooden sculptures, a cloud of white plastic cups and many other curiosities.

The Bushman Café is a hotel, an art space, a concept store, a museum, and a place where artists from the continent and the Diaspora congregate to get inspiration, create, or just enjoy the vibe. Here, most of the books are not just books but artifacts and heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. Art enthusiast and collector Alain Kablan Porquet inherited them from his parents and grandparents, who were civil servants and teachers. Dusty, with crackly yellowish pages, some of these books are soulful witnesses of their times, while much more recent ones tell a myriad of contemporary stories. The library’s bookshelves are treasure troves for the daring, those willing to dive deep into unknown seas of thoughts and bring lost or forgotten titles to the surface.

Jean-Michel Basquiat : Une Rétrospective (1992)
Throughout his short intense career, Jean-Michel Basquiat explained his embodied relationship to Africa as “cultural memory.” His first and only travel to the continent was to Côte d’Ivoire in 1986 – an initiatory trip that had a great influence on his work and life, so much so that a one-way flight ticket to Côte d’Ivoire was found among his belongings at the time of his passing. That important connection between Basquiat and the country of my birth led me to select this art book, one of the first in French to feature the artist’s immense corpus. Vibrant and insightful, it is an essential iconographic resource that allows a close appreciation of Basquiat’s brilliant and exceptional artistic creation.

Revue Noire 25: African Canada (1997)
Revue Noire, published between 1991 and 2001, was a major publication in the field of contemporary art – the first to have introduced diverse, informative, and high-quality accounts of the dynamic contemporary art scenes of Africa and its Diaspora to the international art world. In both French and English, and sometimes Portuguese and Spanish, it covered a wide range of disciplines, including sculpture, painting, photography, dance, theater, music, literature, and even gastronomy and urbanism. Revue Noire featured the works of various artists and focused on specific countries, geographic areas, or fields. Issue 25 investigated artistic links between Africa and Canada, bringing into conversation works by over fifty Black and African artists living in Canada, such as the photographers Melinda Mollineaux, Stella Fakiyesi, and David Ofori Zapparoli, the dancers Zab Maboungou and Learie Mc Nicolls, and writers Joël Des Rosiers and Bernadette Dyer.

Dialogues: Au-delà des mots by Angèle Etoundi Essamba (2006)
Dialogues is a beautiful experimental black-and-white catalogue of the photographs of Cameroonian artist Angèle Etoundi Essamba. It was published on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2006 to celebrate Essamba’s creativity and accomplishments as many women worldwide struggle in the face of gender inequality. Captivating, elegant, and mysterious images of bodies and faces stuck in timeless motion convey messages of pride, strength, vulnerability, beauty, and awareness beyond language. As we gaze at them they stare back at us, demanding attention and raising questions we might not know how to articulate, yet let alone answer.

FIELDS Performing Arts Issue (Spring 2019)
Published by his daughter Saran Koly, a multifaceted journalist and editor-in-chief of FIELDS magazine, this wonderful, somewhat nostalgic issue celebrates the work and life of acclaimed Guinean playwright and theater director Souleymane Koly Kourouma. It feels like a scrapbook of memories and recollections revealing the high-spirited scene of 1990s African theater with Souleyman Koly Kourouma as its main character. Through archival materials like old photographs, magazine covers, newspaper clips, and handwritten play outlines, we are presented with a historical resource on West African performing arts and aesthetics.

Brésil by François-Marie Banier (2001)
Brésil offers page after page of striking black-and-white photographs taken in Brazil by French novelist and photographer François-Marie Banier. Their large sizes are engulfing and give us the impression of being inside the pictures with the subjects of our gaze, taking part in scenes that offer a non-mainstream image of Brazil – an everyday Brazil. The pictures are intimate, profound, bold, and communicate a rollercoaster of emotions and responses: excitement, serenity, curiosity, tenderness, loss, peace, wonder, rawness, and more…


Keren Lasme is an artist, writer, and literary curator whose work is concerned with mythopoetic identity formation, knowledge activation, and the use of fiction and imagination as spatiotemporal technologies for inner and outer worldbuilding. Her art practice engages with collective care, engaged pedagogy, and the politics of pleasure while using the collective memories and imagination archived in African literatures as praxis.



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