Since 2013, the French Institute in Chad (IFT) has been implementing a large-scale programme called “N’Djamena, an observatory of the national psyche". It aims to pool skills (cultural institutions, artists, researchers and elected officials) to gain insight into what may cement the national identity.
Unlike other cities in Chad which each embody a special identity, N’Djamena is a migration crossroads of populations and ethnic groups. The capital city should draw its identity from the dialogue between all Chadian peoples living in the country. Yet one cannot fail to observe that Ndjamena is a place where people rarely live together. This situation is a legacy of the 1979 conflicts and it persists today although peace has been restored. Before that period the unanimous view was that the city’s division into a north and a south district was a reality that has today become very abstract.
How can we help restore N’Djamena’s identity?
An intercultural dialogue with its inhabitants
- Organize creative residencies linked to a reflection on public spaces;
- Restore the place of artists as "public authors" in the sense of “public writers", to give back to inhabitants a voice and an outlook on the situation; these writers depict the inhabitants’ new outlook on the city;
- Prompt public debates in a spirit of participatory democracy and suggest the establishment of the États généraux pour le renouveau de N’Djamena ("Conference for a New N’Djamena").
- Organize the collection, preservation and enhancement of the heritage identity around the writing a project for the Chad National Museum and the National Library;
- Set up a university laboratory at the University of N’Djamena, backed by a French university and intended to provide feedback on the artistic projects.
Focus on the "Liaisons urbaines" ("Urban interaction") and "Mutations urbaines" (“Urban change”) projects
In March 2014, the French Institute in Chad (IFT) and the French Institute in Paris (IF - Paris) organized study days designed as a step towards an initial summary of the work carried out by the teams of artists immersed in the public space throughout 2013 and 2014 as part of the "Urban change" project. These days were also an opportunity to see how the Chagoua district in N’Djamena could be redeveloped into a place for social and cultural interaction for the benefit of the local people and artists ("Urban interaction" project).
The "Urban change" project is a programme of residencies for artists immersed in the public space to be in contact with the people. Projects are selected for their capacity to encourage the removal of barriers between peoples and the development of intercultural dialogue.
The following projects have been selected to date:
- first, a contemporary dance initiation project for children and teenagers, that includes training, creative workshops and public performances, and is led by the Ndam Se Na Association;
- second,a photography and theatre project led by Abdoulaye Barry (photographer, award winner of the Rencontres de Bamako (Bamako Events) 2009), Léonnie Youmba (actress, playwright, Artistic Director of the Cult’Arts Company) and Abdoulaye Oumaté (actor, director, Artistic Director of the Djamah-Afrik Company);
- and third a project focusing on storytelling and visual arts coordinated by Maxime Ganza and Eric Tak (visual artists) and the Coco Titi storytelling group. These projects deal with awareness about issues of common public interest.
The "Urban interaction" project was initiated by the French Institute in Paris (IF - Paris). It is carried out Africa-wide in collaboration with the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in the Palais de Chaillot (Paris) and the School of African Heritage (EPA). This is a programme for developing public spaces through actions combining urban planning, design, art and heritage by involving the local people and cultural operators and creators of the living environment and visual arts (designers, architects, visual artists).
In 2013, a square was inaugurated in Porto Novo through a first project. The redevelopment of the Chagoua square in N’Djamena around the theme of the water flow in the city is the project’s second stage. The redevelopment of the Chagoua square is part of a wider scheme to enable inhabitants, elected officials and artists to discuss ways of reconsidering urban development in association with a social dialogue devised and implemented by teams of artists working in all the city’s districts, including Chagoua. The call for projects was won by Maloum Hissein Mallah Adam and Bertin Fali Padjonre, two young Chadian architects who had newly graduated from the Lomé School of Architecture.
This redevelopment is a strong political gesture to restore ownership of the city to the communities living there with the artists working there in cooperation with elected officials of districts and the city hall. Every evening of the week during which the study days were inaugurated and organized, over 500 people attended the shows and performances staged on the redeveloped Chagoua square.
To forge lasting ties between the population, architects and other teams of artists, work with the inhabitants and encourage them to go from one district to another; such is the aim of the teams of artists working in close collaboration with N’Djamena city hall services. Each public performance (once every two weeks on average) is associated with a debate between inhabitants, heads of districts and elected officials on issues selected by sociologists from the Al-Mouna cultural centre.
Elected officials, artists and city dwellers alike should understand that cities are not changed by putting up buildings and building roads, but above all by making it possible to cross the invisible borders between cultures and peoples. The Chagoua square today is a preferred location for organizing these events and the intercultural dialogue between people.
Several projects are ongoing. A group of Chadian photographers has been asked to continue its work as part of a new cycle of residencies of immersed artists. The group is preparing to draft a new project, which it will submit for funding at the next Social Fund for Development session in early 2016, on the issue of the organization and dissemination of the press through photography and graphic design in public spaces. It will bring together journalists and graphic designers.
Three groups, a French, a German and a Chadian one, have joined forces to create a photo news agency in N’Djamena. Their first commission enabled them to accompany Natacha Tatu, a journalist for the Nouvel Observateur, who had come to work on Nigerian refugees at Lake Chad fleeing Boko Haram.
Still as part of a new cycle of artists’ residencies: "Théâtre et urbanité" ("Theatre and , both the Djamah-Afrik (Chad) and Djarama (Senegal) companies have been invited to pursue the immersion of theatre teams combined with other artistic disciplines, in the city’s collective spaces and private concessions. The aim is to initiate a meeting and a dialogue with the city’s populations and to prompt them to move from one district to another to view the creative processes developed by artists.
Associate partners of the French Institute in Chad (IFT)
- N’Djamena City Hall
- The French Development Agency (AFD)
- Al-Mouna cultural centre
- The French Institute in Paris (IF - Paris)
- German cooperation via the Franco-German Cultural Fund
- Teams of artists
- Éditions Créaphis publishers
- Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Palais de Chaillot
- La Galerie du bar Floréal, Paris, 75020 (photo gallery)
- French Centre in Berlin (CFB)
- School of African Heritage (EPA)For further information on the Observatory of the national psyche and on all projects of this large-scale programme, visit the website of the French Institute in Chad (IFT) [in French]
A book, "N’Djamena, Tchad", published by Éditions Créaphis, describes the first projects launched as part of the N’Djamena, un observatoire de l’imaginaire national programme.
- French Embassy in N’Djamena (in French)
- French Development Agency in Chad (in French)
- France Volontaires Chad (in French)
- French Institute in Chad (in French)
- Campus France
Next week, "Our innovative network" will discuss cultural industries in Israel.