How does the traveller see it?
(Fragment of a post from a Facebook page)
Whose eyes are these?
These eyes stared intently at me in the city of Mopti. The rare tourists who make it to the terrorism and military coup-filled country of Mali call it “Yopti-Mopti” (this sounds like a swear word in Russian). And that’s a very accurate definition; Mopti is a medieval-esque trading hub in West Africa. The eyes and the money? Paintings where it’s clear what is drawn but unclear what is happening – these are the ones I buy. That’s my thing.
Theory #1, from the seller, with a few historical facts added from Google: Mali declared Marxism-Leninism to be its ideology starting in 1962. Then in 1967 they carried out monetary reforms (cause that’s what the People want, isn’t it?), and the Malian franc plummeted by 50%. Thus a Malian who kept 4000 francs in his “gran bubu” would now own… 2000 new francs (shown in the painting). The Malian people, who’ve been ripped off, cry. These gloomy eyes thus symbolize the nation’s grief over their lost savings.
Theory #2 (mine): what got me searching for an alternative explanation was the absence of tears on the canvas. Why wouldn’t the artist have just drawn them in? Well, the Bambara – one of the main ethnicities in Mali – have a saying. “A person’s eyes are their wishes; a person’s world is their eyes”. When a person thinks about something grand, he himself remains grand and calm (the big eye and blue backdrop), whereas when a person thinks only about money, he is small and angry (the three smaller eyes, roll of money and red backdrop).
There could be other theories. Which of the previous two do you find more plausible?
PS. We did manage to identify the artist, Moussa Traore. A local guide from the city of Djenne got in touch with him, and in the Facebook comments you can read the author’s own explanation of the meaning behind the painting.