Travel

Uchronia: Imagining an Alternate History Where a Malian Emperor Discovered America

In 'Uchronia,' photographer Maciek Pozoga and musicologist Christopher Kirkley imagine what might have happened if a Malian emperor was actually the first person to get to the New World.

by Maciek Pozoga and Christopher Kirkley
Sep 17 2015, 12:00am

This article appears in the September Issue of VICE

For two weeks in June 2015, photographer Maciek Pozoga and musicologist Christopher Kirkley spent time in Bamako, the capital of Mali, generating a body of work titled Uchronia: The Unequivocal Interpretation of Reality. It explores and elaborates on a story Pozoga came across on the internet: that, in 1311, the Malian emperor Abubakari II left West Africa to explore the Atlantic Ocean. Mali was then rich—arguably the most affluent nation in the world—but Abubakari wanted more: fame, perhaps, or additional land. He believed both lay on the other side of the Atlantic and took a fleet of 2,000 ships to find it. In the West, Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering America. In Africa, at least for some, it was Abubakari.

The story served as the inspiration for an ethnological investigation into alternative reality. The pair traveled to Mali and began to ask questions: What if Abubakari really had discovered America? What alternative realities might Mali, Africa, indeed the world, have experienced?

In Uchronia, Pozoga and Kirkley mix science fiction with social documentary to explore themes of geography, globalism, fabulation, cultural memory, and the interpretation of history.

Though photography was their central tool, it only accounts for a part of the work. Regularly relying on happenstance, Pozoga and Kirkley worked with local musicians, anthropologists, oral historians, linguists, sign painters, and 3-D artists to create a fertile, evolving mix of sounds and images. The project is a collaboration between a photographer and a musicologist, but it is also a collaboration between the artists and Mali, its people, its culture and fables, and its many realities, both realized and unfulfilled.

Maciek Pozoga and Christopher Kirkley's Uchronia will be on view at Red Bull Space, Paris, from September 4 to October 16. Listen to selections from Kirkley's Bamako album—to be released on vinyl by Sahel—below.

3-D design by Cheick Ahmadou Ouattara