At 4.30pm 29th October I receive a message on my phone that the mayor of Timbuktu is in Birmingham, and asking if I would be able to meet and greet him!? No it wasn’t a practical joke, the mayor was actually in the UK as part of the twinning of the Welsh town Hay-on-Wye. Welsh media gave a great quote from the mayor Said Ould Mahmoud himself, “For some people Timbuktu is a just a myth, a mythical city, but let me tell you it’s a city and it does exist.”
To be totally honest I wasn’t sure Timbuktu existed before today, so i was intreagued, especially since I had worked with the Malian community in New York on my last mural project. After consulting with a friend who works at the Arts Council England, I was advised to take the Mayor to see the Equiano exhibition at Birmingham Art Gallery – the abolishment of Slavery exhibit, which i thought was good timing. The gallery offered a very private viewing to the Mayor, only because we turned up very late at 5pm – which is when they close. So we were let in through a side door, and had the whole exhibit to ourselves. We were given a great tour of the exhibition by curator at BMAG, Toby Watley, who had a french speaker translate for the mayor. What a great host BMAG were for our guest to Birmingham, it made me rather proud of my home-city gallery.
I then took the Mayor to the Islamic Relief offices in Digbeth, whose world HQ are based right here in Birmingham. They are a charity/relief organisation who do a lot of work in Mali and the Mayor had requested to visit them. They gave him a tour of their operations and CEO, Harun Ata’ullah, departed with the words “see you in Timbuktu!”
It was great to see a mayor, with no entourage, and no gold chains hanging around his neck, but instead, to be greeted with a grey tracksuit and white shoes. The mayor seemed to really enjoy his brief visit to Birmingham, although saying very little due to the language barriers, I could tell by the strength of his handshake with me afterwards that he did appreciate me showing him a different side to Birmingham city…