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In the five years that have passed, Champions League KoulikoroIt has become a repository for images of the fan champions of football in West Africa. Fofana has taken her camera off the roof to photograph people in the streets, markets and homes. She has focused on different groups of society. “I’d spend days with workers from fishermen to mechanics or blacksmiths, to document how football shirts are worn as workwear, then focus on women or people in conflict zones or those going to the mosque,” Fofana explains. The initial concentration on football shirts became a gateway for a broader documentation of contemporary West Africa that has since been exhibited across the world, from Miami Art Week to London’s OOF Gallery – and at the African Biennale of Photography in Bamako where the work began.
The fervour for football in this part of the world runs deep – so deep that the myriad of shirts proclaiming an affinity with foreign teams is completely unremarkable. “People do not know much about West Africa in Europe, but they are among the greatest supporters for these European teams that I have seen in my entire life,” Fofana says. “The biggest fans of Real or Barca – they’re in Casablanca, they are in Bamako, they are in Dakar.” Once Fofana noticed the trend, documentation was the first priority. “It was interesting to reverse the gaze, because Africa looks a lot at Europe in terms of football,” he says. “Football gives concrete expression to all the aspirations of young people; there is always this desire to go to Europe, to play in Europe, to change your life.”
Fofana’s work builds on a long tradition of Malian street and portrait photography, known internationally through the work of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé. He cites Tobias Zielony’s portraits of overlooked youth as his main influence. Fofana’s work confounds the idea of gaze by turning attention back on those who so closely watch European teams (gazing, if you will) without the power or authority that the term has come to imply. This contrast between the European league – with all its associated fame and wealth – and its West African supporters is at the centre of Champions League Koulikoro.
Fofana’s wide range of environments forced him to adapt his work processes, which impacted his style. Shooting in public places, often from the back seat of a motorbike driven my his cousin, or in areas of high conflict, required working quickly, using a discreet camera, or even a phone. Ses subjects – whether they are market sellers or kids – rarely interact with him. Some of the subjects are facing away while others have their backs turned. This allows the focus to fall on the shirts and crests with the player surnames.