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Photography - Issue #1

The Great Mosque

Photography by Annie Risemberg

Every year the people of Djenné, Mali, come together in an act of resistance. Beyond the looming threat of the militants active in the vicinity, the traditionally constructed mud buildings are under constant threat from the elements. Mali’s hot, arid climate, punctured by the rain season, is harsh on the mud buildings of Djenné, causing cracks and erosion.To preserve and protect the walls of Djenné’s GreatMosque, every year, before the rains come, the residents gather together to re-plaster the walls – an act known as the crépissage de la Grande Mosquée (the plastering of the Great Mosque).

The mosque stands in relative peace the day before the crépissage.

While sitting on one of the mosque’s many palm beams, a teenager applies the banco mix.

Men and boys carry the banco mix in baskets from the pits to the Great Mosque.

Built in 1907, the Great Mosque is the world’s largest mud-brick structure, standing approximately 16 metres high and built upon a 75 metre by 75 metre platform to protect the building from floods. It’s made from palm beams, ferey (sun-baked mud bricks), and banco (plaster). The crépissage takes place towards the end of the dry season, a date decided between the stonemasons and the elders using a number of factors including astrological and lunar calculations. Stone smiths oversee the production of the plaster, which is made up of the alluvial soil deposited as the flood plain dries up. Blocks of this clay are mixed with water and rice husks, which help to strengthen and insulate the plaster.

After helping to create the banco mix, a group of boys rests on the mosque’s front wall.

Women and girls carry water to the mosque where it will be mixed with earth and rice husks to produce the banco mix, and to stop the mix from drying. Women and girls are responsible for bringing water to the mosque and men and boys are responsible for climbing the mosque and plastering.

After a night of festivities, the crépissage commences in the early hours and takes about four hours to complete. In this time the whole community comes together to reshape the mosque. The stonemasons and elders guide, the young assist and play, the women carry water to keep the clay from drying, and the men, divided into neighbourhood teams, compete to see which team can complete their section of the temple first. Like the soil used to make the plaster, the temple is a constantly evolving and mutating form, moulded by human hands and reshaped by the elements.

Men and boys carry baskets of mud to a staircase that leads to the roof of the mosque, where they will place a new layer of banco on the minarets. This page: Young me

Young men on handmade palm ladders begin plastering the mosque in the early hours of the morning.

A young boy applies mud to the base of the Great Mosque.

The end of the crépissage, which sees the whole community come together to complete the task in just four hours.

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