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Issue Date: March 2004 Issue

Focus on Timbuktu

Dalia Wheatt

It was the place Peggy Turbett's father always joked he would send her to when she misbehaved as a child. Two years ago, at age 48, she finally saw it for the first time.

Turbett spent 17 days on an anthropological tour of Mali, West Africa, which included a stop in Timbuktu, the once-thriving center of commerce that was catapulted into geographical oblivion after Morocco captured the city in 1591.

"My primary purpose of going on this trip was to say I'd gone to Timbuktu," says Turbett. "People don't believe it exists."

The proof is in her pictures. From March 13 through Aug. 29, Turbett's photos from her Malian journey will be on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Turbett, features picture editor for The Plain Dealer, found the entire country visually fascinating. "I was struck most by the beautiful simplicity of Mali," she says. "That's why my exhibit is called Beyond Timbuktu, because people think Timbuktu is the end-all and be-all, but there's so much more to the country that I did not expect."

For instance, Turbett's image of "The Evening Meal" depicts a Bobo woman preparing food over an open fire, as women throughout Mali do every night. "It was like seeing a fifth-grade geography book come to life," Turbett says.

From the ancient city of Djenne to the masked dances of the Dogon region, Turbett found beauty around every turn. One of her most arresting photos is "Airwaves," in which a man stands along the riverbank near Kona, Mali, clutching a transistor radio. "It's [a] juxtaposition of the traditional robes and the modern society," she says.

Yineteen of Turbett's photos will also be included in the museum's companion exhibition, Senenkunya: Many Voices, One Family, which features scenery, artifacts and planetarium shows related to sub-Saharan Africa. The exhibit reflects the spirit of enenkunya a Malian tradition thatCpromotes mutual understanding and goodwill among diverse peoples.

?So many stories come out of Africa [that focus on] the dire poverty, the political wars and the AIDS epidemic," Turbett says. "I think people would be amazed at the beauty and the culture and the simplicity of the people there."

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