From the pyramids of Sudan to Lalibela in Ethiopia, Memorist to the rescue of African heritage, Jeune Afrique

From the pyramids of Sudan to Lalibela in Ethiopia, Memorist to the rescue of African heritage

It is an extraordinary painting representing the weighing of the soul. We can see, from left to right, the god Osiris sitting on his throne, his wife Isis and the Devourer of souls waiting for her pittance. Anubis, god with the head of a jackal, seems to carry a sort of pendulum on his shoulders. Thoth, god with the head of an ibis, writes down the result of the weighing on a plaque. Behind the latter, on the far right, the deceased raises his arms in supplication.

This scene was painted on a linen cloth glued to the wood of a sarcophagus, almost 2 years ago. It was discovered, with other shrouds of the same kind, in the Sedeinga necropolis, in what is now Sudan. Founded by the Egyptians under the 1th Pharaonic Dynasty (around 400 BC), the city became a provincial capital during the early Napatan period and until the end of the Kingdom of Meroe.

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Sarcophagi decorated with painted canvases in this style were discovered in the necropolis composed of four raw brick pyramids. This type of archaeological piece is, of course, very fragile. The termites largely ate the wood of the coffins and some of the canvases. If fragments have survived the passage of centuries, it is undoubtedly thanks to the glue used at the time.

Digitization of works

These fragments of history were restored in 2016, in Toulouse (France), so that they could be exhibited at the Khartoum museum. But they are also passed into the hands of the Arkhênum company, who digitized them on an A00 scanner in his workshops in Champigny-sur-Marne. “Using a scanning principle, the fabric is scanned line by line with minimum exposure to obtain a very high resolution image,” the company specifies on its website. With its LED lighting without ultraviolet or infrared, the number of lux provided on the document is equivalent to what it would have received if it had been exhibited for fifteen minutes in a museum with lighting corresponding to the ministry's standards. »

History and memory today go digital. It is with this observation that the Mobilitas group (4 employees, approximately 600 million euros de turnover), very present in Africa, particularly with its pillar AGS Déménagements, created Memorist, a “skills center for the preservation, restoration, digitization and sharing of heritage”.

Memorist (250 employees, 20 million turnover) now brings together five specialized French companies. In addition to Arkhênum (digitization and valorization of heritage), the group brings together La reliure du Limousin (restoration of precious works), Graphic Arts & Heritage (laser survey, digitization and 3D modeling), Tribvn Imaging (digitization of photographic documents) and Vectracom ( metadata creation, film remastering).

Exporting skills to Africa

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Very present and active on French territory, Memorist companies have been trying, in recent years, to export their skills to Africa. “It’s a favorite land for the group,” explains its general manager Laurent. Onaïnty. Memorist was created at the initiative of the founding president of Mobilitas, Alain Taïeb, French foreign trade advisor born in Tunisia. This involves bringing together five companies to create a French champion of heritage development. »

If Laurent Onaïnty recognizes that certain operations are almost sponsorship, the diversification of Mobilitas is not for philanthropic purposes. Memorist positions itself in a logic of brand image and market development over the long term: “We think, not with a two or three year vision, but with a ten year vision,” he says. Knowing that restoration and digitization can occur in very varied areas.

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One of the first African projects, launched in 2013, was that of la digitization of the famous manuscripts from Timbuktu (Mali) in collaboration with the National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Lyon. At the time, a person was trained for several weeks to allow “small owners” of ancient parchments to digitize their treasures – and reassure them about their future conservation. With a budget of around 35 euros, the operation paid the price of the war...

Three years later, Arkhênum digitized the paintings found in the Sedeinga necropolis, after their restoration by Louvre teams. A “white operation”, relating to sponsorship of competence. “The opportunities are obviously very numerous in Africa,” confides Laurent Onaïnty, “but achieving success is more difficult. There is a form of project volatility. » He doesn't tell not directly, but heritage, although a source of wealth, is rarely part of political priorities...

From Ethiopia to Senegal

In April 2021, a huge fire starting from Table Mountain partially destroyed the Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where Mobilitas has a large rear base (around 1 employees). Memorist was then commissioned to restore the damaged architectural documents, so that the reconstruction could be done according to the original plans. The project, which was to be limited to this objective, was ultimately extended. Eight people are now trained on site in restoration and digitization, under the supervision of an expert who visits the site every two months. Budget of intervention : around 100 euros per year.

Proof that heritage is a concept that is both broad and essential: Memorist is currently involved in the churches of Lalibela (Ethiopia) and on civil status registers in Senegal! In Ethiopia, the Sustainable Lalibela project, launched in 2021, includes the creation of a digital heritage resource center. In partnership with the National School of Charters, Memorist is establishing a database of the churches' precious collection, made up of 300 religious manuscripts dating from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century. Bibles and liturgical documents still used today in this high place of Ethiopian Christianity.

Manuscrit orthodoxe conservé à Lalibela, en Éthiopie. © Gulliver Theis/LAIF-REA

Orthodox manuscript preserved in Lalibela, Ethiopia. © Gulliver Theis/LAIF-REA

Supervised by the country's government, the project consists essentially to train priests and religious in the digitization of their archives. “We transport the equipment acquired by the charter school and we bring the method,” explains Onaïnty. Afterwards, the equipment and the know-how belong to them. We obviously have no rights to the digitized documents! » Budget: 40 euros.

In Senegal, La Reliure du Limousin, through Memorist, was commissioned by the National Civil Status Agency to restore 13 civil status registers of the Republic of Senegal. The idea behind such a project, launched on June 000, is first of all to enable the service concerned to carry out its mission, but also to “restore a part of Senegalese demographic history”. On site are trained five people recruited within the Gaston-Berger University of Saint-Louis…

Memorist is thus deployed in all directions on the continent, depending on opportunities, most of the time in a logic of public-private partnership. “You have to have your head and your feet in Africa to be able to move projects forward,” confides Laurent Onaïnty. Memorist has also decided to install a developer in Mauritius – a first project concerning the digitization of the archives of a daily newspaper on the island being finalized. The company is indeed seeking to develop on so-called industrial media – press archives and especially audiovisual archives – which represent a poorly considered and poorly preserved heritage, sometimes more fragile than a sarcophagus old 2 500 years.

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