“Prejudices motivate me.”
Joana Choumali, the photographer from Ivory Coast wants to change opinions of people who have a wrong view on the African continent in general and her home country in specific.
“I cannot force a person to change his or her views, but I can take it to reflect, interact, draw conclusions by herself. I like the answers to my photographs to come from a person who sees my work.”
Living and working in the capital Abidjan, where she also studied at an art school and before worked as art director for an advertising agency, she is now fully focused on photography. “It allows me to express myself, talk about my country, my generation and my continent ‘from the inside’. I often speak about identity because it is a subject close to my heart; it often comes to my mind.”
Her latest photographic series ‘Hââbré, the last generation’ (Hââbré means “writing” and “scarification” in Kô language from Burkina Faso) shows portraits of the last generation of scarified people in Abidjan. The series questions identity in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and present. “Scarification is the practice of performing a superficial incision on human skin. This practice is disappearing due to pressure from religious and state authorities, changing urban practices and the introduction of clothing within tribes.”
This series of portraits leads us to question the link between past and present, and how self-image shifts depending on environment. The sometimes conflicting opinions of our witnesses illustrate the complexity of African identity today in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and its future. This ‘last generation’ of people bearing the imprint of the past on their faces went from being the norm and having a high social value to being somewhat ‘excluded’. “They are the last witnesses of an Africa of a bygone era”, Joana says. It’s a prime example of her work being imbued with sensitivity and emotion.
Even if the subject is delicate and can create discomfort around her , it does not stop Joana to keep on shooting. She works in Ivory coast as well as abroad and doesn’t questions herself about the location. “If I feel the need, I work wherever I can. I have no preference, it just depends on my subject.” She explains that more and more young Ivorians are interested in photography and the market therefore becomes more busy. “I think the first reason is a desire of expression, of recognition through this form of art. Next to that the internet allows young African photographers to access more information on photography and art in general. This definitely opens possibilities, but the access to professional equipment is still limited. Hopefully this will change in the future, to help more upcoming talent reach the audience they deserve.”
(Courtesy of Jorrit R Dijkstra: http://thisisafrica.me/lifestyle/joana-choumali-ivory-coast-jorrit/)