contemporary art / history of art

Joana Choumali

Born in 1974 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Joana studied Graphic Arts in Casablanca (Morocco). Before starting her carrier as photographer, she worked as an Art Director for an advertising agency. Since 2000, she participated in numerous personal and group exhibitions on the African continent, in France and Great Britain. Her several times awarded series “Hââbré*, the last generation” (2013-14) was shown besides in Africa and Europe as well in the United States and Malaysia. The depicted scarification is an old African tradition. Once being a norm with high social status, it is nowadays vanishing, due to the shift of values in contemporary societies. In consequence, this series is a witness of former times.

Also dealing with the past and present is the series “Resilients” (2013-14), where Joana photographed African women in the traditional clothes of her female ancestors. Whereas in “Awoulaba/taille fine” (2013-2015), the artist proposes new models. Around 2011 local manufacturers in the Ivory Coast started to modify and create new mannequins. They are not designed like idealised western thin models, but take account of the African female physique, with wide hips, well-filled breasts, and full arms. Even the skin colours are more adapted and the faces are more individualised. In Baule, one of the numerous languages spoken in Ivory Coast, they are called Awoulaba – beauty queen. Joana documented the making and the presentation of the Awoulaba. Moreover, she superimposed images of real women with mannequins in the Awoulaba and taille fine style (slim waist), with the result to show fusions of real and idealised women. The series was presented several times, latest in 2017 at the PhEST in Monopoli, Italy.

Likewise, “Adorn” (2015) questions the western determined aesthetic ideal, once more with a partly documentary character. Nevertheless, it is about the reinterpretation of European beauty standards by present-day black African women. One part illustrates the manipulations by make-up and hairdressing. The second part – which was on view in the Pavilion of the Ivory Coast at the Venice Biennale 2017 – shows the perfectly styled women. At the same occasion, the series “Translation” (2016-17) was presented. Here the artist questions about migration and its effects on the concerned societies and the enduring dream of African people to find a better life in the western world, despite obstacles like visa requirements. “Ouagadougou New York” is our artwork of the month of January 2018.

Joana’s recent series “ça va aller…” (it will be OK) (2016) was taken three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Grand Bassam (Ivory Coast) on the 13 March 2016. Bassam was for her always an area of peaceful retreat, with positive memory of childhood experience and family meetings, until the day of the raid. Even though, the events caused a deep sadness in the little town, these feelings were often shortened by the formula “ça va aller…”. In capturing the gloomy atmosphere and embroidering these images, the artist tried to heal mental wounds. “ça va aller…” was presented for the first time AKAA – Also Known As Africa 2017 in Paris, France.

In Joana’s photographical projects, the documentary meets art and vice versa. In addition, she lately introduced embroidery into the images. As attentive observer of her society, she picks up subjects of tradition and history as well as contemporary issues. Through these topics, she questions about collective and personal identity.


Artwork of the month / January 2018