Joana Choumali is a fine art photographer based in Abijan, Cote d’Ivoire. She studied graphic arts in Casablanca – which is also where her latest body of work Alba’hain is showing at the exhibition 3134 (The distance from Abidjan to Casablanca.)
Her book Haabre, The Last Generation (series of portraits of people who represent the last generation to bear the ritual scarification associated with a number of ethnic groups in various parts of West Africa.) was the joint winner of the 2016 Fourthwall Photobook award and she has exhibited globally. In 2018 her images graced gallery walls in New York, Paris, Italy and Dakar to name just a few cities. And in December last year she was named by CNN as one of the “Badass Women Photographers you should be following”.
The real world meets imagination in her latest body of work Alba’hain. The work is born with a camera, although the final project veers from away from what you’d consider traditional photography. And therein lies its beauty. Choumali is pushing boundaries. We asked her a little about her current work.
PDN: Tell us a little about Alba’hain
Joana: Alba’hain means the first light of day in Agni language (Agni is only one of Cote d’Ivoires 78 languages). The title refers in part to my practice. I religiously wake very early each and every morning. I walk long distances – with no specific destination in mind. I follow the light and the energy of my surroundings and photography what I see. Afterward, using a mixed technique of collage, embroidery, quilting and photomontage, she superimposes on them several layers of ethereal fabrics intertwined with other images she takes during those walks, like silhouettes of passers-by’s, street photographs or stills.
PDN: What do you find beautiful about the morning time?
JC: What draws me to walking in the morning is the peace that you can find in a city that is still asleep, almost deserted. I feel empowered by the fact that I am enjoying the quiet atmosphere in a place that will become crowded and busy in just a few hours.
PDN: You mention that morning light has a global symbolic value of rediscovery and illumination. Can you tell us a little about this in relation to your project.
JC: The morning light is the vital energy that is born again, renovated every new day. It is the hope of a new beginning. To witness the sunrise while I’m walking led me to a journey into my own inner life, into an act of total acceptance of the woman I am today. I have been transforming my experience into this work that expresses the joy of being alive. In a similitude with the relationship with my land: the place where I feel the most alive and surrounded everywhere by poetry, constantly regenerating energy and beauty. By doing so, I have understood that what I was hoping to find in a journey abroad, I finally discovered in my own “home”.
PDN: This work – the mixed media component – is very different to some of your previous work. Describe how you still see it as photography…
JC: The work is still very much photography because the basis of the work is photography. I use my DSLR camera to photograph the landscapes I’m surrounded by. On this I will hand sew human silhouettes that I photographed on the streets with my smartphone. Pictures printed on cotton canvas will be intertwined with layers of sheer fabric and embroidery. I like the idea of challenging the boundaries of photography. I felt the need to touch my work and create unique pieces. I also like the idea of taking a simple snapshot and then spending months on that single image in order to create the effect that I want. To me each layer is like a Photoshop layer. Because each layer adds something to the landscape to recreate my thoughts and feeling as I was walking in the streets. Also I still wanted to mix a feeling of dream and reality. Photography of “real” people that I met in the street are mixed with my dreams and thoughts because both are important to me. I like the concept that dreams can superimpose themselves onto reality…
Joana Choumali’s work is up as part of 3134, from Abidjan to Casablanca at the Loft Art Gallery, 13 Rue El Kaïssi, Casablanca 20250, Morocco
Feb 7 to March 10, 2019.
The work will also be shown this week at 1:54 African contemporary Art Fair at Hotel “La Mamounia” in Marrakech, Morocco.
– by Samantha Reinders