Joana Choumali (1974, Ivory Coast)
Learning to be alive, 2019.
Photography on canvas, embroidered, 80×80 cm.
From the series Alba’hian.
Visual artist and photographer Joana Choumali lives and works in the Ivory Coast. She studied Graphic Arts in Casablanca, Morocco. Encompassing mixed media, conceptual portraiture and documentary photography, her work focuses on Africa, and what she, as an African, learns about the innumerable cultures around her. Last year, Joana won the prestigious Prix Pictet photography award, which took ‘hope’ as its theme.
Joana began taking photographs on her phone in the town of Grand-Bassam, three weeks after a terrorist attack took place at the town’s beach in 2016. She wanted to capture the place, the people and the melancholy atmosphere discreetly. She later began to embroider the printed photographs, resulting in her series Ça va aller – a typical Ivorian expression meaning ‘all will be okay’. In Joana’s words, the project was “a way to express what I couldn’t verbally. Each stitch was a way to recover, to lie down the emotions, the loneliness, and mixed feelings I felt.”
Gradually, this process has become her daily routine, resulting in the series Alba’hian. Alba’hian means ‘the first light of day’ in Agni language, spoken by the Akan people in Ivory Coast. Every morning, between 5am and 7am, Joana wakes up and walks outside, observing and photographing everything that reveals itself in the early light of dawn: the street sweepers, the runners, the passers-by. She then adds layers of collage, embroidery, quilting and photomontage to the prints, introducing other pictures taken during her walks.