By Nii B. Andrews

The Ivorian artist, Joana Choumali presents striking facial photographic portraits of individuals living in Abidjan (during 2014) who have vivid and graphic facial scarification.

This form of ancient facial art identified them as having Burkinabe heritage and therefore they were not immune to xenophobic attacks – sometimes with fatal consequences.

The irony of course being that the marks that perhaps indicated their proud successful participation in initiation rites now set them apart as victims of bigotry and discrimination….within ECOWAS.

The title of the series “Hââbré” also represents an interesting play on words as the word simultaneously means scarification, writing and sign.

Even more striking is the fact that Choumali presents two sets of images, one taken from behind and the other frontally.

Of course, the former image does not reveal any difference, with respect to the subject, that will provoke the negative reactions brought on by the facial signs or writings.

Choumali’s photographs are currently part of the MACAAL exhibition, “AFRICA IS NO ISLAND”.

The thrust of this exhibition is simple.

Its aim is to invite the viewer to question assumptions on geography, history and representation.

And it does so by presenting the work of young and aspiring artists who have alternative perspectives and methods.

In many instances, the artists focus on cultures that are disappearing.Their work also questions given historical assumptions or dogmas.

2 thoughts on “PORTFOLIO – 27”

  1. Interesting subject! I would very likely not invest in art of that kind but nevertheless have to admit that the subject matter & technique are rather intriguing!

    The shot from on the back is ‘like’ a blank canvas in the sense that it gives no indication as to what expect on the other side. It, however, also leaves lots of room for commentary on the rear view eg, broad back, style of the dress & headgear, the age of the subject based on the attire & dress code, the details & texture of the fabric even the backdrop against which the picture is taken. Neutral Generalities without emotive connotations or inclinations.

    The frontal & crucial perspective is very different! A bit of an unexpected shocker which gives rise to a flurry of unexpected emotions! Of a negative kind, I hasten to add. Dislike, fear, repulsion, resentment, condemnation. Beautiful is not an adjective that would readily & spontaneously spring to mind!

    The term ‘haabre’ is indeed a double edged sword because in as much as the tribal markings were meant to bring tangible benefits to the child, they have also marked him/her as an easily identifiable target! They set him/her apart as not belonging to & therefore not acceptable to other clans. These markings define the ethnicity in ways which could symbolise seclusion from others. Being deliberately different & wanting to remain that way.

    Another dimension, depending on ones concept of what is aesthetically appealing, is that of disfiguration & marring of the subject’s natural beauty – tampering with nature, so to speak. These ethnic symbols might be considered an enhancement of beauty to those who practice these rituals. However, it could precipitate serious psychological trauma once the person leaves their comfort zone & roots & are then exposed to the societal biases that are a reality. A case of ‘one man’s meat being another man’s poison’?!

    1. Many thanks AMP for the far reaching commentary and analysis from several perspectives.

      Your candour is refreshing and deeply appreciated.

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