Abidjan based photographer Joana Choumali’s series Hââbré, The Last Generation explores scarification – markings created through superficial incisions made to the body. Hââbré means both writing and scarification in Kô, a Burkinabe language. As documents of the physical traces of shared values, and traditions of self-imaging within cultural groups, her images reflect on how these are subject to change. Once the norm, and having high social value as she describes, individuals bearing these vestiges of the past, are now somewhat “excluded”. Joana Choumali was born in 1974 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. She lives in Abidjan Cococy, Ivory Coast.
When her grandmother died in 2001, Ms. Choumali realized how much of her family history would be lost because she had not been able to talk with her about her life.
“I felt like a part of me was going and part of my family was fading away,” she said. “For a long time, I felt guilty. I thought, I don’t speak the language, maybe I’m not that African.”
In her portrait series, “Resilients,” which was recently featured at the Photolux Festival in Lucca, Italy, sponsored by the African Artist Foundation, Ms. Choumali sought to document young, professional African women — mostly Ivorian — who also struggled with the lingering guilt of not being able to relate to their family’s traditional past. Over the course of several months, each portrait session required intense research on the specific details of how the clothes, jewelry, skin and hair needed to be styled based on the specific tribe the family was from.
She initially found most of her subjects — lawyers, students, doctors and managers — on the streets of Abidjan. Her sole requirement for the portrait was that the women had to wear traditional clothing already worn by their grandmother or an older female relative. This was intended to “emphasize the link between past and present, and also the cultural heritage,” Ms. Choumali said. Inspired by the golden hues of Rembrandt’s paintings, she handmade a backdrop to give the portraits a “feeling of time travel,” she said.