This August, Gallery 1957 (Accra) presents a solo exhibition by the award-winning Ivorian photographer and mixed media artist Joana Choumali, running from 24 August-5 October, 2019. Presenting new and recent works which blend photography with collage and embroidery, the exhibition will include works from the series Ça Va Aller, Translation, and Alba’hian. It will also debut additional works inspired by the artist’s early-morning explorations of Accra in the summer of 2019; marking a departure for the artist, this latest body of work sees the artist working on a larger scale (up to 2m x 1m), for the first time.
Choumali is known particularly for her photography work, including the critically-lauded series Hââbré/The Last Generation documenting portraits of a “last generation” of scarified Burkinabè men and women living in Abidjan, as well as individuals from Niger, Nigeria, and Benin. Following the 13 March 2016 terrorist attacks in Grand-Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, Choumali instinctively turned to embroidery as a way to process the trauma of the event. Rather than dismiss her feelings with the favored Ivorian maxim “Ça va aller” (It will be OK), she chose to explore them via the gesture of slowly stitching, sometimes over several months. Richly worked, these small photographs accompanied her nearly constantly during their creation. They reflect not only the artist’s physical touch, but also her emotional evolution as she used this new way of art making to both process this moment of national grief and face challenges in her personal life. In the artist’s words, discovering embroidery “opened a new gate in my life,” through which she was free to be sensitive, to speak the unspoken, and to connect with others on a human level.
Transposing her inner landscape on top of the visible world, Choumali overlays gauzy panels of embroidered chiffon and tulle on collaged cell-phone photographs of figures and cityscapes. Like dreams overlapping reality, it is unclear where one begins and the other ends. While depicting specific individuals she sees during early morning walks, these works contemplate what is the core of a human being, capturing their état d’esprit (state of mind). Through her textile interventions and collage, individuals encountered on the street move larger-than-life through silent cities at dawn. Faces blurred by motion or by fabric, their figures and gestures remain legible and become universal.
A cathartic and deeply intimate technique, Choumali found that what began as “a quiet diary” became a means of communication when she shared the resulting works publicly. The immediate response and connection she received from diverse viewers inspired the exhibition’s title “How do you spell a silent sound?” Through these works, a wordless conversation begins between artist and viewer, transcending difference.
Text by Kristen Windmuller-Luna