Art Takeover: Joana Choumali

Being aware of how people interact with their environment is an important role for all artists. In a progressively technological society, more people relate through social media platforms.

With this in mind, ART AFRICA has extended an invitation to some of the artists from the African diaspora to engage in periodical Instagram takeovers.  With that said, we are proud to introduce our first artist and avid Instagrammer, Joana Choumali, who was one of the finalists for the Bright Young Things award and residency program for 2017.

ART AFRICA: You’ve said that while you were growing up that you felt a disconnect between yourself and Grandmother and this has impacted your photography.

Can you expand on how and why?

Joana Choumali: I started the project “Resilients” in 2013. I was inspired by my paternal grandmother, who passed away years ago. At that moment, I realized that a big part of her personal story had gone with her. Because we had a language barrier, I could not connect with her as much as I would have liked to. She was gone, with all her intimate thoughts. In this project, I focused on the traditional clothing. The women that I portrayed are modern women, emancipated professionals, perfectly integrated in contemporary society. Taken out of jeans, sneakers and high heels shoes, each of them was portrayed wearing the clothes of their mother or grandmother.

Through this project, I was trying to reconnect with the past while remaining in the present. I would like to convey the idea that there is an indissoluble bond that associates us with the previous generations. The importance of rediscovering and keeping in touch with the roots is what fully builds our identity. I would like this project to start a conversation about cultural heritage and identity in today’s Africa.

View this post on Instagram

I’m @joana_choumali taking over the @artafrica_mag account – day2 Photo "Mr Mien G." series " Hââbré, the last generation" Mr. Mien, painter, from Ouro Bono, Burkina Faso. “I was a kid, but I still remember the wounds on me. When you didn’t have them, your friends would laugh at you, and put you aside. During wars, Mossie and Ko tribes would recognize each other, and therefore avoid killing one another. It was a way of recognition. When you would look for work, no one would ask you where you’re coming from… It is already done, and I like them. I cannot change. No need for an ID card, I already wear my identity on my face. This is the reason why people did it: to recognize one another. But now, this is over. We can no more be recognized.”… "Hââbré" is the same word for writing / scarification” in Kô language from Burkina faso. Scarification is the practice of performing a superficial incision in the human skin. This practice is disappearing due to the pressure of religious and state authorities, urban practices and the introduction of clothing in tribes. Nowadays, only the older people wear scarifications. This fact leads us to question the link between past and present, and self-image depending on a given environment. Opinions (sometimes conflicting) of our witnesses illustrate the complexity of African identity today in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and its future. This “last generation” of people bearing the imprint of the past on their faces, went from being the norm and having a high social value to being somewhat “excluded”. They are slowly becoming the last generation of scarified african people, living in the same city / Abidjan. They are the last witnesses of an Africa of a bygone era. . #artafrica_mag #ArtAFrica #ArtAfricaTakeover #JoanaChoumali #BrightYoungThings #Photography #instatakeover #photography #contemporaryafrica #portraiture #femalegaze #documentaryphotography #photojournalism #studiophotography #contemporaryafrica #haabrethelastgeneration #joana_choumali

A post shared by ART AFRICA (@artafrica_mag) on

There`s a link to an article The World According to Black Women Photographers on your Instagram. What does the piece mean to you?

As a Black Woman Photographer, this piece means a lot to me. The “Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora” journal is spearheaded by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Adama Delphine Fawundu and Crystal Whaley is named in memory of Mmekutmfon ‘Mfon’ Essien, a young black photographer who died from breast cancer in 2001, one day before her show “The Amazon’s New Clothes” was to open at the Brooklyn Museum.

I am proud to be part of this (much needed) project and honored to see my work featured along with 99 talented women photographers’ work in “Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora,” the first of a planned series of biannual journals, which features images by 100 women photographers from around the world. 

Layla Amatullah Barrayn hopes that this book and the following volumes will make a powerful statement: “No one can say ‘I don’t know any black women photographers.” 

I invite you to check out this article on this journal in the New York Times Lens Blog. Meanwhile please, if you can, support the GoFundMe campaign of this great project . “Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora” will be available in early fall.


You studied Graphic Arts and worked as an Art Director in an advertising agency before pursuing a career in photography.

Is photography something you’ve always wanted to do and are you influenced by your past work experience?

I started photography while I was a student in Graphic Arts in Casablanca. Photography was already part of my life when I started working as an Art Director. I believe that photography influenced my creative process and yes I would say that I was also influenced by my past work experience. Art direction in Advertising is all about conceptualizing an idea in order to convey and idea or sell a product. Now I conceptualize ideas to convey a message, a feeling, some questionings.

You just did an Instagram takeover for ART AFRICA. What are your thoughts using social media to showcase your work as opposed to the traditional way of magazines?

I think that social media (when used thoughtfully) is a good way for an artist to share his work with the world in a very natural way. Some artist share their creative process, inspirations, and achievements. This allows them to inspire other people in a very direct way. I think that social media completes the traditional way of showcasing their work. Both magazines and social media are good. Today, many young African artists get noticed through social media. They can meet an audience that they couldn’t reach before.  That is a good thing.


Which major photographer has influenced how you approach your work or think about photography?

I would first mention Malick Sidibé. I admire the portraits of African women by the Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, they are of extraordinary elegance and grace.

I also used to devour the images of the African-American photographer Chester Higgins Jr. At home, on the table of the living room, was enthroned one of his albums. I discovered his vision of Africa and the Caribbean (in the years 1970-1980, ed.) I admire the portraiture by Angèle Etoundi Essamba, and Sebastião Salgado whose photos on the human condition take you literally to the guts. Finally, there is Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau.

You can view the Art Africa Takeover here and support the artists Instagram here.