From July 15 to October 2, 2021, the Nantes School of Architecture is offering a series of cultural and scientific events analyzing the place of women in the making of the city in Africa.  

This highlight, called « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées », questions contemporary Africa and draws a refreshed portrait of the urban spaces that make it up through highlights and exchanges with instructive questions that are largely open to the public curious to discover the relationship of women to African city spaces.  

« Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » also proposes an exhibition to give an account of the work and claims of women in the different territories of the African continent.  

Presented in the Loire Gallery from July 15 to October 2, 2021, this group exhibition proposes a reflection on different themes through a dialogue between the works of artists such as Mabeye Deme, Danièle Diwouta-Kotto, Jean-Baptiste Joire, Katia Kameli, Keyezua, Milka Mbunga Kongi, Joseph Obanubi, Wura- Natasha Ogunji, Selly Rabi Kane, Hector Sonon, Ina Thiam, Guy Tillim, Theresa Traore Dahlberg, Cléophée Moser, Womenability, Charlotte Yonga, Zeinixx.

The objective of the exhibition « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » is to highlight these women who participate in African feminism and intensify the actions initiated by many other women: artists, urbanists, activists, etc.. This convergence of voices, conditions and circles brings out a bewildering set of actresses, bending here and there to logics of non-conformity and disobedience, sometimes evoking the question of citizenship and responsibility.

« Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » wants to tell, archive and outline a current history so that tomorrow, the commitment of women in the development of the African territory is not forgotten. Giving voice to those who make the city and its daily life by relying on the artistic creation of Africa and its diaspora.

« Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » is a gateway where African women, and anyone who claims to be one, can participate in building a more inclusive future.

It is an exhibition with multiple subjects. Between the examination of current events and women’s bodies, or sometimes the influence of these women in our capitals and developing urban community. « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » is both a praise of women and their role, but also an examination of the conditions in which they advance. This exhibition crosses glances, impressions, background discourses and their non-existent horizon lines in a space and questions each visitor.


 « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » at the Loire Gallery of the Nantes School of Architecture
© 2019

Wild, intriguing, united, pleasant or unexpectedly, tyrannical, tumultuous, antagonistic… So many descriptors applied to women as well as to African urban cities and which, for each situation, allude more to projections than to any reality.

Projections that are addressed in the exhibition « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » to paint the urban communities and those who think, build and live them.

This part of the exhibition investigates Africa and draws a portrait of the urban areas that make it up, themselves represented without constraint, casually or in a hurry. This external view obscures the presence of activities, creations, reexaminations and changes that accelerate contemporary areas. At the heart of the attendance or development of these elements, the cooperation of women is regularly ignored. By focusing on this social minority, the reflections in various regions intend to highlight their commitment to the recognition of an Africa of the conceivable that is not yet recognized, but will happen.

This outline paints a picture of African communities today and aims to envision those of tomorrow. To offer an overview of African metropolitan dynamics produced and conveyed by women.

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Indeed, even today, the aggregate creative mind generally relegates African women to limited and stereotypical places, such as the kitchen or the market. While it is true that some places are more gendered than others, as in many regions, it is inappropriate to reduce their essence to this perception.

Women are in the city, contributing to the socio-economic development of many African nations. Certainly, access to training, massive provincial migrations, the development of ethics, and increasingly in the world, globalization, have upset their situation. They have freed themselves from the role of mother, adopted social and political empowerment, and developed financial activities.  

Since the 1980s, many women have moved to the city, increasingly becoming the majority in African cities. This new status of metropolitan women reveals an exceptionally heterogeneous mix of profiles: they are students, visionaries, businesswomen, young and old, single or separated. This new status implies that they are no longer to be found in the informal economy during the day, in the evening in front of the patio of their house, or in the evening on the sidewalks. African women are defending themselves, moving to different cities, thus guaranteeing a reformist equity.


The exhibition « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » proposes an excursion between the different emblematic places of women’s struggles. Just as the grievances are plural and explicit in each era and society, the media for activism are varied. The demonstration as an element of claim and articulation is far from being a first. In South Africa, the 1956 Women’s March played an important role in creating a call against the restriction of women to their region. This latter model anchors women’s control of public space in a broader authentic perspective and shows how women have fought to retain their freedoms of access to the city.

This occupation by women is not noticeable enough practically immediately erased. The appropriation of the street by her leaves place to a stronger or more imaginative activism: graffiti artists, artists or photographers contribute really and in an emblematic way to that the spaces of the cities testify of their qualification. Different responsibilities are recognized through more everyday and individual practices: haircuts or texture imagery are also elements used to denounce persecution, in some cases practiced between the women themselves. In this sense, African women have obtained another reverberation and brandish it to show a right of women that does not say its name.


 « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » at the Loire Gallery of the Nantes School of Architecture
84 X 126 CM
© 2018

Arriving in a large African city, one is quickly assaulted by the clamor of the traffic and the perpetual progression of the crowd. The sounds, smells, and images depict spaces of traffic in full transformation.

African urban communities are in direct contact with the world: we discern the trades of commerce, transit and information that depict today’s urban areas.

Within this framework and in constant evolution, the versatility of women is a crucial issue. There are many surveys of metropolitan mobility, but the vast majority of them depend on information, such as morning and evening commutes during rush hour.  

The African continent has the highest rate of investment in the female labor force, but many women are in business. Women working in private businesses generally travel during off-peak hours or during peak hours, but they all transport their products in well-packed vehicles. In both cases, the supply of vehicles is not adapted to their needs. In addition, these procedures regularly leave out a significant portion of passersby’s trips, resulting in the intangibility of travel, and in a roundabout way, their work.

Faced with this situation, the women of the big cities have developed an unpredictable versatility, of distances, schedules or motives, in order to have the possibility of accomplishing simultaneously their family, professional and local exercises. The result is an emancipation and social rearrangement that is not always well perceived by men, as shown by the reaction of drivers to the Taxi Sisters of Dakar.

The admission of ladies to mobility delineates a progressive development of sexual orientation relationships and contributes to their empowerment. While these elements are built in general, they should not obscure the effect of social level on access to mobility.

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As in many spaces, women have often been excluded from political and technical calls, leaving men to assume roles of power. In any case, all the experiences and recognition of women’s cooperation as actors of development have been denied for a long time.

Politically, in the old social orders, African women were available and dynamic, but often confined to subordinate and less valued situations, as guides and allies.

There have always been exceptions, as highlighted by the now legendary accounts of certain female figures, such as the sixteenth-century ruler Nzinga of Ndongo or the eighteenth-century ruler Pokou of Côte d’Ivoire.

Nowadays, the intrusion of women in a « faire ville » is recognized. Rwanda is the significant nation of these new elements of political commitment: in 2021, women are in the majority in the positions of minister and in the Chamber of Deputies. 

This model delineates the continued feminization of functions, which is also present in the field of metropolitan planning and development. The functions of experts, designers and planners have been separated by a redistribution of dominant genders since the beginning of the millennium.

Thus, African women own the city, but are at the same time dynamic in its creation, producing more comprehensive activities due to the proximity of the social segment, cultural and political difficulties.


 « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » at the Loire Gallery of the Nantes School of Architecture
© 2021

Renowned for their informal exchanges, African urban cities are undergoing a development that is changing the way they are designed and the way their occupants, including women, live in them. Outside of the domestic space, women can be found on the sidewalks with their « cantines » and sometimes in the markets.

This juxtaposition of experiences and this crossbreeding has favored the creation of business elements and a network of women’s commons that has given rise to figures such as the Nana Benz, Togolese businesswomen who have made a fortune in the sale of Wax cloth. For them, this engine comes from the need to provide for themselves and their families. This also explains why many women are bar managers, although their essence in these spaces as customers is generally not evident. In any case, access to these nightlife venues is becoming more equitable.

If the improvement of urban communities initially preferred the inclusion of women in informal structures, they are now the source of the sustainability of the urban areas of which they are the nurturers.

After the exchanges and the work of women in the financial development of urban areas, the political action of these women was limited for some time. The monetary strength and autonomy obtained by these women caused a disruption of customary practices, leading to their reinforcement and assertion of their presence.

As an ever-changing territory, African urban cities need better approaches, new user-friendly designs and new opportunities. These political, social, and societal changes are truly registered in the space of the street. The public space, while generally populated by women, which is more common in African cities, is still inscribed in the history of men: public landmarks and road names are mostly male.

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One must go back to the mid-1950s to understand the idea of Afro-futurism. Initially envisioned in an African-American framework, the thought was theorized by Mark Dery in 1993 in his essay « Black to the Future », but it originated in the figure of Sun Ra, a 1960s jazzman who referred to himself as a pharaoh and claimed to come from Saturn.

On the continent, Afro-futurism offers a space to reconsider Africa from non-Western cosmologies and to reclaim the story that has been told for a very long time by others.

An idea that is difficult to characterize, Afro-futurism is not really an artistic movement, it brings together artists with completely different styles and from different backgrounds such as writing, music, design or visual expressions.

These artists share a desire to escape an image of Africa that is tied to customs and nature rather than progress and urbanization.

The aim is to show how these concepts coincide and live together to create more inclusive urban areas, in tune with the real factors and plural personalities of the individuals living there. By consolidating metropolitan thinking and the creative spirit, the artists question complex ideas such as the relationship to history, particularly pre-colonial history, inclusion and diversity.

Embracing innovation, Afro-futurism brings together histories and transitions that have long been fought against to re-evaluate African characters, such as Wakanda in the film Black Panther.

Today, urban projects are being promoted that draw on African vernacular engineering and the latest innovative advances, such as the new city of Yennenga in Burkina Faso, which is named after an Amazonian princess. The city was designed to act autonomously through solar energy and the architects decided to include trees and existing nature in the design by building around them.

Other programs

The exhibition « Afrocity, urbanités enchantées » is open until October 2, 2021 at the Nantes School of Architecture and furthermore offers correlative programming and encounters such as the meeting « Artefacts et interfaces », scheduled for Tuesday, September 21, 2021 and an evening of meetings and discoveries around women and contemporary issues on September 29, 2021, which will offer screenings, roundtables and tours of the exhibition.

This program is conceived as a team with local associations and people from the African diaspora, so that the exhibition does not remain bound to the walls of the engineering school, but opens an exchange with the city of Nantes and its inhabitants.

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