For some years, August 19, 1839 has been remembered as the date of the invention of photography when the daguerreotype was presented to the Academy of Sciences. This date has been maintained as World Photography Day.
After discovering the pioneers and trends of photography, we will introduce you to the committed stance that this media art takes to give a voice to people on the margins of society and to victims of social factors.
After masters such as Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibé, J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, Jean Depara, who have shown great dynamism before, new stars such as Aida Muluneh, Mario Macilau, Joana Choumali, Ishola Akpo, Omar Victor Diop, Kudzanai Chiurai, Zanele Muholi and Fabrice Monteiro, bring a new look to Africa.
Ethiopian Aida Muluneh, in search of African photography and water for Africans
This accomplished and award-winning photographer has set herself the goal of promoting an African perspective on Africa. To that end, she created the Addis Foto Fest to bring together American and African photographic artists and to encourage photographers to take charge of the nation’s narrative. She is trying to encourage a photographic culture in her country and says she aspires to an Ethiopia where taking out a camera is not considered a security breach. Growing up in Yemen and Canada, Aida Muluneh developed a deep feeling for her country, which she left at the age of five.
She learned photography in the United States, close to black American photographic artists, and then joined the Washington Post with a fixation on Africa, chafing at her country’s constant return to famine.
When she returned to Ethiopia after 28 years away, she found a country in flux, torn between past, present and future, between various food emergencies and the brand new tramway, the only one in sub-Saharan Africa, that winds between the extravagant structures being developed and the ghettos where most of Addis Ababa’s residents are still crammed.
One of his most famous works, a series of off-ground photographs called « Painted Faces » , features young African women with faces painted in bright blue, white, or red. The models become imaginative subjects, rather than being reduced to their Africanness.
Resolved to the problems of water scarcity, photographic artist Aida Muluneh presents another series of works commissioned by Wateraid. Investigating issues of representation, gender and social equity through Afrofuturist works consisting of twelve large-scale photographs taken in Ethiopia. This stunning work is part of Somerset House‘s programming on themes of nature. This project grew out of a conversation about the role of art as support, water and sanitation issues, and how Africa is addressed by aid organizations and in the global media.
Her fundamental goal in creating this series of works is to address the problems caused by the lack of access to water, and its effects on society in general, but also on women, especially in rural areas. Each photo addresses the effect of access to water on issues such as women’s freedom, well-being, sanitation and education.
For Aida Muluneh, supporting access to water in rural Africa is an urgent social issue, as well as a determining factor in the independence of a community.
Mario Macilau, a photographer confronts the ghosts of Mozambique
Through his photographic series, Mario Macilau explores the new history of Mozambique, where the traces of colonization influence daily life.
Could photography be used to exorcise the ghosts of a country? This question implies an enormous amount of work done by Mario Macilau, who came to photography somewhat by chance.
He began photographing the roads of Maputo shortly after the common conflict, from 1977 to 1992, while spending time with street children.
His works, recently exhibited at La Terrasse in Nanterre, resemble a gathering of contemporary ghosts seeking answers about their future. In his series titled « Cercle de mémoires » made in 2020, Mario Macilau features frozen figures staring at the guest, against a background of marginally obscured landscapes. The structures addressed date from the Portuguese colonization of Mozambique from 1498 to 1975 and are generally in ruins. The artist-photographer claims his choices of scenography to offer respect to the individuals and the places: these buildings are a tradition of the colonization, the individuals live near them and see them constantly. Her work focuses on what they mean to the lives of these people today.
Perhaps instead of addressing this enslavement head-on, Mario Macilau sees its traces with a distance, as he has done with various subjects. In the series « Grandir dans l’ombre » and « Le coin des profits » created in 2015, dedicated to the youth of Maputo, he liked to clearly photograph these ghosts of society, in deserted places or public dumps. Adolescent appearances spread by weariness and brutality against a backdrop of fumaroles, stored plastic bags or diseased dividers: not much, but an incredible affectability. And also, behind the scenes, an analysis of the political force unable to rebuild the country.
Mario Macilau has further identified the impact of colonization in spirituality, as represented by his series « Foi » created between 2017 and 2018. Continuously clear, the image taker of traditional animist ceremonies, where milk, crushed kaolin and bird feathers make another style eliminated from the ethnologizing Western gaze. For Mario Macilau, colonization never ceases to impact contemporary society.
Joana Choumali, photographic artist on the traces of identity and the recovery of the wounds of terrorism
The photographic artist Joana Choumali has long understood how to embrace the issues that revolve around identity. The first work she presents is a series of striking portraits of individuals she has met in her city, all of whom have scarred faces. These scars, thin or wide, large or small, show the beginning and the history of the person who wears them until death.
To discover her subjects, the photographic artist Joana Choumali went to the people on the road. The majority of them are migrants from Burkina Faso or Nigeria, from common classes such as nannies, cab drivers, painters, guards, carpenters. Each of them was scarified as a child, as it is a visual identity. These scarifications communicate the family one comes from, the city, the place. The ladies, who were seen as artisans, would go into the cities and scarify the youth. They would incise the skin and apply a recuperative powder. Most of them have a vivid and painful memory of this. However, social progress, travel and trade have gradually made this practice obsolete. Scars are increasingly difficult to wear in the city, where they are now misunderstood, and become signs of another time. Today, none of the artist’s models need to have their children scarified. The photographic artist Joana Choumali had to tame her models to gain their trust and also asserts a contemporary methodology, far from the ethnological surveys or intriguing photos of the past, because it is a practice that is transmitted and she has done this work so that it is not forgotten.
Her series « Ça va aller », woven captures the weeks following the assault on Grand-Bassam, and won the Pictet International Prize on November 13 in London, on the theme of hope. The artist, then in a craftsman’s residency in Morocco, was confronted with a painful event that broke her heart. That day, on the crowded seafront of the city located about 30 kilometers from Abidjan, a commando of jihadists started shooting and killed 19 people, Ivorians and foreigners alike. This is the only attack of this type to date in Côte d’Ivoire. For her, Grand-Bassam is a jewel, a sanctuary of harmony, of sweetness of life, a city overflowing with bonhomie, a refuge … where she used to spend her Sundays with her family.
By the time she returned home after the event, the phrase « ça va aller » was coming up in conversation. An expression that reflects the positive thinking in Côte d’Ivoire to console oneself. But for the artist, this is not enough, because her wound remains open, and mourning takes time. Three weeks after this misfortune, she leaves for Grand-Bassam, walks around and begins to capture with her phone the emptiness of the city, the gradualness and the calm of its occupants.
The committed artist, after the representations of scarified individuals and people passing through, catches this time scenes of the road. In her photos, the characters are regularly seated, pensive and melancholic, in a setting of seashores and porches totally deserted. Immediately afterwards, Joana Choumali fell ill. At the foot of her bed, she began to realize an idea that had been close to her heart for a long time: to weave her photos on cotton. She communicates her own feelings, deep ones at any rate, as if to mourn. Moreover, she tries to offer a tone to the greyness, a satisfaction to the sadness. This load of tones has a language and embroidery has soothed her and allowed her to explore her femininity which she has long since put aside in photography.
Overwhelmed by this feeling of saudade, she turned it into a project that surprisingly, similar to a whisper whose reverberation ended up resonating far beyond her space to end up being exhibited. This self-taught graphic artist and advertising specialist received a flurry of reactions from all over the world. Joana Choumali had the opportunity to capture the sadness, the pity, the emptiness, the indignation, this combination of feelings that she really felt, to make a story emerge.
Ishola Akpo, an image taker who flays multiple identities, divine beings and African ceremonies
Inspired by Africa’s hunters, the photographer Ishola Akpo depicts a non-existent god: « Daïbi » . The latter who enters the pantheon of divine beings without the typical majestic. The photographer gives him his own starting points, but also his body and his dreams, taking into account the universe of the god Ogoun, lord of iron whose origins are in present-day Nigeria with a solid presence in Benin, the Caribbean, Brazil, Cuba and Haiti.
Between representation similar to that of Abraham or the reminder of penitence that is not conceivable without an iron blade, the photographer Ishola Akpo makes the blade a property, just like the many ornaments worn by his god who wears either a blue Yoruba cap, a red Moroccan cap, a Berber cap or chimes. In reference to the hunters, he covers himself with black powder to obtain strength.
The artist Ishola Akpo offers a kind of fixation on the subject of many characters, that of the freedom of the body in the face of social imperatives by placing himself both behind and in front of the flash, a cycle that he has effectively used for the series « Pas de flash s’il vous plait ! » , where he explores a fictional universe without geological limits.
In his « L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux » series, he adopts both an applied and narrative methodology. He tells the story of his grandmother through the surplus objects of her traditional marriage. These products that the family of the lucky man brings as an image to seal the alliance between two families, two tribes, two ethnicities and from which emerge their shared assent. Therefore, in a dream of a more distant family, it is considered that a couple only works with the help of direct relationships and respective families. In capturing this series, Ishola Akpo, attempts to show what the object never reveals, but is the silent observer of. Each image carries with it a set of memories experienced by the couple, but also imagined and fantasized by the observer who extends his or her own story onto the objects. Images that have a suggestive potential for the artist’s grandmother, who has become both object and subject of her series as if to make a link between the corroded and worn objects with this lady who bears the imprint of time. As if to tell us that the fundamental being imperceptible to the eyes.
The artist Ishola Akpo has also recently created a series of works after a residency at the Fondation Zinsou where he presents through the exhibition « Agbara Women » the neglected sovereigns of history.
Omar Victor Diop, the embodiment of the neglected characters of the African diaspora
In 2014, his series « Diaspora » presents him embodying eighteen characters torn from their continent, whose fates, despite the fact that they can be told in a chivalrous way, are yet forgotten by the African diaspora.
Mathematicians, poets, artists once considered, but sidelined by history. In this series, Omar Victor Diop is also intrigued by the wonder of the soccer icons of the African diaspora, men in fact consigned to their status as foreigners while working for France. He was exhibited in 2016 at Paris Photo, and in 2017 at the Louis Vuitton Foundation.
Since his series « Le Futur du beau » with his basic camera to somewhat survey the ecological discourse and try to have an energetic methodology that would address an audience less open to logical data and with a less accusatory tone. This is when the « Studio des vanités » series was born, a set that will likely never end and resembles a journal of experiences.
With his « Liberty » series, the subject is more political. The set presents the various evolutions of obstruction that elaborate black people. He is interested in the rebellions of Soweto in 1976, against racial segregation, in the Black Panthers, in the main effective revolt of slaves in Haiti in 1791, which gave birth to the free black republic in 1804, without forgetting Aline Sitoé Diatta, the Senegalese Joan of Arc. As far as he is concerned, the battle and the elements continue as before. It is much more than the battle of the Blacks, it is the battle of equity. With « Diaspora » and « Liberty » , Omar Victor Diop does not spare a moment to stage himself in front of an audience, can be considered as two volumes of the same work.
Kudzanai Chiurai, the political artist who redoes the black experience
There is a scene in « Soleil Ô », the seminal 1970 film by Mauritanian producer Med Hondo, that has remained etched in the psyche of Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai and undeniably drives his interest in the ramifications and significance of decolonization on the continent.
One of the things that caught his attention was that there were never any women in terms of the history and battles of the post-colonial era. To remedy this, Chiurai changed the narrative so that the central person in the film was a woman, taking on all the roles herself and making her voice the lead voice.
Kudzanai Chiurai studied in Pretoria and then had to go through a period of marginalization in South Africa because of her early, unflattering works that were deeply critical of the Mugabe system.
These early works focused on the political, monetary and social conflicts in his country, but his imaginative practice nevertheless covers a wide range. From large-scale mixed-media works to artworks that address the most important issues facing Africa, such as xenophobia, dislocation, and increasing obscurity, his work stands in contrast to observers who have mental and real experience of the metropolitan conditions of African cities, which he sees as the most cosmopolitan mixtures of the landmass, where large numbers of displaced people and refuge seekers struggle to survive alongside the perpetual stream of newly urbanized inhabitants.
Over the past decade, he has created an exceptional visual style that consolidates mainstream society with sarcastic investigations of the continent’s post-colonial initiative and political plans. It’s a style that has earned him exposure around the globe, and his work is featured on the walls of such luminaries as Elton John and Richard Branson. On the other hand, it is a style that is being reintroduced into new Western understandings of the condition of black life.
The Zimbabwean artist, whose dramatic and theatrical compositions on power and corruption have won him a growing crowd, refers to a tempting evidence of “blood diamonds” and his project « The Republic ». In this project, there are 11 photos in which he poses – some in briefs, others brandishing weapons – as anonymous African tyrants encompassed by the characteristics of oppression. As far as he is concerned, it is an anecdotal state, the confidence in his work is justified.
The artist photographer Zanele Muholi denounces the clichés on black women
Ferocity, exoticism, sex appeal… In an excellent book, the South African Zanele Muholi distributes her self-portraits, expected as weapons against bigotry and homophobia.
A visual extremist and photographic artist on a mission to change South Africa’s black and transvisual queer history, she shows her opposition to the stature of violation and contempt in South Africa and the world.
For Zanele Muholi, blackness is the shade of her skin and a fundamental piece of her identity. It is this blackness, illustrated by photographs that she willingly declines, over a large number of pages in her book, a progression of wild and delightful self-portraits, in a huge and precious arrangement on dazzling backdrops. At times, Zanele Muholi incarnates as a statue of liberty as hieratic as she seems bizarre, skin and clothes charcoal black, delegated with a tiara made of wipes. In any case, she can as well be a fighter with hair bristling with porcupine needles, as an outright exposed and atrocious face covered with a mass of dreadlocks.
The one that offers to the black South African lesbian women, to discover their essence and gives them the possibility to defend their distinction and their particularity in the world, goes sometimes beyond the social narrative, of the images, with an undeniable authenticity that forces a confrontation of a not very common power with the observer.
The prescience as indicated by Fabrice Monteiro
Artist extremely inspired by the African culture, from the selection of his models to the selection of his themes, Fabrice Monteiro in a goal to raise awareness on the ecological problems presents through his art a horrible prediction to Africans if their propensities do not change.
The photographic artist Fabrice Monteiro has staged a « Djinn » in order to sharpen the young public to the environmental criticism as well as to the misdeeds of an ethics of property, whose guideline adequately incites to a chain control: the pilgrims on the locals, the men on the women, the people on the creatures, the universe and every living soul. A way for him to turn the censorship into a mockery of world fury to invite to observe the precious and the extra.
Between polluted water sources, polluted air, poisoned pastures, annihilated herds, he pays tribute to the earth. The dissident photographer invites us to leave a testimony built to absolve the polluters, by distinguishing them without falsification. He links them to the history of victorious capitalism.
Fabrice Monteiro changes the codes and aestheticizes the real in photographic proposals that play with the execution and expressions. He plays with the springs of enchantment, symbolism and style, of the shattering weirdness of the calculated reverie that questions. We see the philosophical impact of Vodoun on nature, behind these epiphanic dreams. His goal is perhaps to accomplish a planetary awakening to protect the biological system for a green future.