Photographer documents modern African women in their Ancestors' clothings

In what she likens to a ritual, Joana Choumali went on a campaign of photographing young, contemporary African women in their native cultural attires, in a bid to show the relationship between past and present generations.

 

This made her embark on a project to document young, contemporary African women and their link to generations gone. Choumali said she had hoped, through the pictures, to pass the message that the past is never truly lost. In an interview with Huffington Post, she said:

“I was hoping to convey the fact that African women mutate through the generations while remaining anchored to their roots and traditions, able to remain true to themselves, just like the earth from which they came,” she said. “Elasticity that turns into resilience.”

The photographer had an idea of the kind of women she loved to use as subjects for the project. She chose modern women in the world, people who had education, hardworking, global citizens, who, somehow, retained strong family values and ties, to whom their African heritage mean so much.

She said, “Most of them succeed in dealing with such a fragile balance between past and present, between Westernized habits and traditions. I think it makes them stronger. They adapt to these very subtle social and cultural changes.”

The importance of showcasing African beauty in its diverse manifestations was also not lost on her. Her inspirations ranged from African portrait photographers like Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keïta to classical European painters like Rembrandt. “I wanted to present these modern African women as icons,” she said.

To create the images in “Resilients,” Choumali and her subjects would meet up, share memories about their backgrounds, families, hometowns and origins. Then they’d search for clothing items in their family history — a scarf from their mother, jewelry from their grandmother, to compile a vision composed of equal parts past and present.

“I would always play some music, mostly African classics,” Choumali added. “It was like a ritual, an almost religious moment, a meditation. The process of makeup, the hairstyling, the wrapping of the rich traditional fabrics were very impactful on their attitudes. Their gestures and postures changed after getting dressed. Many of them said that wearing the jewelry and rich fabrics made them feel stronger, more elegant, almost royal.”

The process enabled a form of self-discovery by casting a glance at the past. Inspired by old African portraits and the poses struck in them, the subjects found themselves changing shape before the camera’s lens. “Some of the women told me that couldn’t recognize themselves in the pictures,” Choumali said. “Some felt stronger, some realized how beautiful they are.”

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