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. During my research, all I found were pictures from the beginning of the century, and only a few contemporary images. I also had trouble finding people to photograph because of their rarity. I used Studio portraits with the same background and same lighting to portray them in a neutral kind of way.

No excuse, no judgement.

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.


Awoulaba/taille fine 2013-2015 The latest project by Joana Choumali explores the complex, contradictory notion of femininity, beauty and body image in contemporary Africa and, by extension, possibly, in every contemporary feminine world as observed with the sudden world wide obsession with enhanced bottoms and previously breasts. Joana has been documenting local manufacturers in Cote d’Ivoire who are producing mannequins customized for for the idealised pulchritudinous African taste and shapes. It is a recent phenomenon, only started in 2011, but already very successful. The local manufacturers modify or create mannequins, with body shapes more more associated to those of African women: wide hips, well-filled breasts, full arms. They even paint them in darker colors at times. This type of mannequin is called "Awoulaba”, which stands for “beauty queen” in Baule language from Côte d' Ivoire. In Ivorian popular culture, Awoulabas are beautiful women with impressive measurements: a significant face, large breasts, a remarkable drop in the kidneys and, above all, hypertrophy of the buttocks. Taille Fine, instead, is the term used to identify models or mannequins following western standards of beauty. Besides the documentary aspect of the project, Joana investigates the concept of beauty and body perfection. What is to be considered a perfect body? Should we model ourselves into the souless perfection of the mannequins we are surrounded by? Or should we design our own concept of beauty and identify models who can more veritably represent us ? The project is composed of two parts. A first more documentary group of images, showing the craft and works of the manufacturers. They are so proud of their final products to get to the point of treating them like real persons, and they have the habit of documenting their creations for the shop catalogues in the fashion of real portraits. There is a second group of images where Joana superimposes images of real women’s body parts to the perfect shapes of the mannequins. They evoke the “venus” celebrities who embody "perfect beauty" in popular culture: Kim Kardashian ( the "white awoulaba") , Nikki Minaj ( the "light skinned" Awoulaba ) Naomi Campbell (the black taille fine), Lupita Niango (the "black taille fine”)Beyonce ( the "light skinned" Awoulaba ) These conceptual compositions constitute the hybrid representations of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be: the real one and the perfect one, all at the same time. The final image results in a disconcerting and destabilizing ensembles of shapes and symbols and colors and ideas. You are still able to decipher and recognize them, but it is impossible to appreciate or, most importantly, to identify with them. 
text by Maria Pia Bernardoni


Resilients 2013 - 2014 The Black continent is a perpetual reincarnation, surfacing into limitless rhizomes. But it is mutating…This is somehow its resiliency… The African women, who have so many faces and realities, surely are one of its mots beautiful expressions. In them, are concentrated, both the strengths and the splits of the continent. Its retrogressions and its modernizations. Whereas Africa has been so many times profaned, … They are there. 

Standing. Upright. Surviving. The sex role defined for the women in Africa changes according to where shedwells : city or village. Between rurality and city-dwelling, the profiles evolve. The city is liberating and the countries bear huge metropolis in their cores. So, women are freer there and they escape the village and its customs, considered retrograde. Break up the link ? Resilients. Should the traditions end up in escheat ?

« Resilients » show that lineage is inextinguishable. Clothed with their mothers’s and grandmothers’s ornaments, they reveal legacies. Inheritance. The Black women, revealed in their ancestrality through their photographies, demonstrate the importance of their cultural heritage. In them, there is the memory of an aesthetic tradition, which makes their sap, their roots… 

  Text by Stéphanie Melyon-Reinette Writer and Sociologist.


This project is the result of work done for 2 years. All from a modest social background, these young people are subject to discrimination, rejection of their surroundings .. often forced to stop their studies when they become blind, they find themselves socially isolated, without financial support from their families.. The association and the formation of a company allows them to learn a craft, have a purpose in life, to create another family, and to have a glimmer of hope for the future.

I went on site training twice a week, in Yopougon, a popular district of Abidjan. This documentary work revolves around repetition of traditional dances, for personal expression, theater, songs ... everyday, to witness the efforts constantly provided by these young men and girls who want to become independent and reintegrate into society. The work was a great lesson in life .. I have witnessed moments of emotion, sharing, support, joys and sorrows, disappointments and progress .. but one thing is constant: the desire to fight against prejudices and learn to get by.

Move from darkness to light and change their fate ...



"Being naked this is nothing to hide, It is not even need words because the body speaks for itself. "Victor Lévy Beaulieu "Emotions à nu " is a serie of female portraits without a face. As the "naked truth", human, beautiful unadorned, without makeup. Women are plural, fragile and strong. This work is an intimate journey, an emotional state to another, a quiet quest towards physical self-acceptance and serenity.


This project is a serie of portraits of inhabitants of shantytowns and slums of Abidjan. They are housekeepers, drivers, cooks, gardeners but live in hidden slums between Abidjan sumptuous villas. Most of them are from west african countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali or Guinea. These pictures were shot just in 2009, just before the destruction of many slums of Abidjan. The majority was dislodged. Many families were referred to their country, and others became homeless. I could witness the family life of these man and women, their children, their hope for a better life. These invisible families, struggling for the "ivorian dream". Resilience and dignity.

'NAPPY!', 2008-2010

A series of portraits about the return to natural afro hair, an incentive for an inner travel, daydreaming . A tribute to black beauty.





'ça va aller..', 2016  iPhone photographs on cotton canvas, 24 cmx24 cm, hand embroidered with DMC cotton thread. 
The pictures were shot with my iphone, 3 weeks after the terrorrist attacks I chose to use my iphone instead of my DSLR camera to capture people discreetly.  They don' t know that they are photographed, so their attitude is natural. I took the pictures as if i was doing a scan of the city.
It took me one month to embroider the pictures as i was sick with malaria and also  "sick of all this nonsense"..
This series is a way to cope with my own sadness and a way to witness the (denied) traumatism of people living there.
Bassam is my refuge, the place i go to unwind and to be by myself. At one hour drive from Abidjan, Bassam is a place full of history, a quiet and peaceful little town. Bassam reminds me of insouciance, my wedding family lunch, all these childhood sunday afternoons i used to spend  with my loved ones on this same beach where the attacks took place.. To me, Bassam was a synonym of happiness, until that day.
3 weeks after the attacks, the atmosphere of the little town changed.. The sadness is everywhere. A "saudade", some kind of melancholy invaded the town.
Most of the pictures show empty places, and people by themselves, walking in the streets or just standing, sitting alone, lost in their thoughts.  "ça va aller" means "it will be ok" . This typical ivorian expression is used for everything, even for situations that are not going to be ok.
This work is a way to address the way ivorian people deal with psychological suffering.
In Côte d ' Ivoire, people do not discuss their psychological issues, or feelings. A post-traumatic choc is often considered as weakness or a mental disease. People hardly talk about their feelings, and each conversation is quickly shortened by a resigned " ça va aller".
The attacks re-opened the mental wounds left by the post electoral war of 2011.
Each stitch was a way to recover, to lie down the emotions, the loneliness, and mixed feelings i felt.  



Persona , The social mask, 2015-2016

The word comes from the Latin Persona ( the personare verb per- sonare : talk through ) it meant the mask worn by theater actors . This mask had the function at a time to give the character's appearance he interpreted to the actor. But also to allow his voice to be heard far enough from the audience. In his analytical psychology , Carl Gustav Jung took over this word for the part of the personality that organizes the individual's relationship to society , the way everyone has more or less run in a socially predefined character to take his social role. The ego can easily identify with the persona , leading the individual to take to the one he is in the eyes of others and not knowing who he really is. The persona represents our social mask , the face we show to others, one that allows us to communicate with them and to help them identify us . But more often , we do not really realize that we wear this mask. All of which leads to Jung as " persona is what someone is not in reality, but that he and others think it is. 

Social masks are double-edged : If we are under social pressure and we have this default mask , it becomes a wound, a burden. If we are fully aware and use the mask properly / to our advantage , it becomes a force, a weapon. Appearances and social masks allow the company survival , we are to be both simple and complex , we reveal a part of what we really are. It is a way to protect ourselves. Do not forget where we come from, who we are.
My series reflect the moult of our African society. Impersonate someone richer , more attractive, more serious, or more traditional ou « Westernized » sometimes both at the same time .. Play its role in the social arena . Hide under the perpetual face mask traditional cultural dictates , but often act inconsistently. African society accepts and promotes those who play a role, who can " sell " .. The self-promotion has never been stronger and desired that nowadays . The idea of " fit
in » in the mold is very present. 

Everyone dreams of appearing at its best, stronger, more beautiful, more powerful. In my series , I avoid photoshop and I decide to create masks "for real" life-size . Translate literally the notion of " social mask" by projecting the face of a person on another person’s face . This, regardless of sex , age, or gender . My work comes in 3 steps : face makeup is first, to provide a mask aspect, through a makeup that gives the appearance of a drawn face, a bad drawing , inspired by signs of african street hairdressers. The face lines are uttered, marked , and skins have a waxy aspect. complexion does not conform to the true complexion of the model . the eyes is deliberately expressionless, Frozen faces, masks . People often say " the image that you project ," ... to take the qualities of someone else to appear at its best . For these projections, I do not try to align the facial features , I leave it to chance .. 

Then the face is isolated from the rest of the body, to form a mask . It will be shown on the face of another person . This creates confusion because the face on which the projection takes place is almost erased . The identity is blurred .. gender , age fades away. Everyone can become whatever he wants. 

Finally, I have projected a series of statements on the face painted in white. These statements reflect the ideas that we hope to project when we choose to wear masks in society.  In Africa , the weight of society still seems heavy ... Appearances and social masks allow to survive in the society, we are both simple and complex , we only reveal a part of what we really are. Social networks make it an essential rituals to " be , to seem, to exist." We are moving from traditional mask of the worshiped deity and we become our own gods. Ego replaced the guardian of the community. 

Which mask do we wear today ? When we become aware of the existence of this social mask, we can act consciously on it . What do we hide behind these masks? 

ADORN , 2015

“Of course beauty is inner ... It is buried under makeup!" Nadine de Rothschild

“ADORN” means to make something more attractive by addition. It means to embellish with pretty objects or to animate, enliven or decorate with ornaments.The photographic series "Adorn" deals with contemporary Senegalese women reinterpreting European beauty standards with modern makeup.I used to see pictures online of women in Mali and Senegal in extravagant makeup. They had shaved eyebrows redrawn with henna or permanent tattoos, excessive powder foundation and copious amounts of blush on their prominent cheekbones. They redesigned their lips with a dark brown pencil and then colored them with bright gloss.

The women are inventive in their efforts to create the perfect image. They decorate and seduce. They are not shy, they strive to be noticed, to please and impress. And they are celebrated at baptisms and weddings, social events where they flash their shine. Yet some criticize this ornate makeup. Initially, I too was shocked by their aesthetic. It seemed unnatural to me. But through the process of producing this work, my impressions changed. I began to see these women as artists in their own right, with limitless creativity. They paint their faces in a surreal style; they sculpt their own seduction. They embellish themselves and in so doing, embellish reality. Censorship and tasteful codes do not matter. The most important thing is to be beautiful by any means possible. But who defines what is beautiful or ugly? What influences our relationship to beauty, our perception of what is good or bad taste? Where does tradition start? Where does it stop?

In this makeup, I see parallels to geishas, with their powdered white faces and highlighted features. I see traces of contemporary ganguro and harajuku girls in Tokyo, with their uninhibited extravagance in makeup. I also think of the nomadic Bororo Fulani of the Sahel who cover their faces with rust colored foundation and paint it with yellow lines. The aesthetic of these Dakaroise seem at odds with contemporary notions of “sophistication” and “good taste.” But they are creating their own fashion, shining in their own environment, and they are doing so now, so it is by definition contemporary. 

But still their look raises questions.  Why is the foundation powder so much lighter than the original skin color? What is this frantic need to stand out and be admired? What does the practice of outrageous makeup imply? Is it a form of protection? I am interested also in how these women transform western beauty codes. They use European makeup, but they reinterpret it in their own image. Why does it cause such violent rejection and mockery from certain Africans? What does it trigger?

Without judgment, or a final answer to these questions, my eye landed on the shapes, the colors, and the faces as a whole ensemble. These daring artists of the ephemeral, despite facing criticism, create an image that on their own terms gives them the feeling of being valued, different, noteworthy. They are unapologetic.