Joana choumali

Ivorian artist Joana Choumali is one artist we love her works. Her latest project, Hââbré, the last generation documents a fading generation of Abidjan citizens with facial scarifications. The portraits carry a tremendous raw truth with them.

As the practice becomes more uncommon in Cote d’Ivoire and other African countries, Joana Choumali decided to create one of the only contemporary digital records of scarification.

Speaking on the project she says, “This practice is disappearing due to the pressure of religious and state authorities, urban practices and the introduction of clothing in tribes. In many villages, only the older people wear scarifications. This series of portraits lead 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. During my research, all I found were pictures from the beginning of the century, taken by ethnologists, and only a few contemporary images. I also had trouble finding people to photograph because of their rarity. 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”. These last scarified are the last witnesses of an Africa of a bygone era.”

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Scarification is the practice of performing a superficial incision in the human skin. Social scarification has an ancient origin. It is common practice in Africa (especially in West Africa), where it replaced tattoos that show poorly on dark skin. Social scarification is of particular significance, as a ritual of passage to adulthood, or belonging to a small group. It is done with cutting tools such as sharp pieces of stone, glass, knives.

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