What recognition for women artists in the African art scene ?

Posted by Maxence Zabo on

In the history of art as in contemporary creation, the low representation of women raises questions. The reality is old but the observation is more recent: the place given to the woman in the artistic environment is insufficient. By the end of the 1990s, African women artists joined emerging demands targeting female invisibility in the art world. At the same time, they engage in struggles against inequalities that concern them more specifically. Indeed, in addition to the lack of consideration of women artists, they denounce the unfair recognition of contemporary African art on a global scale.

This precarious situation could be summed up in the terms of the art critic Roxana Azimi: "What is the most underrepresented genre in contemporary art? The women. Which continent escapes the radar of curators? Africa.”

However, by means of protests, productions and broadcasts, African women artists have come to dominate the world art scene. Evidenced by the proliferation of exhibitions devoted to them since the 2000s in Europe and the United States. Some artists even find themselves from one exhibition to another, a sign of their growing notoriety. Among them: Malana Andrialavidrazana, Joana Choumali and Seyni Awa Camara.

  Malala Andrialavidrazana, Figures 1861, Natural History of Mankind, Figures, 2016,

Malana Andrialavidrazana, born in 1971 in Madagascar, develops very early an acute sense of the observation of cultures, their specificities and their mutations. The Malagasy artist, settled in France since his childhood, is particularly sensitive to the study of cultural interactions and the way cultures feed on each other throughout the world. But it also likes to seize the distinctive and singular traditions that can still exist. Of an almost anthropological nature, his work is based on photography, a medium that evolves according to his works.

If, at the beginning, the artist cultivated a certain interest for photographs mixing narration and documentary, her recent work, Figures, started in 2015 and still ongoing, marks a turning point. Indeed, Malana Andrialavidrazana proposes a bold series crossing techniques: collage, drawing, photography create a new dialogue. By reworking a visual and iconographic heritage that was once the backing of a political discourse, the artist deconstructs the original meaning to propose a new sens. Thus, colonial cartographies become simple colored backgrounds in the service of the work, the historical images are confused with a popular repertoire, the whole is like a rich and complex patchwork. The history of the world and civilizations is interrogated by means of this assemblage of various references. More specifically, the stereotypes about Africa, widespread during the time of the conquests of the nineteenth century, are questioned by being presented in isolation and front.

Joana Choumali, Mme Djeneba, Haabré, la dernière génération (2013 - 2014), Print on Baryta paper, 90 x 60 cm

Also interested in cultural diversity and the history of Africa, Joana Choumali, born in 1974 in Côte d'Ivoire, sees photography as an opportunity to explore her identity and environment. Here again, the artistic work produced by this artist has strong sociological and anthropological resonances. Her series focus on the fashions or traditions that cross Africa. One of them, Hââbré, last generation (2013-2014), is about the scarification, custom of long time in West Africa but which is becoming scarce these days. These photographs are therefore an essential testimony of this ancient bodily adornement. Working in Africa in a profession where women are underrepresented, Joana Choumali is aware of the difficulties of this position of African female artist in the world. In an interview with Intense Art Magazine in November 2017, she noted the serious gender imbalances in Africa and between Africa and West and said: "We need more Ivorian women photographers, African photographers and women photographers! “.


Seyni Awa Camara, 'Maternité Submergente', 1986, Bignona clay, 155 x 39 x 24 cm, Courtesy of Galerie MAGNIN

A very different profile but an artist all caught up in the sales of the market of international art, Seyni Awa Camara, nicknamed the "Potter of Casamance" (Senegal), where she is from and where she still lives, showcases a traditional art of pottery handed down from mother to daughter. Foreign to the artistic milieu, her relation to sculpture is characterized by a great spontaneity. The abundant forms that Seyni Awa Camara presents come as much from her imagination as from the myths and stories that surround her since childhood. The consideration of his creations on a world scale allows to open, through art, to different lifestyles and systems of thought, whether it is pottery in traditional context or the importance of certain symbols. For example, the recurring motif of motherhood in Seyni Awa Camara's work embodies more widely, for her and her culture, the virtuous idea of ​​fertility and fecundity.

Three different paths, three singular approaches to the world and art, but one contribution to contemporary African women's art.


Written by Eléa Sicre