The Resilients By Joana Choumali: Ethnocentric Photography Inspiring Modern African Women To Keep In Touch With Their Roots!

Compelling as a word is an attempt to define the powerful core of Choumali’s photography series “Resilients.”

As stated by the Ivorian photographer Joana  Choumali to  Huffington Post“Resilience is the ability to return to the original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity,” ”The ability to recover readily from adversity.”

An idea birthed by her inspiration from her grandmother, who passed on in 2001. Choumali was nudged to embark on her photo series documenting young, contemporary African women and their relationships to past generations.

Through the pictures , she says. “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,”  “Elasticity that turns into resilience.”

In order to celebrate African beauty in all its appearances and diversity , she drew further inspiration from African portrait photographers like Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keïta to classical European painters like Rembrandt.

For the set and lighting, she aimed to mirror representations of orthodox church icons, like the Black Madonna. “I wanted to present these modern African women as icons,” she said.

Channeling “Women with beautiful skin, no matter the complexion.”The artist reached out to her subjects through word of mouth and social media. “I had a precise type of woman in mind, with a natural beauty, the type of beauty that could ‘time travel,” Choumali explained.

She sought a modern woman in the world, someone who was educated, hardworking: a global citizen. And yet, someone with strong family values and ties, to whom their African heritage held paramount importance. “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.”


Sandrine Amah, a chemical engineer from Akan, posed for Choumali while she was pregnant. She wore her grandmother’s clothing, once worn by the Royal family of Abengourou, as well as her wig. “I was happy to capture the moment in this angle,”Amah said of the shoot, “immortalize the transmission of my grandmother, through her clothes, in presence of my mother and my daughter in my belly.”

The project, which Choumali described as being “like therapy,” yields stunning portraits that are a perfect mashup of strength and adaptability, modernity and heritage, contemporary art and classical portrait. The photographer mentioned the importance of the idea of “sankofa,” a Twi word from the Akan people of Ghana that literally translates to “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” This central idea, that both forward motion and past remembrance are of crucial import, give the already stunning images a timeless power.

“I hope to communicate the idea that there is an indissoluble bond that associates us with the previous generations,” Choumali said. “The importance of rediscovering and keeping in touch with the roots is what fully builds our identity. I would like to start a conversation about gender, cultural heritage and identity in today’s Africa. I believe that this is not only for African people, it is also valuable for any culture in the world.”

The photography process was a journey of self-discovery by looking backwards. Inspired by the poses of old African portraits, 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.”


Faouzia (Faouzia means « the victorious » in Arabic), 25, Ivorian. Her father is from the Bambara tribe. He is from Boundiali , northern part of Ivory Coast. My mother is Sudanese from North Sudan.She grew up in Mauritius Island for 15 years. « I have been living in Ivory Coast for the past 9 years nearing the 10th year. I have never been to Sudan yet but for some reasons I feel closer to my Sudanese origin, probably because of my mother who has always been very supportive. I look to her as my super hero, she is a strong woman… » She wouldn’t say she isn’t close to her Ivorian origins though. Infact among all her siblings she is considered to be “The Ivorian”. On the picture, she’s wearing a dress from her mother, this is how she dresses on daily basis. It is called « Tawb ». « It’s was my first time to ever walk in a Professional studio. The songs in the background, the atmosphere, laughters and jokes… I was in a state of quietude. It was unique . » She usually wear tunics and pants…Everything with pants. She speaks Arabic which is her mother tongue (with her siblings and parents).she does not speak her father’s language (Bambara) which she regrets.According to her, « Resilientes » is a brilliant project that shows the importance of one’s traditions throughout generations.
Sandrine Amah is a chemical engineer in cosmetics. She is Akan, from the region of Indénié. She spent his childhood in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Montreal (Canada). Sandrine she is the owner of a cosmetic company, focused on natural beauty products.She is proud to belong to a continent rich in traditions and history, very pleased also to the black color of his skin.Sandrine came to the studio with her mother with whom she has very tight bond. She wore her grandmother ‘s clothes. Her mother help her to get dressed. Her outfit was the one used by the Royal family of Abengourou. Her mother explained to us that the grandmother kept all the kente clothes and jewelry in big trunks as an heritage for her daughter and grand-daughter. Sandrine is also wearing her grandma’s wig. At the time of the photo shoot, Sandrine was pregnant with her first child. “I was happy to capture the moment in this angle: immortalize the transmission of my grandmother, through her clothes, in presence of my mother was and my daughter in my belly.”According to Sandrine, “Resilients” is the African image today: a woman proud and rich in heritage, a modern African woman must be able to build between tradition and modernity. This point of view is particularly reflected in her favorite daily attire: jeans / jacket / scarf kita and heels.
Sandrine is ivorian and senegalese. She lives in Abidjan and was recently divorced when she accepted to pose for the project. As she was posing we could feel her emotion .. She started talking about what she went through and how she felt about her past relationship. This photoshoot was very intimate. After posing, Sandrine confessed that she felt stronger, ready to start over her personal and profesional life. Today, she works as a commercial agent in a company and she recently got married again.
Soukeyna, 25, studied Marketing in Bordeaux (France). She is wearing her great grand mother’s outfit. To be able to bring it to the studio, She and her mother had to ask the permission to the actual King of Grand Bassam and promissed to bring the outfit and jewelry back to the royal court right after the photoshoot. the outfit was worn by the Queen , her great grand mother in the 1930s.Soukeyna came to the studio with her mother, who posed for the project as well. She was wearing a miniskirt and Converse sneakers. By wearing the outfit she felt like a different woman. Her gesture changed. Her mother was in tears, impressed by the resemblance between Soukeyna and her great grand mother. They came to the photoshoot with a portrait of the great grand mother aged 17, in this same outfit.
Rabiya al Adawiya , 28, is Ivorian-Sudanese, she lives and works in Ivory Coast.Rabiya is Malinke from Boundiali (north of Côte d’ivoire) but she feels closer to her Sudanese culture. “I spent my childhood in Mauritius. I am African and proud for different reasons such as: tradition, morals, custom, for its ethical colorations. Haidara arrived at the studio wearing pants and a shirt she exchanged with a traditional outfit called “Sudanese thawb” that came from her mother. “I have no words to describe this moment. I had the chance to share this wonderful moment and very emotional with my sisters. “She regrets that she does not speaks the Bambara (her father’s language) very well. “It is a beautiful language that I would like to speak better.” For her, “Resilients” is an extraordinary and magical project which will help disseminate the diversity and beauty of African culture. “When I saw the final picture, I stayed speechless, moved. I asked myself if it was me, the modern African woman always in the run.
Danielle Niamke Asroumingoumin, 50 is a native of Grand-Bassam (southeast of the Ivory Coast) and belongs to the ethnic group N’zima.Danielle lived her childhood in Gabon and Spain She teaches spanish in Abidjan in a french high school. Danielle is wearing her grand mother’s outfit. The style and design cut of her outfit is typically from the 1950s.Danielle was very emotional as at that time her mother recently passed away. She inheritated the grandmother’s belongings from her mother. By posing for the series, she realized how much her mother and her looked alike. Danielle admits to not go very often in the village of his parents. She does not speak his mother tongue – to her regret. However, she feels proud to be an African woman.For Danielle, “Resilient” is a “great adventure back to our roots”, a project that highlights the beauty of African women.”Every day I am in trousers because it is very functional. This session was very fun, I enjoyed doing it. I was proud to wear these clothes from my grandmother. I found myself in my mother and my grandmother’s shoes. Seeing the final picture, I was surprised and pleased to discover my resemblance to my mother. “
Nabou 46. works in Communication & Public Relations.Nabu Fall was born in Dakar and raised in Abidjan. Passionate about literature and travel, she defines herself as nomadic, as were her ancestors. She has lived in several countries before returning to settle in Abidjan (Ivory Coast). “My family is from Guéoul, a village in Senegal. I love going there with my aunts and share stories about the childhood of my father. I like that sense of belonging that gives me these visits. I resource before diving back into my nomadic life. “She said the Fulani are pan-African, in fact. Present in 30% of African countries, they share the same culture and the same language, with a few alterations around. “With my mother and my aunts we speak Wolof. I understand the Fulani but speaks badly, to my regret. ” The day of the shoot, the mother of two children arrived at the studio wearing a dress and a scarf printed panther. “In general, I like to wear a tunic – kind djellaba, a turban and sandals. I love the bright colors and big jewelry. ” For the shooting, she chose a boubou thioub basin and dyed earrings Fulani. She wore a traditional hairstyle and makeup inspired by the protective scarification of her grandmother. “This project touches me because I’m from a family of women who, despite the hardships of life, have always got back up to move forward, educate their children and rebuild. African women is raised in a culture of patience and resilience. Revive our identity through this project reminds us of our strength and ability to bounce back, to survive.
Selena Souadou, 21, is from Guinea. She essentially lived in Ivory Coast and Senegal. She studies International Relations with a specialization in international development and economics, in the United States. Guinean and Malian, she is from both Fulani and Sarakolé tribes . “I feel closer to my Fulani origins, just because my family is and because I often went to Guinea, where my father lives.” The outfit Selena, made indigo loincloth, comes from her maternal grandmother from whom she inherited her name, Souadou.
Christelle Ahouefa Beninese, from the Popo tribe.Married, and mother of two girls, she is a successful chef and entrepreneur. She owns and runs (with her husband) 3 fancy restaurants in Abidjan, and a catering company.She used to live in the United States ( Atlanta) for years. She came back to Abidjan in 2010.She spent my childhood in Abidjan. “I am usually really comfortable in pants and a t-shirt. I don’t speak any dialect. I have never been in my village. My dad is half German and i wasn’t raised that much into traditions. I loved the shooting..I felt alive” she said
Naéma Assassi is a Real Estate Business Developer. Her family is from the center of the Ivory Coast (Akan). Naema grew up in a multi culrural family in between Abidjan, and Bonn (Germany) where she used to spend her childhood summers with Marianne, her german paternal grandmother. According to her, a modern African woman is the perfect synthesis of African tradition and the western culture. . “I went to the photo session with apprehension, I was nervous to be portrayed in a this traditional outfit i never wear. The clothes I was wearing belonged to my maternal grandmother. I used call her Nanou. ” Naema was shocked and moved to see the results of the photo session, as she noted her strong resemblance to Nanou”
Anifa Amari calls herself an Ivorian-Beninese. She is Fon from her father tribe , and Yoruba from her mother. She is from Abomey and Porto Novo. Anifa , 33, :” i claim a certain ethnicity in choosing her outfits and accessories. Starting by my natural hair, that i proudly wear kinky.For the photo shoot, she opted for a traditional dress Benin, a boumba and a “Guele” cap. “The quality of the material used for making these outfits reflects the social rank of the wearer and determines the occasion in which they are worn. “. She said: “Thanks to the miracle of clothes, I feel in the present and in the past in the same time. I felt in balance, at the right was like a transposition “Resilients” me want to learn even more about my roots and those of others.




Disclaimer: Most parts of this article was written by Priscilla Frank for the Huffington Post

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