For award-winning Ivorian artist Joana Choumali, art is not just a mode of self-expression, but also a means of healing. Over the past year, Joana has split her time between Accra and Abidjan, her hometown, reinterpreting life in the two bustling cities during daybreak by combining photography and embroidery. These artworks are part of the artist’s ongoing project entitled Alba’hian, which means “dawn” in Agni, the predominant language of Akan people.
“I see many similarities between Accra and Abidjan,” Joana tells It’s Nice That. “The culture is very similar. I like to compare cities to human characters. I enjoyed the fact that people are already out in the streets very early in the morning. Walking in the morning is like navigating a blank page on which anything can be printed. When you know the city during the day, noisy and crowded, to see it in the morning is like observing someone sleeping – that is when you can see the real features of this person, unguarded. The energy, light and colours of a city will automatically impact me and impact the piece that I will produce. This could be through the colour choices, patterns and fabrics I use.” By turning her early-morning photographs into sophisticated and complex embroidery artworks, Joana shines a new light on two cities she knows well. Her careful stitching and bold use of colour depict day-to-day life as seen through the artist’s imaginative eyes.
“I constantly experience a very mixed and conflicting set of emotions that I cannot describe in words,” Joana tells It’s Nice That. “It is much easier for me to express the complexity of my feelings in an image. So, that’s how my work became a silent diary, a wordless conversation with the land, with myself and with the viewer.” For Alba’hian, Joana uses similar techniques to her previous projects Ça Va Aller and Translation. Utilising photography, golden paint, collage, embroidery, stitching and several layers of fabric, the artist reimagines the emotions, memories and thoughts that were sparked by her early-morning walks. Joana started off practicing traditional photography, but she quickly found that the pace of the medium didn’t agree with her desire to “stand still and formulate things”. So, Joana turned to stitching and embroidery, acts that she felt produced meditative effects.
Beyond the therapeutic consequences of embroidery, Joana finds that the art is an exciting alternative to the digital enhancement of images. “I came to the decision of using embroidery from the need of spending more time with each piece and to have a physical touch with my work,” Joana says. “It has never been a calculated choice but came naturally, almost instinctively. I also find that the fabric, the textile quality of it, adds a depth of emotion and energy that would not be equally obtained with the photo paper. Instead of altering the image with the postproduction of digital images, I decided to obtain it in a more tactile way. I add the voiles and the fabric to highlight and recreate the soft and misty morning air. Embroidery is a practice that forces you to stand still, to be more focused.”