Côte d’Ivoire-based artist Joana Choumali has been awarded one of the world’s most prestigious photography prizes, the Prix Pictet. Announced last night (13 November) at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is the first time that the award has been presented to a photographer from the African continent.
Every 18 months the 100,000 Swiss franc-prize is bestowed on a photographer working at the intersection of photography and sustainability, and using their voice to draw attention to environmental issues globally. For 2019, the judging panel, which included photographer Richard Mosse, photography curators from the V&A and MoMA, Financial Times arts editor Jan Dalley and Philippe Bertherat of Sotheby’s, were specifically looking for work that embodied the theme of “hope”.
Winning big fans here at It’s Nice That, Choumali works across photography, sculpture, mixed media and collage, often exploring an emotional connection to place, as well as the intricacies of African identity and culture. Her project Alba’hian expressed personal responses to the built environment in Accra and Abidjan, while her portrait series _Haabré_ looked at the practice of scarification and the links between tradition and modernity.
Choumali awed the Prix Pictet judges with her series Ça va aller, which features colourful embroidery over street photography taken just three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Grand Bassam in 2016. In a statement about the series, Choumali said: “This work is a way to address the way Ivorian people deal with trauma and mental health. The attacks re-opened the mental wounds left by the post electoral war of 2011. Back home I felt the need to process this pain and I discovered that I could do so through embroidery. Each stitch was a way to recover, to lay down the emotions, the loneliness, and mixed feelings I felt. As an automatic scripture, the act of adding colourful stitches on the pictures has had a soothing effect on me, like a meditation. Adding embroidery on these street photographs was an act of channelling hope and resilience.”
Other photographers on the 12-strong shortlist included Dhaka-based Shahidul Alam, South African photographers Robin Rhode, Gideon Mendel and Alexia Webster, San Francisco-based Lucas Foglia and Irish photographer Ivor Prickett. An exhibition of the shortlisted artists’ work is on show at the V&A Museum until 8 December, before it tours the world, starting in Tokyo on 12 December 2019. A book has also been published featuring extensive work by each of the nominees, alongside essays on the theme of hope.