feature: ivoirian photographer joana choumali documents scarification in powerful photo series

May 27, 2014
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Ivoirian Photographer Joana Choumali documents the last generation of African citizens living in a big city like Abidjan with scarification on their faces. The photo series is called ‘Hââbré, the last generation’ (Hââbré means “writing” and “scarification” in Kô language from Burkina Faso).
Choumali tells us: “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.”

More about scarification:
“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 withcutting tools such as sharp pieces of stone, glass, knives.
Scarification is a permanent body decoration. The skin is perforated and incised. The wound forming a pattern while healing. In traditional societies, these indelible marks have multiple functions:
• determine the belonging to a supernatural element or socialstatus,
• meet local aesthetic criteria,
• identify members of the same ethnic group.
• We could add the terms “social identity card” to describe this practice.”

Joana Choumali’s website: