The latest project by Joana Choumali explores the complex, contradictory notion of femininity, beauty and body image in contemporary Africa and, by extension, possibly, in every contemporary feminine world as observed with the sudden world wide obsession with enhanced bottoms and previously breasts. Joana has been documenting local manufacturers in Cote d’Ivoire who are producing mannequins customized for for the idealised pulchritudinous African taste and shapes. It is a recent phenomenon, only started in 2011, but already very successful. The local manufacturers modify or create mannequins, with body shapes more more associated to those of African women: wide hips, well-filled breasts, full arms. They even paint them in darker colors at times. This type of mannequin is called "Awoulaba”, which stands for “beauty queen” in Baule language from Côte d' Ivoire. In Ivorian popular culture, Awoulabas are beautiful women with impressive measurements: a significant face, large breasts, a remarkable drop in the kidneys and, above all, hypertrophy of the buttocks. Taille Fine, instead, is the term used to identify models or mannequins following western standards of beauty. Besides the documentary aspect of the project, Joana investigates the concept of beauty and body perfection. What is to be considered a perfect body? Should we model ourselves into the souless perfection of the mannequins we are surrounded by? Or should we design our own concept of beauty and identify models who can more veritably represent us ? The project is composed of two parts. A first more documentary group of images, showing the craft and works of the manufacturers. They are so proud of their final products to get to the point of treating them like real persons, and they have the habit of documenting their creations for the shop catalogues in the fashion of real portraits. There is a second group of images where Joana superimposes images of real women’s body parts to the perfect shapes of the mannequins. They evoke the “venus” celebrities who embody "perfect beauty" in popular culture: Kim Kardashian ( the "white awoulaba") , Nikki Minaj ( the "light skinned" Awoulaba ) Naomi Campbell (the black taille fine), Lupita Niango (the "black taille fine”)Beyonce ( the "light skinned" Awoulaba ) These conceptual compositions constitute the hybrid representations of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be: the real one and the perfect one, all at the same time. The final image results in a disconcerting and destabilizing ensembles of shapes and symbols and colors and ideas. You are still able to decipher and recognize them, but it is impossible to appreciate or, most importantly, to identify with them.
text by Maria Pia Bernardoni