Joana Choumali Wins 2019 Prix Pictet Prize
Joana Choumali has become the first African photographer to scoop the Prix Pictet prize, winning with a series of embroidered photographs responding to the trauma of terrorist attacks in Ivory Coast in 2016. The 45-year-old Ivorian artist was awarded the prestigious SFr100,000 cash prize for a series of images taken three weeks after armed men attacked a beach resort in Grand Bassam, leaving at least 18 dead. Ms Choumali named the series “Ça va aller” — a commonly heard phrase in the country meaning “It will be ok” — in reference to the stoical reaction to adversity that she said permeated Ivorian culture. She printed the photographs on to canvas before embroidering stitches directly on to the surface, combining photographic imagery with fabric to create conceptual portraits. In previous comments on her work, she said the 2016 attacks reopened the mental wounds of the country’s 2011 civil war, when fighting erupted after President Laurent Gbagbo failed to accept defeat in elections in 2010. “Back home I felt the need to process this pain and I discovered that I could do so through embroidery,” she said. “Each stitch was a way to recover, to lay down the emotions, the loneliness and mixed feelings I felt.”
The judges’ decision in favour of this carefully calibrated response to terrorist atrocities was unanimous. Sir David King, the former UK government chief scientific adviser who chaired the jury, said Ms Choumali’s work “stood out as a brilliantly original meditation on the ability of the human spirit to wrest hope and resilience from even the most traumatic events”. Twelve photographers were shortlisted and their work will be on display in a free exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until December 8. Contenders for the international prize included South African, Namibian, Bangladeshi, Dutch and Azerbaijani photographers. As well as Sir David, the jury included Richard Mosse, winner of the prize in 2017 and Martin Barnes, senior photography curator at the V&A.
The award, which is sponsored by wealth manager Pictet with the Financial Times as global media partner, selects an annual theme on the subject of sustainability, such as consumption or water. This edition’s team was hope. It is not the first time non-standard photography has featured in the annual prize, Mr Mosse won two years ago with panoramic images of refugee camps taken with military-grade thermal imaging cameras, capable of picking up body heat from 30km away.
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