HerStory September 2019: Joana Choumali

We’d love to introduce you to Joana Choumali. Her Awoulaba/Taille Fine project is so amazing, and the statement it makes about beauty standards and ideals is so powerful, that we had to share it with you all for our September HerStory. The image that most inspired the Crafted Perfection colorway we created is the final image of the project linked here: http://joanachoumali.com/index.php/projects/photography/awoulaba-taille-fine.

Joana Choumali is a visual artist based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire whose work often explores issues of identity and womanhood, mostly in African culture. She is currently delving into the use of embroidery over photography as a medium, and her most recent work is a stunning look at a town in trauma, as well as an inspiring artistic marriage of two different crafty art mediums. For HerStory, however, it’s her Awoulaba/Taille Fine project that grabbed us, and the statements the project makes about standards of beauty across the world. 

Awoulaba/Taille Fine explores the variances in standards of beauty among African and American/Western cultures using images of “perfect” body parts and Awoulaba mannequins all mixed together as indicators of a culture’s prevailing beauty ideals. In the early 2010s in Africa, mannequins began being produced/crafted that reflected a more African standard of beauty: wider hips, fuller breasts, heavier arms and legs. Called “Awoulaba,” meaning “Beauty Queens,” these mannequins were so unlike the more common “Taille Fine” (a term used to describe a more Western standard of beauty) mannequins usually seen that they inspired this project. The project blends the two in a way that is both jarring and beautiful. Choumali juxtaposed images of body parts of women in popular culture who embody different combinations of the two standards, making a powerful statement about aspirational beauty and the damage it can do. She asks of viewers the question: why are we aspiring to the generic, mannequin-like perfection society wants us to? Why not celebrate our uniqueness instead? And maybe most importantly, who is the keeper of the standards? From her website:

“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); and Beyonce (the light skinned Awoulaba).”

We hope you take some time to explore Joana Choumali’s visual art, and that we all realize that those standards of beauty that we aspire to are baloney. 

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