First African winner of Prix Pictet announced

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First African winner of Prix Pictet announced
Joana Choumali, born in 1974, is a visual artist/photographer based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Photo: © David Levene.

LONDON.- 45 year-old Joana Choumali from Côte d’Ivoire was announced as winner of the eighth cycle of the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability, with a theme of Hope. She is the first ever African winner of the Prix Pictet.

The announcement was made at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on Wednesday 13 November 2019 at the opening of an exhibition of the work of the twelve shortlisted photographers. The award takes the form of a cash prize of 100,000 Swiss francs to the winner.

Born in 1974 and based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, Joana Choumali works on conceptual portraits, mixed media and documentary photography. Winner of the CapPrize Award (2014), Emerging Photographer LensCulture Award (2014), Magnum Emergency Grant Foundation (2016) and the Fourthwall Books Award in South Africa (2016), she exhibited at the Pavilion of the Ivory Coast during the 57th Venice International Biennale. In her latest works, Choumali embroiders directly onto her images, completing the act of creating the photograph image with a slow and meditative gesture.

The photographs for her Prix Pictet winning series Ça va aller (It will be okay) were taken three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Grand Bassam on Sunday 13th March, 2016. She 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.’

The distinguished international jury of the Prix Pictet convened in London this week to decide the winner. The Jury members for the eighth cycle, Hope, are: Sir David King, Affiliate Partner, SYSTEMIQ Limited and Senior Strategy Advisor to the President of Rwanda (Chair of the Jury); Martin Barnes, Senior Curator, Photographs, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Richard Mosse, winner of the seventh Prix Pictet, Space; Philippe Bertherat, Member of the International Council of Sotheby’s; Jan Dalley, Arts Editor, Financial Times; Herminia Ibarra, Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School; Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Kazuyo Sejima, Co-Founder, SANAA, and Pritzker Prize-winning architect.

In a statement issued today on behalf of the Prix Pictet Jury, Sir David King, Chairman of the Jury, said:

“We were inspired by the words of our founding President, the late Kofi Annan, who in his final Prix Pictet address spoke of mankind’s potential to find hope in adversity, and of his profound hope that it was not too late to reverse the catastrophic damage that we have visited on the natural world and its most vulnerable inhabitants. Let’s be under no illusion that in these past two years the crisis we are facing has deepened. Yet hope remains, albeit fragile and elusive. The work of the twelve shortlisted photographers underlines the great hope of the Prix Pictet—the wager that we all make with the future, that art can inspire action and triumph where words alone have failed.

The Jury were unanimous in their selection of Joana Choumali’s series Ca va aller (it will be ok) as the winner of Prix Pictet ‘Hope’. In an extremely strong field, her 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. Her outstanding work made by embroidering directly onto the photographic image is a carefully calibrated response to the trauma of terrorist attack in 2016. It is an inspiration to us all and a worthy winner of the eighth Prix Pictet”.

A free exhibition of the work of the shortlisted photographers is now on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum until 8 December 2019.

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