Ousmane Sow, a 78-year-old sculptor from Senegal, has made history this year by becoming the first African ever to join France’s Academy of Fine Arts (Academie des Beaux-Arts Paris).
Renowned for his larger-than-life clay sculptures of various subjects ranging from various ethnic groups such as Nouba wrestlers, Peulh, Masai and Zulu peoples, to political figures such as anti-apartheid South African figure Nelson Mandela, revolutionary Haitian independence hero François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture and even French statesman Charles de Gaulle, Sow’s distinct and poignant style of work has led to him become one of the continent’s most well-known and sought after artists.
What an emotional event! From feeling undeserving and unworthy of life or visibility, to today; 12 years later, agreeing to do a project like this, showcasing the body that I once loathed and feared and have since grown to love and embrace, in effect inspiring others to love themselves as well. I am humbled and overwhelmed by the response, I wish I could reach through time and give myself the kind of hug that fills you up from top to bottom. “You’ll make it, Annie. You’ll make it and you’re going to bring so many people with you.” #LadyFestMiami
Art by Yvonne Cordoba
Nigerian artist Joseph Eze’s (b.1979) portrait series deals with the intersection between Nigeria’s politics and the female body. Click the images for the title and date
"I was a really lousy artist as a kid. Too abstract expressionist; or I’d draw a big ram’s head, really messy. I’d never win painting contests. I remember losing to a guy who did a perfect Spiderman."
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a Friend of Free Expression.
#Support Free Expression
Jim Goldberg: Open See
Open See follows refugee and immigrant populations traveling from war-torn, economically devastated and often AIDS-ravaged countries to make new homes in Europe. Goldberg spent four years documenting the stories of Greek refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Congo, Ukraine, Albania, Russia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Sudan, Kenya, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Palestine and Moldavia.
Cultures of War: An Essay (2005) - Tunisian Artist EMNA ZGHAL
"Cultures of War" is a book-collage in which Emna explores the manner in which war is portrayed in different academic and fiction literatures from different languages.
"I started writing and the result was something unreadable."
Mirtha Dermisache (1940-2012) from Argentina, practiced asemic writing since the early 1970s. It is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means having no specific semantic content. Asemic writing seeks to make the reader hover in a state between reading and looking.
Les Femmes du Maroc - Lalla Essaydi
Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi made the series ‘Les Femmes du Maroc’ (The women of Marocco). She elaborates on the complex role of Moroccan women in a Muslim society. “In my art,” Essaydi says, “I wish to present myself through multiple lenses — as artist, as Moroccan, as Saudi, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite the viewer to resist stereotypes.”
Lalla Essaydi : Bullets Revisited, and Harem Revisited.
At a certain point, I realized that in order to go forward as an artist, it was necessary to return physically to my childhood home in Morocco and to document this world which I had left in a physical sense, but of course, never fully in any deeper, more psychological sense. In order to understand the woman I had become, I needed to re-encounter the child I once was. I needed to return to the culture of my childhood if I wanted to understand my unfolding relation to the “converging territories” of my present life.
These photographs have led me to a greater understanding of the importance of architectural space in Islamic culture. Traditionally, the presence of men has defined public spaces: the streets, the meeting places, the places of work. Women, on the other hand, have been confined to private spaces, the architecture of the home. Physical thresholds define cultural ones, hidden hierarchies dictate patterns of habitation. Thus crossing a permissible, cultural threshold into prohibited “space” in the metaphorical sense, can result in literal confinement in an actual space. Many Arab women today may feel the space of confinement to be a more psychological one, but its origins are, I think, embedded in architecture itself. In my photographs, I am constraining the women within space and also confining them to their “proper” place, a place bounded by walls and controlled by men. The henna painted on their bodies corresponds to the elaborate pattern of the tiles. The women then, become literal odalisques (odalisque, from the Turkish, means to belong to a place).
But my work reaches beyond Islamic culture to invoke the Western fascination, as expressed in painting, with the odalisque, the veil, and, of course, the harem. Here is another way in which my work cannot be read simply as a critique of Arab culture. Images of the harem and the odalisque still penetrate the present and I use the Arab female body to disrupt that tradition. I want the viewer to become aware of Orientalism as a projection of the sexual fantasies of Western male artists––in other words as a voyeuristic tradition.
It is not only the West that has been prevented from seeing Arab culture accurately. How people in the Arab world see themselves has also been affected by the distorted lens of Orientalism. There is some evidence that the Orientalist perspective has had an impact on the actual lives of Arab men and women, and especially that the rules for Arab women became much stricter as a result of Western influence. When the West portrays Eastern women as sexual victims and Eastern men as depraved, the effect is to emasculate Eastern men, and to challenge the traditional values of honor and family. So Arab men feel the need to be even more protective of Arab women, preventing them from being targets of fantasy by veiling them. The veil protects them from the gaze of Orientalism. While we’ll probably never know whether the return to the veil and the rules that accompany it is a response to Western influence or merely coincidental, it is hard to believe there is no relationship. In a sense what the West did was to erase the boundaries of public and private; in part the Arab world responded by re-instating those boundaries in a way that would be clear and visible. Within the veil, an Arab woman has a private space.
I want to stress that I do not intend my work simply as a critique of either culture, Arab or Western. I am going further than mere critique to a more active, even subversive, engagement with cultural patterns, in order to get beyond stereotypes and convey my own experience as an Arab woman. In employing calligraphic writing, I am practicing a sacred Islamic art that is usually inaccessible to women. To apply this writing in henna, an adornment worn and applied only by women, adds a further subversive twist. Thus the henna/calligraphy can be seen as both a veil and as an expressive statement. Yet the two are not so much in opposition as interwoven. The “veil” of decoration and concealment has not been rejected but instead has been integrated with the expressive intention of calligraphy. Although it is calligraphy that is usually associated with “meaning” (as opposed to “mere” decoration), in the visual medium of my photographs, the “veil” of henna in fact enhances the expressivity of the images.
By the same token, the male art of calligraphy has been brought into a world of female experience from which it has traditionally been excluded. Also, by choosing to use a number of women, I subvert their imposed silence. These women “speak” through the language of femininity to each other and to the house of their confinement, just as my photographs have enabled me to speak. Through these images I am able to suggest the complexity of Arab female identity – as I have known it—and the tension between hierarchy and fluidity at the heart of Arab culture.
By reclaiming the rich tradition of calligraphy and interweaving it with the traditionally female art of henna, I have been able to express, and yet, in another sense, dissolve the contradictions I have encountered in my culture: between hierarchy and fluidity, between public and private space, between the richness and the confining aspects of Islamic traditions.