Joana Choumali, a 45-year-old photographer from Ivory Coast, has become the first African artist ever to win the Prix Pictet prize.
The Prix Pictet prize is an international award in photography and sustainability. It was founded in 2008 by the Geneva-based private Banque Pictet.
The mandate of the award is to use the power of photography to communicate messages about sustainability to a global audience. Its goal is to uncover photography of the highest order, applied to current social and environmental challenges. The prize is judged by an independent jury and carries a prize of CHF 100,000 ($101,000) .
The announcement was made yesterday evening in a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for the opening of an exhibition of the 12 shortlisted artists.
The jury, which included last year’s winner, Richard Mosse, praised Choumali’s “brilliantly original meditation on the ability of the human spirit to wrest hope and resilience from even the most traumatic events”.
Choumali won for her series Ça va aller (It will be OK), which comprised photographs that were taken three weeks after the March 2016 terrorist attacks at the Grand Bassam beach. She embroidered ornate patterns on the images, describing the painstaking process as “a way to address the way Ivorian people deal with trauma and mental health”.
The attacks, she said, “reopened the mental wounds left by the post-electoral war of 2011”. The tactile art of embroidery was a way to process those painful memories.
“Each stitch was a way to recover, to lay down the emotions, 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.”
Joana Choumali is only the second woman ever to win the award. Since the conception of the award, only one past recipient, the 2005 winner Valérie Benin, has been female, previous winners, have always been male.