August 20, 2019
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Parliament of African women: using photography to broach gender issues

By María Rodríguez

Dakar, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- A special photographic exhibition entitled “Parliament of African women” has gone on display in a bid to spark debate in Senegalese society when it comes to women’s rights.

The exhibit brings together work by eight female photographers and five male photographers from Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, the Republic of Congo and Benin in Dakar's Women’s Museum.

A large room with white walls provides a backdrop for the show, which takes place until 30 August and has been set out in a way that allows visitors to reflect on issues such as violence against women and gender roles.

“What if we invert the roles?” asks Ismaïla Diouf, a Senegalese artist who goes by the name Lemrite.

She has given this title to her work showing men of various ages partaking in cooking, sweeping up, washing clothes, looking after a baby or balancing firewood on the head, roles that are traditionally associated with women.

Roles imposed on genders is the main theme that the photographic collection throws into question.

Ibrahima Dia (Mystic Bram's), also from Senegal, alludes to religion, showing a woman dressed in a boubou, a traditional tunic typically worn by men, a hat worn by Muslim men and the ecclesiastical garb of bishops.

With her photos characterized by dark tones and shadow and light play, Phillis Lisa (Ly Lagazelle) explores the limitations women face when it comes to embarking on a professional career.

“I want to show here, in black Africa, that there are certain trades that we can go into, talking about gender and the place woman occupies in African society,” Lisa, a photographer from the Ivory Coast who lives in Morocco, told Efe.

Koukambakana Matthieu Urielle, who has been in Senegal for five years and is originally from the Republic of Congo, named her photographic series “Sexism.” It features a young woman's legs and miniskirt, through which she expressed her experiences, like the first time she wore the garment and was looked up and down.

Oumou Kalsoum Baldé also ventures into personal traumas in her images of a woman, narrated by the story of a woman from her neighborhood who was raped aged just 12.

The exhibition is the fruit of 15-day workshop organized by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the African Federation of Photographic Art, created in February 2018 by local photographer Mamadou Gomis and which has more than 150 Africans from some 30 countries as members.

While a group of artists deliberates which are the best photos for Urielle’s series, a teacher asks her to read a text she has edited and whose words she wants to resonate in the minds of those who see her work.

“Because equality is not only a political option, but a right,” she reads from the book. The book also says women have the right “not to be accosted in the streets, not to be raped, to have the same salary (as men), to be able to dress as they want.”

“To say that women are fragile and delicate is a way of keeping them in an inferior position” because “women have their place (in society) in the spot where they want to be,” Urielle concludes.

Marta Moreiras, a Spanish photographer who is teaching the workshop, says the participants “have a really positive attitude, are very proactive, very willing and have a desire to work.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve come across something like this. But of course the context is totally different. Here, because there’s no photography school, any opportunity for training and development they can find in the practice they do, they make the most of it,” she says.

And the passion for these workshops is shown in Carlos GC Sodokpa’s efforts to reach Dakar. He took an airplane from Benin to Mali, and from there a bus to the Senegalese capital in order to attend classes.

“It seems to be a way of showing the enthusiasm people have for learning and the few training programs taking place in Africa around photography,” the head of AECID’s office in Senegal, Inés Diego, tells Efe.

Those participating had to enter their portfolios as part of the selection process. They also had to propose a project with a focus on gender and for that, even though at the beginning the workshop was made up only of women, men also began to apply.

“Having a male vision of an equality theme is an important value,” Anna Belén Revelles, AECID’s coordinator in Senegal, told Efe.

“That’s why we’re not going to dismiss male candidates, although we’re going to go for female candidates first. But if men present themselves with knowledge of the topic, it’s worth giving them an interview too,” says Revelles.

The “Parliament of African women” seeks to give a voice to women and promote equality. EFE-EPA

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