Flowers by Owanto at Sakhile&Me08/03/2020 - 20/05/2020
Flowers is the first exhibition of Gabonese artist and human rights activist Owanto with Sakhile&Me, showing a series of enlarged archival photographs of a Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) ceremony, in which the artist veils the identity of the victims or disrupts the violation in the image by removing the sections deemed most private and covering the void with delicate cold porcelain flowers. The flower is a symbolic cover-up that masks the identity of the young girls in the photographs — an identity that was taken away from them — and hides this very loss.
Through the series, Owanto brings to light the complex and contested issues surrounding FGM/C. Often done in discreet initiation ceremonies around the world, it is an age-old ritual that has been used to signify the important transition from childhood to womanhood by curbing sexual desire. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries where FGM/C is concentrated, of which 44 million are under 15 years old. Currently, more than three million girls are at risk for FGM/C annually.
“I understood that these photographs carried a symbolic and ambivalent meaning. They depicted a ceremony, a celebration, yet, they also revealed pain. I wanted to bring the past into the present to open an important dialogue. I wanted to transform these old analogue photographs using digital technology, and to keep a record of human behaviour. I understood that these images taken by a Westerner during the colonial era could be perceived as voyeuristic, but I wanted to use them and elevate them to the rank of art and activism to fight FGM/C.”
The show is an extension of the artist’s 2019 solo exhibition One Thousand Voices which was held at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town, consisting of photographs and audio recordings of testimonies from FGM/C survivors. It also features “Pardonne-Moi,” a selection of embroidery works from the exhibition Material Insanity which was shown at the Musée d’Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden in Marrakech, each work comprising a single word or short phrase relating to the experience of survivors sewn onto a sheet of cloth by reformed cutters, as their way of atoning.
Owanto is a multi-cultural Gabonese artist. She grew up in Gabon, where she spent her formative years, and eventually moved to Europe where she studied Philosophy, Literature and Languages at the Institut Catholique de Paris in Madrid. She now lives between Europe, Africa, and the United States. The artist has been working on her art for over 30 years and has taken a multidisciplinary approach in her creative process and works across a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation and performance.
Her work aims to be a voice of African women in the arts. Owanto had the honour of representing the Republic of Gabon at the 53rd International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale in 2009, with a solo show in the first-ever Pavillon du Gabon, curated by Fernando Francés, Director of CAC Malaga, Spain. She was the first artist from sub-Saharan Africa to have a solo exhibition in a National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
An artist’s talk with Owanto in conversation with FGM/C advocate Virginia Wangare-Greiner and art and museum educator Julia Albrecht about the artist’s work and the insights it brings to light. Owanto will speak on what propels her Flowers series and how it has evolved to include contributions by survivors and ex-cutters while Virgina Wangare-Greiner, founder of Maisha e.V. and spokesperson for Integra, and Julia Albrecht, cultural education facilitator at the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt, will share their perspectives on the artist’s work and the issues it raises.
The talk will be moderated by documentary filmmaker Katya Berger.
Sakhile&Me is an international exhibition and research space working with established and emerging contemporary artists, curators, critics and researchers. The gallery prioritize the African continent and its diasporas, with the goal of drawing attention to contextual specificity in and through art – in content, artistic medium and genre.
Please visit the artist’s profile and have a preview of “flowers” exhibition’s works on Sakhile&Me page on —> www.artskop.com