Arts & Academia

Ten Exceptional Female Photographers Taking Center Stage in Africa

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By Miracle Nwankwo

According to Matador Network, the black continent is a complex, dynamic, and ever-changing region, yet so often tourists and travellers manage to sum it up with very few similar photos that do no justice to the beauty of the continent. With the portraits of Africa on National Geographic, foreigners have been able to create a picture in their minds of what Africa looks like without visiting the continent, yet, “even a publication like that only has seen a slice of what this place has, is, and offers.”

“And just this week, Nat Geo took a look at their colonial biases through the last century, reminding us that we, as outsiders, who turn our cameras to this diverse, multi-faceted continent tend to do so with a very specific lens, one that sees Africa through a fairly narrow scope,” it says.

However, the growing number of African female photographers have taken to the streets to show the world through their lens, their words, and experiences that there is overwhelmingly more to Africa, its people, its history, and its future than what has been portrayed in the past.

In recent years, there has been a surge of talented female photographers of African-descent taking centre stage in the global art industry. This was not the story before now, because in the past, many listings of African photographers were massively dominated by men, a few featured just one or two while some lists featured no women at all.

So, it is a delight to find young African women changing this narrative and inspiring young girls to get on board.

Below is Ten Exceptional Female Photographers Taking Center Stage in Africa:

Joana Choumali

Joana Choumali is an award-winning freelance photographer born in 1974 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Her interest in photography started when her family hired a local studio photographer to take a family portrait. As a little girl, she was fascinated with the way the hired photographer handled the camera, lighting and the way he composed the family position. This created a template of what she would love to do when she grew older.

Joana is currently based in Abidjan, where she contributes to Everyday Africa and has done dozens of exhibitions of her work. A few years ago, she participated in “Africa Is No Island” which opened at the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, in Marrakech, a non-profit seeking to promote African art.

Khadija M Farah

Khadija M Farah is a Somali travel and documentary photographer based in Kenya. She was born in Nairobi to Somali parents, but spent most of her teenage years in the USA, before returning to Kenya. Khadija is passionate about telling the African story, especially stories about her root. According to Khadija, her Somali roots inspires her storytelling, as Somali history is very much an oral one.

From climate change to women’s issues, she is passionate about stories which provide a ‘light bulb moment’ or challenge public discourse on a subject. She seeks to understand the people around her better by learning their stories. Khadija goes as far as meeting the people she photographs and tries to retell their story as best she can.

Ley Uwera

Ley Uwera is a Congolese photographer based in Goma, DRC. Ley is a reporter with BBC in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She has a degree in journalism from the Université de Cepromad. Her work has been seen in the New York Times, Upworthy, and more. She explores issues and developments in the DRC as the country evolves and grows and changes. As with many on this list, her work focuses on people and their stories as they unfold around her.

Miora Rajaonary

Miora Rajaonary is a Madagascar-born photographer, based in Johannesburg. She focuses on documentary photography. Growing up in a country where creativity is not valued, and the pursuit of artistic careers is not encouraged, Miora moved to South Africa to learn the technical basics of photography at 29.

In recent years, her work has gained several awards, being recognized by institutions like National Geographic and Getty Images, and has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and others. Miora was listed on the top 10 photographers to keep an eye on in 2018 by I-D Magazine. She also hosts regular exhibitions, most recently participating in LAMBA’s The Fence Photo Festival in 2019.

Nasrin Suleiman                                              

Nasrin Suleiman is a Zanzibar-based Photographer who is passionate about the island, her roots, and the beauty found there. She was raised on the island of Zanzibar, however, at some point, she went to North America for school. When she returned to Zanzibar she became a graphic designer and photographer who is exploring the island. Her work is especially upbeat, colourful, and the most “insta-famous” of this list but she is still highlighting her home, normally seen through the lens of a tourist.

Ngadi Smart

Ngadi Smart is a West African visual artist, of Sierra Leonean descent. Her focus is on photography and illustration. She was born in London and she studied in the UK, at OCAD University in Canada, and in Côte d’Ivoire and Tunisia. She currently spends her time between London and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Her work is influenced by the different countries and cultures that she has lived in and has been published in places like World Press Photo, CNN, and True Africa.

Sara Jabril

Sara Jabril was born and raised in Berlin to parents from different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds but of East African roots. She studied social and political science at Humboldt University Berlin, and political economy at the London School of Economics (LSE).

After graduating, she moved to Tanzania and began to put her education to work. She was able to build up regional expertise working with the East African Community (EAC) in Arusha, Tanzania. But she soon returned to London to start work as a public affairs and communications consultant with a focus on pan-African campaigns and global philanthropic efforts in 2015.

Along the line, she decided to fuse her passion for public affairs with photography. Her intertwine passions was displayed in projects like ‘Dhulka Hooyo’ Project highlighting images of Somalia from the 1980s, celebrating the otherwise war-torn country’s “rich history, stunning landscape and its beautiful people.”

Sarah Waisa

Sarah Waiswa is a self-taught photographer who was born in Uganda. She studied sociology and psychology. Sarah’s work explores what she calls a “New African Identity” that explains how younger generations of Africans feel more expressive and less restrained by tradition than their predecessors. Her work swings from colour to black and white and back again, and is a beautiful mix of portraits and scenes.

She was named one of the 100 influential women, Uganda’s best-emerging artists, by OkayAfrica. She won the 2016 Rencontres d’Arles Discovery Award for a series that explored albino persecution in sub-Saharan Africa. She was also recognized by the 2015 Uganda Press Photo Awards. Sarah has also done some remarkable and profound projects including working with photographer Joel Lukhovi on “African Cityzens”, which records daily life in multiple African cities. She currently runs the Instagram account –  African Cityzens where she tries to change the lens Africa is seen through.

TY Bello

Toyin Sokefun-Bello was born in Ogun State, Nigeria. She is better known as TY Bello. She studied economics from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She briefly practised journalism and eventually settled for photography. She is a member of the Nigerian photography collective, Depth of Field.

Every year, she organises a photography exhibition to raise funds for orphans in her home country. She is also the director of Link-a-child, an NGO dedicated to proliferating information on orphanages in Nigeria and seeking sponsorship on their behalf. In July 2011, TY Bello was honoured by the non-profit Communication For Change organisation in a five-part documentary film series titled RedHot.

Yagazie Emezi

Yagazie Emezi is a Nigerian artist and self-taught documentary photographer who, focus on stories surrounding African women, their health, sexuality, education, and human rights.

She started her career in 2015 and has since worked with Al Jazeera, the New York Times, Vogue, Newsweek, Inc., Time, the Guardian, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Bloomberg Businessweek, the New York Times Magazine, and The Weather Channel.

In 2017, she went to Monrovia, Liberia, and stayed for ten months, documenting the impact of education for girls in at-risk communities and then returned to her ongoing project “Relearning Bodies,” which explores how trauma survivors, outside the narrative of violence and abuse, adapt to their new bodies while marking the absence of an effusive culture around body positivity as a noteworthy cultural phenomenon.

Yagazie is the first black African woman to photograph for National Geographic Magazine and is a National Geographic Explorer Grantee. She was among the 2019 inaugural artists selected for Kehinde Wiley’s art residency at Black Rock, Senegal.

She is a beneficiary of the 2018 inaugural Creative Bursary Award from Getty Images. A participant in the 2018 New York Portfolio Review, she has also been featured in the British Journal of Photography, Huffington Post, Nieman Reports, Paper Magazine, Vogue, and The Washington Post. In November 2018, she received a grant from the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos for her photo series addressing the reality of sexual violence against women and the vulnerable young in Nigeria.

Her artistic photo-projects aim at criticizing Nigeria’s socio-political state and the role media plays in it while pulling from the country’s history and current events.

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