In all her artistic practice, the book, Women Go No’Gree is the very first work where the photographer Gloria Oyarzabal talks from an analysis of her thoughts and beliefs. She could publish her work thanks to the The Book Award 2019, which she won at Images Vevey Switzerland, and where the president of jury and photographer, Dayanita Singh, stated that she was asking questions rather than answering them. Later on, she won the First PhotoBook Award at the Paris Photo 2020.
She worked from the perspective of an artist and not an academic, nor an anthropologist, nor a writer, and her position as a white European woman here is the keystone of her work. In fact, instead of daring to use the voice of the so-called Other, she uses her voice as a translation of her own gaze onto the other – especially the western construction of the concept of women.
The Western Gaze
The risk of publishing this kind of book would have been that she felt entitled to teach western white people how to be good allies and to educate them according to the knowledge she herself had only just discovered. Surely, her relation to Africa has a cheerful beginning on her part, followed by the discovery of her privileges. It is intriguing to play with the risk of speaking for others, how she questions her agency because of the non-descending link she has with Africa. However, Gloria tries to decolonise her gaze by widening her scope. She seeks to keep herself away from the production of exotic images, and is still cleansing her gaze from exoticising traces.
Preconception vs. Realm
I could feel that the book translated this shock, and the rupture between her mental baggage composed with predefined images and stereotypes on that culture with which she grew up, and her process of deconstruction. Indeed, she took accountability and not only did she withdraw herself from producing polished, exotic images of beautiful women on a wild landscape, but she confronted the phenomenon of exocitism and domestication that built her imagination – that potentially intuitive Western approach to others – by educating herself.
“I was not a tourist anymore”
Infantilization as the root of the western patriarchal system is the starting point for the “colonization of the mind,” which alienates people in the name of good morality. Through the text and the juxtaposition of images and quotations she chooses, Gloria displays her anger towards the knowledge with which she functioned until coming to this deconstructive process and her frustration with lacking how to know and understand others. She seems to have found out that she was also subjected to this “colonization of the mind,” orchestrated by “Victorian education, monotheists religions, and canons of beauty”.
Hence why, according to her positionality, she humbly quotes works and academic definitions that outgrew her western perspective of female gender, rather than daring to theorise it. By working with archives, she invites the reader to re-establish their own, and their idea of knowledge hierarchy. She edited her steps of deconstruction at this point, and published a photographic book that reshuffled our ideas by recollecting years of photos from flea markets. The compilation of works and the selection of African archives from Nigerian magazines that Gloria Oyarzabal made seem to follow her apprehension of information.
Indeed, Gloria Oyarzabal is first and foremost an artist. Her choice of an informal and direct language is then a natural extension of herself. As a reader, I liked the way she addresses her thoughts. I could hear her voice and sense a conversation between the ideas that flow through her. Her way of using academic and formal terminology calls out the inescapable definition process in order to surpass any coloniality. Thus, even as a photographer, she could not address these questions without referring to theorists and their concepts. Consequently, without being an academic, Gloria makes critical theory accessible and enjoyable.
The book is deeply connected to her experience, as embarrassment comes the moment she realises how wrong she was in thinking that Western models of women’s emancipation and empowerment were exportable and universal. She reached a pivotal point in her research when she saw that the living situation of women in Africa was not only dwelling in the matriarchal society system but that there were so many aspects and injustices in everyday life that exceeded the gender question and the idea of empowerment believed by Western women. She became outraged and frustrated by this realization because her beliefs of freedom as well as evolution were challenged. In a long process of self-revision, she concluded that mainstream Western hegemonic discourses cannot be universalised, nor can feminist ones.
Experiencing Her Deconstruction
There is a projection effect, a triangulation of idea production. The phenomenon is shared with us without guiding the reader how to interpret it properly. Gloria translates an installation made with selected archives into a conversation where she reviews the history of the construction of knowledge and how it affects the conception of women. The images are also used as a writing tool, in a docu-fictional genre where thoughts and research are intertwined, enabling a creative format of acknowledgement.
“I did not know I had so many supremacist ideas inside of me.”
Through her book, Gloria Oyarzabal offers us an intimate vision on how mental conditioning can disrupt the education of a mind, of a gaze. The construction of the book challenges the reader as much as this research seems to have challenged her and transformed her sensitive photographer’s eyes. It is an enjoyable read to witness her generosity through the use of a changing focus, from thoughts to technique.
An article by Farah Maakel
Featured image : Gloria Oyarzabal, EXOTIZATION, HYPERSEXUALATION, VICTIMIZATION AND OTHERZATIONS – Women Go No’Gree 2019
Courtesy of the artist.
Articles are published in their original language | Les articles sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine