The global award in photography and sustainability

Joana Choumali

Ça va aller

These pictures were taken three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Grand-Bassam on Sunday 13th March 2016.

Bassam is my refuge, the place I go to unwind and be by myself. A one-hour drive from Abidjan, Bassam is a place full of history, a quiet and peaceful little town where Ivorians take holidays at weekends. Bassam reminds me of insouciance, of the Sunday afternoons of my childhood I used to spend with my loved ones on the same beach where the attacks took place. To me, Bassam was a synonym of happiness, until that day.

Three weeks after the attacks, the atmosphere of this little town changed. A ‘saudade’, a kind of melancholy, invaded the town. I decided to wander the silent, empty streets and I chose to leave my reflex camera behind and shoot instead
with my iPhone. I did not want to intrude on people’s intimacy and disrupt their mourning. In that moment, I did not feel like a photographer, detached by the place, instead I felt part of the wounded inhabitants. Most of the pictures show empty places, people by themselves, walking the
streets or just standing, sitting alone, lost in their thoughts.

In Côte d’Ivoire, people do not discuss their psychological issues or feelings. A post-traumatic state is often considered as weakness or a mental disease. People hardly talk about their feelings, and each conversation is quickly shortened by a resigned “ça va aller”. “Ça va aller” is a typical Ivorian expression which means “it will be OK”. It is used for everything – even for situations that are not going to be OK.

This series addresses the way Ivorian people deal with trauma and mental health. The attacks re-opened the mental wounds left by the postelectoral war of 2011. Back home I felt the need to process this pain and I discovered that I could do so through embroidery.

Each stitch was a way to recover, to lay down the emotions, the 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.