FGM/C from an artist’s perspective: Art for cultural change

By Owanto

How can art promote change? How can it transform the lives of millions of young women and girls?

Art offers another platform to increase visibility and raise awareness about this global issue. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In the U.S., more than half a million women and girls are estimated to be affected or at risk of FGM. This number of those at risk has more than doubled in roughly the past decade.

Bringing the taboo of FGM/C into the light will help people understand that these cultural traditions can and should be revisited. Communities can still celebrate the coming of age of their daughters without harm, without cutting, without mutilation. We can, and must, celebrate womanhood in a different way.

The Flower Project

I was inspired to create the Flower Project when I inherited a box of archival photographs from my father and found images documenting an FGM/C ceremony. Shocked by the very disturbing images, I put them back in their place to be forgotten. But I was haunted by it and I could not forget. I made investigations and realised the immensity of the problem. It did not belong to the past but represented the cruel reality of our present. I felt compelled to use those images to condemn the practice of FGM/C in today’s world. I enlarged and edited the photographs and made sculptures in the form of flowers to cover the void and hide the injury.

The flower allows the viewer to maintain his or her gaze on the photographs that would otherwise be very difficult to look at. The metaphor of the flower, a symbol of the efflorescence of young women, transforms the violation of their body into an image of beauty. This symbol envisions a future where feminine energy plays a large role in the progress of society, the world, starting with a loud and resounding ‘no’ to the removal of the most intimate part of our body. The Flower Project was exhibited at Le Conseil National, Monaco’s parliament to celebrate International Women’s Day earlier this year.

Katya Berger (left) and Owanto (right) with Bohra FGC survivor Alifya Sulemanji, who was featured in The Flower Project. Read Alifya’s story here. Photo courtesy: Owanto.

The Vocal Piece

I am currently working with my producer, my daughter, Katya Lucia Berger on a “vocal piece” that is collecting the voices of survivors that we have interviewed and will interview. Together we will be stronger.

“The Vocal Piece” will involve the participation of 30 women from the 30 countries most affected by FGC. The piece will be a melange of voices, accents, and languages recorded on the iphone to represent that fact that FGC is a global problem that should be addressed on a global scale. The inclusion of women who have not been affected by this practice as a result of families going against the social norm is also crucial to this piece. It is important to recognise their efforts to bring about change.

I have been invited to exhibit at the European Council this coming October, when new recommendations will be passed to protect girls and women against FGM/C. 180,000 girls and women are at risk every year in 11 countries in Europe.

I want to thank all the survivors and activists for their support and contribution to the project. Special thanks to Mariya Taher.

If you would like to add your voice and your story to the Flower Project, please be in touch at owanto1@me.com or at Katya Berger klb2189@columbia.edu.


About Owanto:

Owanto 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.

About Katya:

Katya Berger is a former graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and is a producer for Quotidian (TF1) covering the U.S. presidential elections.

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