DETERMINED WOMEN | Donne Determinate
Photographs by Angéle Etoundi ESSAMBA
16 May – 6 October 2024
Press Release





From 17th of May to 6th of October 2024 at the Museum of Rome in Trastevere


The exhibition, curated by Sandro Orlandi Stagl and Massimo Scaringella, is the first retrospective in Italy of the well-known artist of Cameroonian origin, but rooted in Holland, who has always been committed and involved in a reflection on the identity of the African woman.


OpeningTuesday 16th of May 2024


Rome, 17 May 2024 – The Museum of Rome in Trastevere hosts, from 17 May to 6 October 2024, the first Italian retrospective of Angèle Etoundi Essamba, an artist involved in a reflection on the identity of the African woman, who is at the center of his artistic expression and inexhaustible source of inspiration.

Promoted by Roma Capitale, Department of Culture, Capitoline Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, and organized by Artandite, the exhibition is curated by Sandro Orlandi Stagi and Massimo Scaringella. Museum services of Zètema Progetto Cultura.


The retrospective presents some cycles of her work carried out in recent years, which will be able to provide the viewer with an almost complete reading of the creative path of the Cameroonian photographer. An alternation between works with strong colors that act as a counterpoint to some series of smooth black and white.

Angèle Etoundi Essamba is a committed artist who reflects on the identity of the African woman. Women constitute the main subject of her artistic expression

For almost forty years you have observed the world through the women you photograph. Her vision is at the same time aesthetic, idealistic, realistic and social. She combines the spirit of humanist photography with a strong attachment to the values of communion. She focuses exclusively on what radiates the human being, alone, in pairs or in groups. Her approach is always based on a sense of proximity and reciprocity. Essamba's work breaks with stereotypical representations of black women, often depicted as submissive, passive, dependent, exotic, and confined to certain roles. Instead, she emphasizes the symbolic and aesthetic dimension of the female body.

She uses harmonious compositions, focuses on gestures, expressions and emotions to capture inner beauty and change the narrative. The key words in Essamba's work are pride, strength and self-awareness. To provide the viewer with an almost complete reading of the artist's creative journey, this first solo exhibition in Italy will present a selection of 40 black and white and color works created between 1985 and 2022. It also includes his series, A-FIL -LIATIONS, presented at the inaugural Cameroon pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022.

Born in Cameroon and raised in France, Angèle Etoundi Essamba graduated from the Dutch Photography School in Amsterdam, where she lives. She also holds a degree in art history. Since his first exhibition in 1985 in Amsterdam, his work has often been exhibited in museums, institutions, biennials (Venice Biennial, Havana Biennial and Johannesburg Biennial), fairs and galleries in Europe, Africa, United States, Latin America and Asia. Essamba's photographs have been commented on in various publications including: Passion 1989; Contrasts 1995; Symbols 1999; Noiri 2001; The Metamorphosis of the Sublime 2003; Dialogues 2006; Veils and unveilings 2008; Africa on the Rise 2010; Africa see you, see you 2011; Desvelos 2011; Black and red beyond color 2012; Women of Water 2013; Invisibles, African Women in Action 2015; Strength and Pride 2016; Daughters of Life 2018; Renaissance 2019. Her work is also included in renowned public collections such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis; Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC; Fitchburg Museum of Art, Massachusetts; Hood Museum, Dartmouth New Hampshire and World Bank Art Program, Washington D.C.



This is the detail of some of the photographic cycles present in the exhibition.


Renaissance - The Renaissance draws inspiration from collars, lace and fans: their powerful visual and aesthetic imagery fascinates Essamba as much as their questions about symbolism. Symbols of luxury, elegance and refinement, but also symbols of power, which refer to the sophisticated world of the Dutch seventeenth century. Through the prism of the golden age, Renaissance explores the representation of the black figure, a central theme in the artist's photography. In the 17th century in Holland “clothes make the man”. The identity of the individual is not to be sought in his interiority but is defined by his appearance, which is first and foremost marked by clothing and ornamentation. Renaissance questions this ornamental hierarchy and reinterprets these symbols in a subtle game of subversion of dress codes. Here the collar comes in many variations: white or coloured, plain or printed. Deviated from its initial destination, the neck, it becomes an autonomous element, worn freely to open up to new interpretations.

The models reclaim collars, lace and fans, through majestic poses that belong to themselves, and show that they are accessible to all and no longer reserved for an elite. The black figure emerges from anonymity, from the background, and occupies a central place in the work. Even more: rather than magnifying and exalting, the Renaissance celebrates the human being, captured in his singularity and universality. The woman is reborn and imposes herself with grace.


Tableau vivant, 2019 A-FIL-IATION touches the universal, the collective. The thread serves as a metaphor to echo today's world of social networks and virtual interconnectivity. It opens up to communication and reconnects us to ourselves and the world. Women in a friendship, each singular, plural, universal. The meeting and transmission take place from thread to needle, united, intertwined, knotted, anchored, suspended, in an intertwined world where human beings interact, creating social cohesion. Threads of life, which connect present, past and future. Merging vertically, horizontally and linearly, from every angle to convey a message of continuity, constancy, perseverance. Celestial blue, pacific white, desert yellow. Weavers, who weave, weave and reweave, like the spider who tirelessly weaves its web or Penelope who embroiders during the day everything she undoes at night. The thread renews physical and moral boundaries and shows itself in all its magnificence to convey a message of peace.


Follow the thread! 2021 NOIRS seeks proximity and reciprocity by expressing human interiority and intimacy. It highlights black identity in its smallest details and from the inside. The human is shown without any artifice, in its simplicity, in its purity, in its depth and in its nakedness. The models rise above everything. Their gestures and fierce gaze affirm their determination to move forward, to fly higher, to rewrite history. The photographs rethink and deconstruct stereotypes, representations of misery, complaints and exoticism, emphasizing the black figure in a symbolic and aesthetic sense. NOIRS invites the viewer to enter the subject's clear self-affirmation through faces and bodies that speak of pride, hope and resilience across time and generations. They intend to resonate in each of us.


Unveilings “Like black and white – explains Angèle Etoundi Essamba – the colors came to mind and I embraced them. Saturated colors. Such a level of exaltation could only be expressed in color. I read color like I read black and white,

always looking for contrast and intensity.” This series challenges the simplistic image attributed to the veil, reducing it to a symbol of submission, imprisonment, repression and violence. Just as absolute nudity does not necessarily symbolize freedom, the veil does not render all who wear it defenseless and oppressed. The veil shown here belongs to those who dare, invite, seduce, precisely because the gesture of unveiling authorizes it.

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