Born in London, he studied Fine Arts in Madrid, where he co-founded an independent cinema until he moved to Bamako (Mali). After three years and several photographic and audiovisual projects, he returned to Madrid. In 2017 she flew to Lagos (Nigeria) to do an artistic residency on “the colonization of the concept of woman” and a few weeks ago, when she was going to Sudan, she received the news that her latest photobook Woman Go No ‘Gree, was the winner of the famous Paris Photo-Aperture 2020.
She is Gloria Oyarzabal, a Spanish visual artist who portrays the world with various techniques that range from photography, to film, to words. In fact, his previous project has several formats: a documentary footage –The Pynolepsy of Tshombé (2017)– and a photobook –Picnos Tshombé (2018) -; that deal with the disappearance of a secessionist leader from the Congo independence process who went into exile in Franco’s Spain.
Apart from the recently awarded Best Photobook of the Year Award by Paris Photo and Aperture Foundation for Woman Go No ‘Gree (RM and Images Vevey), Oyarzabal has received several national and international awards and has exhibited his work in more than a dozen countries.
Archivism and artivism
Gloria Oyarzabal is part of the platform ‘Not without photographers’ and of the board of the Association of Women in Visual Arts (MAV) and is critical of the national gender gap: “It is not that we are invisible, it is that we are not even Come. It is not that they have done something with premeditation and treachery to erase us, it is that they believe we do not exist, “Oyarzabal says.
Oyarzabal feels the ethical responsibility of the imaginary that his work can generate. Consequently, what it shows is studied in the field and, if possible, in the long term. Try to look at Europe with your feet in Africa: “When you live in a place, you no longer have that rush or pressure to catch everything and take home like that treasure,” thinks Oyarzabal, who considers himself “a bit artivist and archivist” because one of the main pillars of his work is based on documentation. “I think it is an essential recovery. I pull the thread, it is a narrative in which I depend on the historical, it helps me to understand. What is happening now is not what is happening, period. My tactic is to dig into the past to understand why it has come to this. The file accompanies me ”.
In his award-winning photobook, Woman Go No ‘Gree, Oyarzabal questions the concept of whiteness, taking charge of the Eurocentric and paternalistic vision that has been manufactured on the African continent. “I started reading about the construction of the imaginary, about how the history of Africa had been built, with capital letters. This led me to read about blackness: Frantz Fanon, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire (…) I could no longer afford the luxury of coming back with that experience of adventure and exoticism, now it was something more consistent and It implies a greater commitment to myself ”.
Epistemicide or how to colonize the mind
For the doctor in Sociology of Law Boaventura de Sousa Santos, epistemicide is the destruction of people’s own knowledge caused by colonialism.
“Why do we have to define the other? The other is what we are not and it is what defines us, too ”, asks Gloria Oyarzabal, who invites doubts about absolutism and hypothetical universal truths. According to the author, Woman Go No ‘Gree it is an empirical learning that tells “how I am discovering throughout the years and my studies that colonization is not only a violent, geopolitical, cruel, administrative, economic act and all that. But there is also a part that is very subtle and tremendously cruel, which is the colonization of the mind. How through the colonization of the mind by the concept of modernity, by the canons of beauty, by monotheistic religions, by Victorian education, by language; it was also achieved that it affects the concept of woman. Especially in the area where I was, which is the area of the Yoruba, which is a small group of people who live in the diaspora ”.
The feminisms of the African continent
In order to delve into terms such as colonization, decolonization and neocolonization, Woman Go No ‘Gree relies on African feminist voices such as that of the Yoruba sociologist Oyèrónkẹ Oyěwùmí and that of the writer, also Nigerian Ifi Amadiume, whose knowledge helped Gloria Oyarzabal to understand, from otherness, “that we should not or cannot universalize hegemonic feminist discourses , mainstream, because in each society, in each community, women have different problems ”, she thinks.
“Both [Oyěwùmí y Amadiume] in a different way they speak of the fact that before colonization the privilege of a society was not acquired by gender issues, but by age or lineage. Ifi Amadiume proposes how marriage between women or that a daughter had the same role as a son did not imply a conflict within a community, but rather that a woman’s marriage goes far beyond a sexual relationship and is care, accompaniment . When a woman was left a widow, she could marry another woman to take care of herself. They are concepts that are not within our regulations. How colonization also affected the concept of women ”, says Oyarzabal.
However, Gloria Oyarzabal believes that being more and more aware that she should stop talking about colonization: “They themselves say, and it is totally true, that it seems that Africa was built and appeared with colonialism and the history of Africa is Brutal. Placing a lot of emphasis on colonization I think it restricts the panorama a lot. We know that in the colonialist project the camera was part of the project along with the pistol and the Bible. If you analyze the photographs of the time, they were classifying and when they were not classifying they were to show a primitive exoticism, taking into account everything that the word primitive entails for us, as Hegel said, a step below our evolution ”.