Monday, 23 June 2008

Female Circumcision in West Africa

Suzanne Ouedraogo | Artist from Burkina Faso.

Here is one of my favourite artists, Suzanne Ouedraogo. Her work is quite graphically expressing the plight of young girls in West Africa. Her message is clear and shocking and warrants our attention.

Her series on Female Circumcision Commissioned in 2003

Excision I 2003

Excision II - 2003

In 2003, I commissioned two West African female artists, Suzanne Ouedraogo and Chinwe Azubuike to create a series of works on the subject of female circumcision.

Here is a poem written by the female Nigerian poet, Chinwe Azubuike, which compliments these extraordinary paintings by Suzanne Ouedraogo.

Our Dilemma by Chinwe Azubuike

You, our gods of immortals and living
Of seas and lands
Of all visible and not
We beseech, hear our cry this day
And come to our rescue.

Our sacred weapons of pleasure
Are being destroyed by the day
Rendered useless
By our overseeing Lords and Ladies
Of ancestral descent.

They perform a barbaric operation on our ‘flesh of honour’
And call it ‘Female Circumcision’
In the white man’s language.
They mutilate our pride and say it is ‘tradition’
“The initiation to womanhood”

They cut us!
Oh yes, they cut us with the blade.

In the gaze of our fellows, they cut us!
At times in the secrecy of our mother’s haven.
They do not concede to the tools,
Nor words of the physician’s for our safety
To them it has been for ages
And tradition dare not be defiled.
They just cut us.

Against our will as they are wont to
For we foresee the agony and anguish
To these we try to parry but helpless we are

Our eyes have cried,
Tears of unending pain and torment
They have run dry of water.
Our hearts, laden with loathsomeness
We fear may burst.

They cut us, with or without our consent
Left to bleed by their ignorance
Sometimes fatal to our existence.
Other times, we become plagued with illness of strange names
“Infection” the physician would call it

Again they say it delivers us from the hands of promiscuity
As we ascend the ladder of womanhood.
Such blasphemy! We think
As if we are not bound for the act of consummation
In our ‘married’ days

As we watch our counterparts this day
Buried deep in this sin,
Sisters whom we term fortunate cut at childbirth
Fortunate to have escaped the pain we feel now,
We can’t but wonder
“Who is fooling who?”

You, our ancestral Lords and Ladies
Suffer us no more we beg
What profit do you aspire
When our lives are wont to expire
In this course of tradition?

Oh! What a shame,
That you who drum to our ears
To revere the dignity between our legs,
Become the ones that destroy it.

Poem by Chinwe Azubuike | Nigeria


N.B. In 2005, the painting of the Excision I by Suzanne Ouedraogo was lost at Belgium airport by the artists when transferring to Paris. If anybody knows of the whereabouts of this painting please contact Joe Pollitt at Many thanks.

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