Born in Italy in 1951, Maïmouna Guerresi is a photographer, sculptor and video artist. After having travelled to several different Islamic countries in Africa in 1991 she converted to Islam and took the name ‘Maïmouna’, which means ‘blessed by Allah’, and her work became increasingly heavily influenced by her new found spirituality. She now works between Verona, Milan and Dakar and has been exhibited in the USA, across Europe and in Africa, and recently featured prominently at London’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair.
Her work centres around female spirituality and the figure of the shrouded woman. She uses drapery to expand beyond the human body to create serene, mystical forms, often floating just above the ground.
I asked Maïmouna about her work and the inspiration behind it.
When did you begin taking photographs?
Straight after I finished my studies I became interested in photography, my first works fit into the artistic genre of ‘body art’. I was looking for a cosmic contact with the universe, identifying the body with nature, with the trees and with mythological characters, in particular with Daphne and Apollo. In that period I took my first photographs in black and white with the title ‘mimesis’ that later on I accompanied with sculptural casts.
You also make sculptures, does this come from a different creative stimulus to that which compels you to take photographs?
Photography, video, sculpture all belong to my expressive language and often come into play in my installations, so by creating a language…it is a way to create interaction between the diverse techniques.
What is the significance of female spirituality for you and how does it manifest itself in your work?
In the course of my artistic career I have made many works which have confronted different themes, but with a concept in common- that being the affirmation of female spirituality.
I wanted to show in my work the image of the Muslim woman beginning with the African woman with whom I identify spiritually, shown as a strong and powerful woman and not the submissive, dispirited woman that is represented in Western media.
I think that women in general have a great task ahead of them- that of improving society, Muslim women in particular can be of great help towards the spiritual growth of the world…trying to make known the true maternal essence of Islam that is represented by the most beautiful names of Allah and to help children to grow up with respect for other religions.
Could you describe a little about how and why you use the veil and drapery in your pieces?
From the photos with sculptural casts to the veiled figures, in sculptures the veil stiffened by material becomes armour- chrysalides, so too in my photographs the veils become containers of spiritual energy, a cave, an unknown universe, other and new worlds.
What did you discover the first time you went to Africa and how did it influence your art?
Africa, but in particular Senegal, is my second homeland.
After my conversion to Islam I obtained a new identity with the name Maïmouna.
This decision changed my life and determined my artistic choices. In fact I felt the desire to express throughout my art this renewed spirituality and the sensations and emotions that I had felt when frequenting the sacred places and the religious people of Islamic Africa, like the murid.
How was the experience of exhibiting your work at the Olympics?
It was a wonderful experience especially because I exhibited a large sculpture in the form of huge hands forming a nest which was positioned on the snow of the Piedmont Mountains. But in terms of thrilling exhibition experiences, I have had several, as at the recent shows in the last few years in Bangladesh, in India and at Bahrain National Museum.
What are your plans for the future?
My next exhibitions will be in the United States: a solo exhibition in ‘Volta’ in New York and in Seattle with the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery and then various other exhibitions in Italy.