The BBC’s Laeïla Adjovi has won a top prize for contemporary African art with her series of photos on the theme of breaking free.

She won the Leopold-Sédar-Senghor Grand Prix at the 13th Dakar Biennale of contemporary African art.

Her work is intended to be a response to the way Africa is portrayed in the media.

Woman looking in the mirrorImage copyright Laeïla Adjovi

The artwork is a series of photos telling the story of a fictional character named Malaïka Dotou Sankofa. She was given an androgynous look with a “drab skimpy suit”. This was “to show that not everyone must fit in the costume of western modernity,” says Laeïla.

DeskImage copyright Laeïla Adjovi

The series of photos was taken in an old court house.

Woman with wingsImage copyright Laeïla Adjovi

“I wanted to give life to a creature that would express the idea that we are still struggling to bring about real change in our relations with the rest of the world,” says Laeïla.

woman on deskImage copyright Laeïla Adjovi

The feathers were inspired by the patchwork clothes worn by the Baye Fall Muslim religious community in Senegal.

woman on seatImage copyright Laeïla Adjovi

The character’s name, Malaïka Dotou Sankofa, comes from “Malaaka” which means angel in Senegal’s Wolof laguage and “Malaïka” which has the same meaning in Swahili. “Dotou” means “stay strong, determined” in the Fon language of Benin, where Laeïla is from. Sankofa means “return and get it” in Ghana’s symbol language, Adinkra. It touches on the importance of learning from the past.

Woman with wingsImage copyright Laeïla Adjovi

“Malaïka tells us that when we Africans rise – and yes, we are – it needs to be on our own terms.”

WingsImage copyright Laeïla Adjovi

All photos by Laeïla Adjovi.

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