African Art

Valerie Depadova ‘s Complete Woman

Algerian artist Valerie Depadova takes inspiration from her childhood in Bou-Haroun on the African coast. From a young age, her work was inspired by objects that her father brought back from his military expeditions in the heart of the continent. This piece unites different ethnic elements to create a decidedly unique image reflecting Depadova’s relationship to her culture and heritage. Out of the patchwork collage emerges the form of a woman set against a deep red backdrop. Her head and torso create a reverse triangle that is mirrored by her lower body, which, together with her outstretched arms, form a heavily geometric body. By isolating the different elements from their original context, Depadova instills her own meaning into her work.

First she patches together pieces of unique, antique-looking patterns, a reference to the decorative arts. As beautiful objects admired for their aesthetic purposes, these patterns symbolize the intrinsic value of Africa’s rich cultures. Additionally, the newspaper on the bottom of the canvas recalls a literary tradition, but with a decidedly modern twist—mass-produced printing. By putting the newspaper behind the figure, Depadova aims to retake control of the narrative from an increasingly widespread and pervasive globalization. Her art becomes a mechanism for fighting against appropriation and commodification.

Depadova’s abstract human form represents a holistic African culture. The stylized body is reminiscent of traditional African sculpture; by displaying each individual part, Depadova provides a more informative, accurate representation of the whole. This idea is similar to that of Cubism, which also derives inspiration from African sculpture’s fragmented style of representation. Distorted, disproportionate, and hidden, the body rejects any semblance to a human shape, except for the eye and lips. With their large size and unnaturally frontal position, they connect the viewer with human emotion and maybe lust. The outstretched arms of the figure mirror Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” which depicts the ideally proportioned man. Similarly, Depadova depicts an ideal woman, but one who is made complete through the assimilation of her ethnic heritage with her personal identity.

What do you think of this collage?