As part of our new series of research portraits, Dr Ruth Bush (Lecturer in French, Member of the Centre for Material Texts) writes about the recent launch of a digitised version of one of the earliest independent francophone African magazines, AWA: la revue de la femme noire.
Together with a team of researchers, librarians and cultural activists, I recently launched a digitised version of one of the earliest independent francophone African magazines, AWA: la revue de la femme noire, now freely available at www.awamagazine.org. This early glossy magazine was founded in Dakar, Senegal in 1964 by journalist and poet Annette Mbaye d’Erneville and provides a rich resource for teaching and research relating to the materiality of texts. It is a fascinating material object, printed in black and white (colour is used only on the front cover) and using a wide range of typographical styles and page layouts. The magazine was self-funded and produced entirely in Senegal by an editorial team and the pioneering printer, Abdoulaye Diop. This context is particularly important at a time when the Senegalese periodical press depended largely on an infrastructure of production and distribution which dated from the colonial period. AWA features literary texts and photographs alongside articles on politics, fashion, female emancipation, everyday life and the world of paid work. Readers letters indicate that while some felt the magazine was too elitist in a region with low literacy, it nonetheless travelled widely (from the US and Martinique to Russia and Israel), was used in rural women’s education centres, and played an important role in promoting the voices of African women in the period following the independences of 1960.
AWA has been digitised as part of an ongoing AHRC GCRF project, ‘Popular print and reading cultures in francophone Africa‘, in partnership between the University of Bristol, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire-Cheikh Anta Diop and the Archives nationales du Sénégal in Dakar. For a write-up of the process of gathering the material for this project, see another blog entry written during the project here.
This magazine is also the subject of a multimedia exhibition which launched at the Henriette Bathily Women’s Museum in Dakar, Senegal in November and will run until January 2018. The exhibition will then travel for a month to Montpellier, France from 19 March 2017. It features panels, archival material, three films, an AWA photo studio, and a limited-edition exhibition poster printed on a rotary press similar to that used for the original magazine.
Through images, film, and text, the exhibition raises questions relating to critical thought, women’s political activity, the category of women intellectuals, inequalities and complementarity between the sexes, education and pleasure in sub-Saharan Africa.
For more information on this project, please visit the bilingual digital portal www.awamagazine.org and the original project website: www.africanreadingcultures.org. This project is funded by an AHRC GCRF grant under the ‘Translating Cultures/Care for the Futures’ themes. The exhibition received additional funding from the Institut français, Sénégal.