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Meet the Archivist Documenting Iconic Ivorian Women in Entertainment, One Post at a Time

Inside @archives.ivoire's plans to sustain the legacy of Ivorian style and creativity.

Meet the Archivist Documenting Iconic Ivorian Women in Entertainment, One Post at a Time

Inside @archives.ivoire's plans to sustain the legacy of Ivorian style and creativity.

Archival accounts on social platforms have become spaces that attempt to bridge the past and the present. From fashion to pop culture, these accounts are rapidly on the rise, with new accounts propping up to meet growing demands. Perhaps what makes them so popular is our pressing need to engage histories with a fresh perspective, allowing us to reexamine the sometimes problematic ways they might have been presented to us in the past. For marginalized communities who have had their stories oftentimes erased or inadequately told, archival accounts created by us and for us serve as bold reclamations of identity and ways to give a voice to our historical silencing. 

When the wildly popular archival account for Nollywood fashion and entertainment @nolly.babes crept onto the scene in 2017, it presented a unique opportunity for us to engage online with the early 00s canon of women in Nollywood films. They’ve amassed 69.4K followers since then and have enabled us to watch the no-shit taking, stylish actresses with a knack for witty comebacks, on our screens. It’s a far cry from how mainstream Nollywood opts to portray women today: polite, desperately unstylish and shallow. NollyBabes spearheaded a movement and we’re blessed with the opportunity to engage with our past through the lens of today. 

Since its genesis, other accounts have followed suit, recognizing the power of representation and showcasing cultural legacies. One of these accounts is @archives.ivoire, a media platform archive documenting iconic Ivorian women in entertainment. The account is run by Marie-Hélène Tusiama, a researcher, documentation consultant and social media strategist with a multidisciplinary background in international politics — African Studies, French and English literature as well as Art History. We caught up with her for a conversation about capturing the Ivorian essence through media, the power of nostalgia and dispelling whitewashed myths about beauty.

Archives Ivoire is a media platform for documenting Ivorian women in entertainment. Can you tell us what inspired you to create this account?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: I created the account back in May 2020 while I was working on my master’s thesis which was dealing with the aesthetics of subversion in Nigerian film and music. For this, I chose to analyze Nolly Babes and how they were able to counterattack some of the redemption narratives of the films. As I dug deeper into it, I realized that the concept of an archival page like theirs could be adapted for every country. I actually started Archives Ivoire as some sort of finsta, where I was trying to learn more about Ivorian women in entertainment. I wanted to focus on how they present themselves (hairstyle, fashion, makeup) while simultaneously talking about relationships and self-confidence through TV series, movies and music videos. 

Your page is doing important work in sharing archival content. Why is this important, especially during a time like this?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: The importance of these archival pages lies in representation. More specifically, it’s reflecting our need to see ourselves portrayed by ourselves. A page like this is also a space where you can analyze the past in order to envision a creative future with the legacy of the women who came before us.

Fantastic! Your page boasts an impressive 26.2K followers. You’ve managed to grow your community very quickly in a short amount of time. What do you think is responsible for this?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: In my opinion, it’s a mixture of three factors and a sprinkle from God. The first factor is that we were in the middle of the pandemic and stuck at home scrolling through Instagram content. At that time I was just posting consistently and I dedicated a lot of time to it. The second reason is that it got the attention of a lot of Ivorian influencers who shared the content to their stories. The third one was how different the content I was curating from other pages that related to the entertainment industry.

What period of the Ivorian entertainment industry does your documentation capture? What does it symbolize?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: In terms of movies, TV shows and music videos, my documentation essentially captures the early Y2K era. It’s the period that I am more familiar with since I lived in Ivory Coast from 2003 to mid-2008 and I considered it to be the second golden era of entertainment in television, as it had a very distinctive mark. It was also a troubled era in Ivory Coast due to the armed conflict. However, during this time, it was also a great display of the Ivorian essence of entertainment. We had the birth of the coupé décalé movement that symbolized the renaissance of Ivorian youth as it totally shaped a new generation’s ways of being and living.

Marie-Hélène Tusiama, Archives Ivoire founder

In your opinion, how would you describe your page’s cultural significance? Why is it important to document Ivorian women in film and music in this way?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: From my perspective, it’s a shift and a new way of reading our memories. Personally, I wasn’t able to find the same kind of content that you could find in the western world on major actresses and musicians on Ivorian women in entertainment. I wasn’t able to see stuff like what their style was like back then, what informed their style choices and even what the makeup trends were back then. Nobody was speaking about the kind of content that I was craving. I grew up watching these women — I danced and sang to their songs. I was inspired by them and for me, it was important to acknowledge that. It was important for me to highlight that right here in our own countries on the continent, we can find inspiration. We don’t have to look to western countries to be the source.

Can you speak more about how your page has been received?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: People reach out consistently to tell me about how they used to watch Ivorian films with their family and how my account gave them a glimpse of that time. They also speak to me about how they didn’t even realize how much the actresses spoke a lot about self-confidence or how stylish and elegant they were. I remember a very detailed comment from a girl about how seeing these videos and images made her realize how “whitewashed” and “western-washed” she was growing up, even though she had been raised by very Afro-militant parents. She was happy that her perception has now changed and she often finds herself thinking, “Damn! She’s mad beautiful,” while watching my content. 

How would you describe the current landscape for Ivorian women in entertainment?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: I think the previous generation of Ivorian women in entertainment are finally receiving their accolades and their stories are finally being heard through multiple in-depth interviews. The new generation of women in entertainment are everywhere and it’s beautiful to see!! They are leading talk shows, directing films, writing, acting and getting the recognition that they deserve.

Is there any other messaging, apart from being a platform that documents your culture, that you hope people take from you?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: I’ve come to the realization, through talking to people about what I do, that my ultimate goal is to make people aware of what I call the “Ivorian way”. I want people to see that they don’t only need to get inspiration from the outside but they can also look back at the legacy we have here in terms of creativity and fashion to craft a unique Ivorian style. 

And finally, you’ve collaborated with fellow artists on remakes of some of your archival material. Can we expect more collaborations or projects from Archives Ivoire soon?

Marie-Hélène Tusiama: Of course, working with OLOOH concept as well as collaborating with DJ Asna were really some of my biggest highlights of last year! They made me crave for more collaboration. So yeah, you can expect some really cool collabs bringing my vision of the “Ivorian way”.


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