Photographic Silhouettes and Human Rights in Africa: Confronting and Deterring Female Genital Mutilation in Aida Silvestri’s Unsterile Clinic

  • Kaia L. MagnusenEmail author
Part of the Arts, Research, Innovation and Society book series (ARIS)


In 2016, Eritrean artist Aida Silvestri addressed female genital mutilation (FGM) in her solo exhibition, Unsterile Clinic. Silvestri interviewed and photographed East African-born women who were forced to undergo FGM. Unsterile Clinic presented photographic silhouettes of some of these women. Silvestri sewed beads and flowers to pieces of leather whose shapes resemble stylized vulvas in order to evoke the effects of the different kinds of FGM. She affixed the leather pieces to the mouth areas of the silhouettes to visualise the silencing of the women’s voices. As children, their cries of pain and protest against the procedure went unheard and, as adult women, their shame and the taboo nature of the subject made the women reluctant to speak of it. Through Unsterile Clinic, Silvestri intends to bring greater awareness of FGM’s harmful physical and psychological effects thereby encouraging individuals to take a stand against culturally sanctioned gender-based violence. Due to international migration, FGM does not only occur in Africa but has also been reported in Europe, North America, and Australia. Despite the widespread recognition of FGM as a violation of the rights of girls and women and various laws banning FGM in multiple countries, the World Health Organization estimates that millions of girls are still at risk of being subjected to the procedure. For Silvestri, this is unacceptable and the photographic work comprising Unsterile Clinic functions as a means for her to serve as an advocate for the abused, a voice for the silenced, and an educator for the unaware.


African Women’s Protocol Aida Silvestri Female genital mutilation (FGM) Photographic Silhouettes Unsterile Clinic Women’s rights 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Texas at TylerTylerUSA

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