If you are in Benin or plan to visit in the coming days, there is still time to discover the exhibition AGBARA WOMEN, by the Beninese photographic artist Ishola AKPO. A true ode to African female royalty, this artistic work pays homage to African women who at one time or another have led the destiny of their peoples, but whom history has passed over in silence. Open to the public at the Fondation Zinsou Museum in Ouidah since February 2020, the exhibition AGBARA WOMEN closes this Sunday, December 6.

View of the exhibition

Women of power…

Most history books and archives treat royalty as a male exclusive. The few exceptions to this rule are the praise – or the trial, depending on how you look at it – of a few famous European queens or monarchs’ wives who have made their mark on Western history. As for Black Africa, nothing!

Forgotten from written accounts, but also very often relegated to the background in the oral tradition, African queens are very little known. It is thus highly likely that names like Tassi Hangbé, Yalla Ndaté, Yaa Asantewaa or Njinga do not evoke much to you. And yet! Essential actors of an entire period in the history of their respective kingdoms or peoples, these women deserve as much attention as their male counterparts.

Iyàmi
Photographic printing on ultra smooth cotton paper
AGBARA Women’s Series
AGBARA Women Project
2020

Through her exhibition AGBARA WOMEN, Ishola AKPO therefore proposes to redress some of this injustice and to pay tribute to these women of power. For this purpose, the photographer, who is originally a photographer, experiments here with several media to give life to creations that transmit as much as possible, the powerful aura of his women. During his 15-month residency at the Fondation Zinsou, the artist explored new horizons including collage, sculpture and tapestry, which he uses here to perfection.

A work of precise documentary research

For Ishola AKPO, it was not a question of romanticizing history or watering it down, but rather of restoring it, putting back, as much as possible, those that had been voluntarily extracted or relegated to the background, while adding its artistic touch.

Traces of a Queen IV
Collage and sewing on paper, cotton threads
Trace d’une reine series
AGBARA Women Project
2020

The photocollages presented in this exhibition are thus the results of work that began with extensive research in the archives of the Fondation Zinsou on Dahomey (formerly Benin), but also in many other historical works. The artist also draws much inspiration from the culture of the yorubas of Nigeria, where women of power are celebrated more openly. And to restore their place, he does not hesitate to replace the image of the heads of certain kings, taken from official portraits, with that of equally deserving queens. The photos are then linked by a red thread to express the common thread between the history of these queens.

The models chosen, the accessories, the colors and the impressive quality of the photos make each one of these works truer than life and allow a real immersion in the artist’s universe.

Traces of a queen I
Collage and sewing on paper, cotton threads
Trace d’une reine series
AGBARA Women Project
2020

Sober tapestries to pay homage

Contrary to the very colorful photos, photocollages and sculptures, the tapestries exhibited in AGBARA WOMEN are conceived with a disconcerting sobriety. The artist sewed messages such as “Agbara” (“power” in Yoruba) and “Sarahuni” with black thread on black backgrounds. This choice materializes, for the artist, the neglect or marginalization of women with regard to issues of power.

Who is Ishola Akpo?

Pictures (©) Kola Atcho

Ishola Akpo is an Artist Photographer and Multimedia born in 1983 in Ivory Coast, who works and lives in Benin. Often playing at the border between reality and fiction, fixed and multiple identities, his works perfectly mix modernism and African tradition.

Winner of the Visa for creation 2013 with the series Pas de flash s’il vous plaît, and the Résidence Photoquai du Quai Branly (2015) with the series Les mariées de notre époque, Ishola Akpo is one of the most promising artistic photographers of the continent.

Remember that the exhibition AGBARA WOMEN closes this Sunday, December 6, 2020. Until that date, access is free and free at the museum of the Fondation Zinsou of Ouidah.


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