The Presidency of the Republic of Benin announces the setting up of an exceptional exhibition, an unusual occasion that will be held from February 19 to May 22, 2022 at the Palais de la Marina under the theme « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin ».
This public diptych exhibition is a double opportunity to focus both on the ancient art of Benin recently returned by the Musée du Quai Branly, and on the contemporary art of the country and its diaspora. A way for the Beninese state to discover the major and emerging artists of the country through a scenographic path of more than 2,000 m2 at the Presidency of the Republic of Benin.
This diachronic methodology, ranging from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century, proposes a mix between the works. The exhibition « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin » makes available this artistic heritage and at the same time reveals its position as a pole of creation and creative dissemination of the African continent.
The exhibition « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin » will bring together 34 contemporary artists such as Georges Adéagbo, Laeila Adjovi, Euloge Ahanhanzo-Glèlè, Eliane Aïsso, Ishola Akpo, Edwige Aplogan, Youss Atacora, François Aziangué, Moufouli Bello, Sébastien Boko, Charly d’Almeida, Emo de Medeiros, Épaphras Dègnon Toïhen, Sènami Donoumassou, Kifouli Dossou, Ludovic Fadaïro, Dimitri Fagbohoun, Meschac Gaba, Dominique Gnonnou « Kouas », Romuald Hazoumè, King Houndekpinkou, Nobel Koty, Éric Mededa, Louis Oké Agbo, Thierry Oussou, Yves Apollinaire Pèdé, Gérard Quenum, Rémy Samuz, Julien Sinzogan, Tchif, Cyprien Tokoudagba, Nathanaël Vodouhè, Ponce Zannou, Dominique Zinkpè and more than a hundred works, conveying all the inventive imperiousness of the Beninese scene through a variety of mediums and techniques such as painting, sculpture, installations, video, drawing, digital art and even performances. .. The Royal Treasures of Dahomey will also be presented to the public after 129 years of exile.
From colonization to restitution
On November 17, 1892, French General Alfred Amédée Dodds entered Abomey, capital of the Danxomè kingdom, after two years of fighting. The French soldiers looted the palaces and the city. Dodds and his soldiers retained important royal goods and took them back to France. In the period that followed, France coordinated a pioneer region that it operated under the name Colonie du Dahomey et dépendances.
At the time of decolonization in the 1960s, many nations requested the arrival of goods taken during the colonial period. For some time, these appeals will remain without end.
It was not until 2016 that France conceded that the Beninese government’s request was genuine, despite the fact that restitution remained legally unthinkable under French patrimonial law.
In November 2017, the French President affirmed in his speech at the University of Ouagadougou the French availability to participate in restitutions. The cycle finally began, and on December 24, 2020, the law relating to the restitution of 26 cultural assets to Benin was enacted in France, in defiance of the guideline of the inescapability of French public collections.
On November 9, 2021, the manifestation of the effective exchange of ownership of 26 properties to the Republic of Benin by the French Republic was ratified at the Elysee Palace under the eyes of the leaders of both nations. The next day, the 26 royal treasures of Abomey arrived in Cotonou and were received at the Palais de la Marina and will be presented in the exhibition « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin ».
Contemporary art of Benin under 3 themes
In correspondence with the vision of making discover the 26 restituted works, it was also planned the possibility to bring the population to find the contemporary imaginative creation in Benin and its diaspora by a variety of forms and style.
This exhibition will present the creators, with multiple backgrounds and profiles, self-taught or former students of art schools who express through their works their particular vision of contemporary Benin, supported by the sap of custom and a desire to reinvest the heritage and legacy, in a language of consistent restoration.
This exhibition « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin » reflects the imaginative responsibility and questions that animate Beninese artists and that they reverberate in their creations, through different mediums. It proposes an immersion in the overflowing universes and deciphers the essence and the power of the creative imagination of Benin.
While wanting to be educational, it opens to the Beninese public a universe still and always considered as elitist and hermetic. The solid reflections which result from it relate to the bonds: those which one weaves with the others, the transmission of information and feelings, the manufacture of strong intermediaries.
The selection of artists that make up each of the three parts of the exhibition is as much about the subjects created, the materials used and the different mediums.
It is a challenge to study the imaginative cartography within the framework of a sustainable development, without trying to freeze it or to distort it and without practically seeking exhaustiveness.
recurrence / variation
The subjects addressed concern the sacred, the celestial. History, the elusive heritage, the gods and their cosmogony are generally sources of motivation and fields of investigation for these artists.
How to say and make perceptible the unperceivable? Cyprien Tokoudagba, Yves Pèdé, Ludovic Fadaïro and Dominique Kouas appear here as guides and watchmen who hold the keys to a universe of fanciful figures, initiatory signs and idyllic images where divine beings, goddesses, lords and sovereigns of yesteryear proliferate.
As far as Epaphras Toïhen is concerned, he clings to this heritage and installs a commemorative span between a universe of the living and an obsolete kingdom, populated by the mumblings of a neglected rule that Euloge Ahanhanzo-Glèlè enjoys reviving.
This sequence of the exhibition « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin » proposes a set of works that study, in a back-and-forth between the past and the present, the authentic figures, spirits and ancestors that mark our memories and sustain our imaginations.
The artists give body and life to the fantasies and legends by giving them a materiality and by engraving them in a fidelity. The representation of the woman, in its amplified attributions, is one of its lines of force.
Under the tools of Dominique Zinkpè, Ishola Akpo, Laeila Adjovi, Remy Samuz, the ladies are thus champions, princesses, sovereigns, ladies of power, holy messengers and goddesses. The place that the artists give them is that of transmitters of memory and history.
The woman becomes here the link between the past, the present and the future. This honorable and idolized vision introduces her in a position indissociable from that of Legba, with the mission, not only to work for our advantage method of powerful intervention towards the predecessors and the divine beings, but also to add to better re-acculturate our reality.
transgression / hybridization
Contemplation is at the heart of this passage from the exhibition « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin ». The questions that the artists who form it ask themselves are of the existential order. There is in these questionings, concerns on the possible fate of the Man and on its projections towards better skies, on the hybridization of which it is the object and its character course which cannot function without offense.
Our identity is generally in the process of development. It takes hold of the components by the framework in which we live, but on the other hand, it is advanced by the commitments of our past, our different narratives, the fantasies and the legends that have formed our reality.
The divine beings, old or new, the cyborg characters of Gerard Quenum, the Afro-Advanced robots of Emo de Medeiros, or the vaporous shadows of Senami Donoumassou give the proportion of the Man that we are becoming. A hybrid that is shared between the human, the machine and the divine.
Discovering the arts of Benin
The exhibition « Art du Bénin d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, de la restitution à la révélation : trésors royaux et art contemporain du Bénin » is open to the public from Sunday, February 20 to Sunday, May 22, 2022, with online reservations only.
Some devices such as conferences, projections, mediation actions will also be proposed to the public in order to restore the heritage and better advance the contemporary Beninese creation in the world.