Gléhoué - Home of the earth

Group exhibition with works from Beninese artists: Tchif Tchiakpe, Marcel Kpoho, Rafiy Okefolahan and Elise Tokoudagba

“Gléhoué – Home of the earth” is the first exhibition in a new series exploring the diversity of African contemporary art. Born from the notion “African contemporary art does not exist”, this series seeks to show a glimpse of the vast diversity in contemporary art from Africa by visiting artists in various countries or regions of the continent and rather let the stories evolve from there, than working from a pre-conceived theme or narrative.  

The first stop in this artistic journey is Southern Benin, cradle of the African traditional Vodoun religion and home to other related religions with rich spiritual traditions going back to the earliest of times. Steeped in a grand ancient history full of powerful kingdoms, ferocious wars, source of great pride with many tales about glorious heroes, the amazons, incredible bravery and loyalty beyond belief.  Also home to a past full of tragedies, full of the most unbelievable cruelties and suffering, with the darkest era of slave trade at its heart. The earth of Benin has witnessed the best and the worst of mankind, encompassing all. In the exhibition we show four artists who are firmly rooted in this dual history and the religious and spiritual heritage that still breaths in every corner of Beninese society: Tchif Tchiakpe (1973), Marcel Kpoho (1988), Rafiy Okefolahan (1979) and Elise Tokoudagba (1978).

Tchif Tchiakpe (1973, Cotonou), master colorist from Fon descent is close at heart to Gléhoué (Ouidah) and its Vodoun beliefs. Internationally well-recognized for his abstract works, Tchif returns to his figurative abstract painting style in this new body of works, where he shows in one hand the duality of life, be it at a personal level or at large in society, and in the other the universality of it all. That results in a series of poetic almost mask-type portraits, beautiful and bold in their apparent simplicity. Where every line and color, every square cm seems to be exactly and consciously dosed: The opposing Les roi and Les visables, Mi Ange and Mi Ange1, but also the universal Les as de Dieu and Les as des coeurs.

Marcel Kpoho (1988, Porto Novo), emerging artist also from Fon descent but equally close to other spiritual traditions, like the Yoruba Ife religion, creates his own black universe populated by sculptures from recycled tyre slices. Kpoho’s choice to recycle the omnipresent non-biodegradable rubber tyres in African urban life, is not only a way to cycle up waste and create awareness of environmental issues, but also serves as a great metaphor for the dark, tough side of mankind which intrigues him and is part of the society he grew up in. Ranging from sculptures larger than life to wall sculptures, all have this raw, edgy, intriguing quality, confronting viewers with an almost harsh, masculine reflection of human identity.  Some of the masks presented relate to his contemporary interpretation of indigenous deities, but most are typically symbolic means for man to protect himself and elevate his soul through meditation from his dark, heavy self.

Rafiy Okefolahan (1979 Porto Novo) is a multidisciplinary artist, who started his formal training in glas painting and photography and experiments also with performance art and sculpting, but found his real expressive edge in painting. Okefolahan draws his inspiration from daily urban life around him and puts  humans at the center of his work, in all their ups and downs of their daily struggles. Giving the invisables a voice against the myth of violence and  His colorful neo-expressionist textures, made from a mixture of materials with acrylics at its base, breath a vigorous, almost palpable energy, which gives a sense of urgency to the figures he portrays. Figures obscured by heavy layers of abstraction, carrying hints of Basquiat and Bacon, but distinctly different in his own style and expression.

Elise Tokoudagba (1978, Abomey) is an autodidact painter and sculptor who grew up working early on in the studio of her late father, being an internationally highly acknowledged painter and researcher of Voudoun imagery and her mother being a ceramic sculptor, at the very center of the old kingdoms of Dahomey and the Voudoun religion. Being firmly rooted in the local art community and this rich background of spiritual traditions, she continues the inherited lineage in her own contemporary style, amongst others with colorful sculptures in large as well as small formats made of locally produced red clay painted with car oil paint. On show is a series of colorful ceramics representing some of the numerous deities and spirits from the traditional Vodoun religion, each of them carefully arranged with the right attributes, symbols and colors, becoming new bearers of knowledge of the non-written spiritual traditions into the future.

Interview (in Dutch)

Art Route Schiedam x IDDF Around Town
Dance and music at OpenArtExchange ánd a pop-up exhibition at Eurobrouwers