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‘Contemporary Benin’ exhibit highlights the brilliance of the West African art scene

By Florence Richard
Posted on Friday, 16 April 2021 21:11

Painter Dominique Zinkpé’s work has gained international recognition and will be presented at the “Contemporary Benin” exhibition. Donwahi Gallery

Idelphonse Affogbolo, the Beninese businessman behind the Contemporary Benin travelling exhibition, has set himself the mission of “participating in the circulation and visibility of contemporary art in Africa.”

Some 150 works of contemporary art – paintings, sculptures, photographs and ceramics – by 14 artists, all from Benin, will be on display for one month in Abidjan, at the Amani Gallery and the Donwahi Foundation. They will then leave for an exhibition in Cotonou in September and Dakar in December.

Among these artists is the great Dominique Zinkpé, whose career really took off 20 years ago in Côte d’Ivoire after receiving a prize for young African talent. Since then, his works, which consist of many large paintings with bright colours and movements often inspired by the nocturnal ceremonies of animist culture, have toured the world and gained international recognition.

However, after having exhibited extensively in European galleries, he is now very happy to have his work recognised in West Africa: “It’s a form of legitimacy and honour, even if the African market is not yet a big one.”

More than 80% of the works have already found buyers

However, a sign of the exhibitition’s popularity is the fact that more than 80% of the works in Contemporary Benin found buyers before the exhibition even began, thanks to the online catalogue. This is the case for all of the works by the 33-year-old ceramist King Houndekpinkou, who was born in France to Beninese parents.

Houndekpinkou is very enthusiastic about the fact that his very complex creations – made from a mixture of clays found in Benin and Japan, where he travels every year – are extremely popular among Ivorian buyers, seasoned collectors and new enthusiasts.

Better still, “this exhibition gives us the opportunity to meet these new buyers and discuss with them the message we wish to convey through our artworks,” he says.

Bringing together Africa’s best artworks on our soil

Through Contemporary Benin, which in the coming years will feature new works by artists from Côte d’Ivoire and Dakar, Affogbolo hopes to obtain support from African countries and their public decision-makers “in setting up funds to acquire works […] in order to bring together our artists’ best artworks on African soil.”

For this great art lover and collector, it is no longer just a question of showing his works throughout Africa “but also of preserving traces of them.”  His wish is also to introduce contemporary African art to young people in schools and to “teach them how to look at African art”, which he considers to be “a great breath of fresh air.”

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