Magic Picture - Gérard Quenum

What do these two acrylic-on-canvas works by Beninese artist Gérard Quenum have in common? First: a restricted colour palette (the painter favours black and white with an occasional touch of primary colour).  Second: figures that are shown as black silhouettes and are thus reduced to shadows.  Finally, one of the artist’s favoured themes: public transport, as a symbol of movement and motion.  In these two pieces painted in 2013, Gerard Quenum evokes his visits to London, with Taxi Londres, (London Taxi) but also Benin and the wider African continent, with  Taxi brousse (Bush Taxi).

Bush taxis are a typical feature of the African continent. Despite their small size, they are capable of carrying very large loads, which can often be seen teetering on their roofs.  Gérard Quenum represents this excessive stack as a large cage containing a bird. The character outside the taxi stands in for an entire crowd, typical of the bustle of any African bus station.

Magic Picture - Samuel Fosso

Only colourful characters here ! A pirate ? A lady-of-leisure ? A lifeguard, a sailor, a rock star, an African chief ? Yet the subject is always the same: the photographer taking centre stage in his self-portraits; appearing as a transvestite or otherwise attired, embodying various satirical and archetypal characters. These ten photographs form the  TATI series, created in 1997  as a commission for the fiftieth anniversary of the famous chain of cheap shops of the same name, located in the popular neighbourhood of Barbès in Paris. The TATI series - beyond the parody - has a genuine critical dimension:    Samuel Fosso uses his image and disguises to play on Western clichés and politics

A Cameroonian who lived in Bangui, the Central African Republic for many years, Samuel Fosso is constantly creating, always in the genre at which he excels: the self-portrait.

Magic Picture - Bruce Clarke

Let us now move on to discover two pieces on the theme of boxing:  L’impensable (the Unthinkable; 2005) and The Game Begins (2011). Come closer and you can revel in Bruce Clarke’s unique technique.  A British artist of South African origin, he mixes painting and collages, words and images, and makes full use of overlay and transparency effects.  An artist-activist, Bruce Clarke tells us about a sport whose history is intimately linked to that of the struggle for civil rights.  In the US, boxing matches between whites and blacks were forbidden. Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, was not allowed to defend his title.  The battle for the recognition of his status can be viewed as foreshadowing the quest for equality between black and white populations. After he finally won the right to defend his title, the news of his victory was followed by racist attacks across the country. In the second half of the twentieth century boxing sometimes became one of the only ways to climb the social ladder. Bruce Clarke uses boxing as a metaphor for contemporary social struggles.

Magic Picture - Frédéric Bruly Bouabré

You are looking at La légende de Bekora (The legend of Bekora), a series of 12 small drawings by Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, an artist from Côte d’Ivoire who died in 2014. Up close, you can see that the pictures combine both drawing and writing, and are made using pencil, pastel and ink on cardboard.

This series tells the story of a hunter named Bekora who, during a hunting party, met Gbli, a boa whose life he saved.  In recognition, Gbli offered to give him whatever his heart desired.  Bekora requested immortality.  Gbli then showed him a talisman-plant and described the ritual practice that came with it.  When he returned to his village, Bekora told his wife the whole story and asked her to perform the ritual while he slept as per the snake’s instructions.  A few hours later the woman discovered pebbles where her husband had been,  hence the proverb:  "He who seeks immortality turns to stone."

The twelve drawings depicting this legend, when compiled alongside thousands of others made by Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, form an oeuvre entitled "Connaissance du monde" (Knowledge of the world), an encyclopaedic undertaking with a universal vocation, which the artist worked on for nearly half a century.

Magic Picture - Cyprien Tokoudagba

Let's discover Cyprien Tokoudagba!  His work is closely linked to the cultural and religious history of the Kingdom of Dahomey. What do you see ? A buffalo ? A fruit ? Yes, but they’re more than that.  Cyprien Tokoudagba, a Beninese artist who died in 2012, attached great importance to the transmission of beliefs and history, which is why, in his acrylic paintings, he chose to depict the emblems of the kings of Dahomey. The buffalo, made in 2005, is the emblem of King Guézo. A powerful animal, it embodies the statement that nothing will stop the king in the implementation of his program. Below the buffalo you can see a mortar, which is the symbol of the city of Abomey, the kingdom's capital city.  As for the fruit, painted in 2006, it is the emblem of King Agonglo. In the local language, the Palmyra fruit is named Agon.  The symbol refers to the following saying: "Lightning may strike the palm tree, but the Palmyra palm, despite its large size, escapes."  This is a direct allusion to the king's ability to avoid trouble and overcome the difficulties of his reign.

Magic Picture - George Lilanga

George Lilanga is a Tanzanian artist who died in 2005.  His paintings, structured in flat planes of bright colour, depict the great myths of his native culture, that of the Makonde, a Bantu-speaking population living mainly in south-east Tanzania and north of Mozambique.  He reinterprets these myths through these four panels painted with acrylics in 1998, showing a chaotic and teeming world of half-human, half-fantasy creatures. The apparent freedom prevailing in these paintings, however, is based on a rigorous construction where forms are defined by a black outline.

Magic Picture - Omar Victor Diop

Welcome to Le studio des vanités,  (The Studio of Vanities). These three photographs, taken in 2011 are part of one of the first series taken by Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop.  You can identify the codes of studio portrait photography – a studied pose, with particular attention to the costumes and accessories, as well as to the backdrop -, reinterpreted with modern pop aesthetics and revealing Omar Victor Diop’s interest not only in photography, but also in design and costume. Through these posed portraits of cultural actors in African cities, it is, in fact, the portrait of a generation that he offers: a generation that works to make modern Africa the crucible of contemporary creation.

Magic Picture - Soly Cissé

These three works by Senegalese artist Soly Cissé form a series entitled Bestiaire (Bestiary), in pastel and acrylic paint on paper produced in 2009.  It features mysterious and disturbing characters with imprecise forms.  In a non-geometric composition, Soly Cissé superimposes a world turned towards modernity (represented by the numbers and bar codes scattered throughout his works) over a more mysterious world, that of the animal kingdom. By populating his creations with hybrid creatures, the artist questions the human condition in a changing society.

Magic Picture - Romuald Hazoumè

Look closely at these two paintings by Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé.   Where do these colours and roughness on the canvas come from?  The artist uses natural pigments such as earth or cow dung...  And all these signs ? Squares, circles, dots, spirals, waves, arrows: what do they mean ? Romuald Hazoumè incorporates in these two paintings - Lete-meji painted in 1993 and La reine painted in 2006 - certain signs of the Fa, a Yoruba science of divination. Reflecting the worldview of the Yoruba, each symbol is a whole universe in itself.  Romuald Hazoumé uses this universe as a cultural anchor, from which he articulates questions about himself, about the future of Africa, or about the changing world. The artist identifies with this culture, describing himself as an "Are", a traveling artist who spreads the Yoruba tradition on his journeys.

Magic Picture - J.D.’Okhai Ojeikere

You are now in front of three photographs belonging to the Hair style series of Nigerian photographer J.D.'Okhai Ojeikere. The artist, acknowledging the essential role of photography in the preservation of his culture, took over a thousand pictures of the hairstyles of Nigerian women for the creation of this series, from 1968 to 1999. J.D.'Okhai Ojeikere thus compiled a memory bank of an immense variety of hairstyles, recognizing both their aesthetic and documentary value.  Indeed, in Africa, a hairstyle is not a mere embellishment.  It also reveals the social position of the woman who wears it, and it is associated with different life events. The women most often pose with their backs to the camera, thus remaining anonymous, rarely showing themselves in profile or face-on. The framing focuses on the hair, thus exalting its sculptural aspect.

The Hair style series is the most celebrated amongst the personal works that J.D.'Okhai Ojeikere produced alongside his professional work as a studio portrait photographer.  For the artist, who died in 2014, this was a collective work: a photographer's eye joining with the talented hands of the hairdresser, and also the choice of the client whose hair had been styled.


Wakpon is a Fondation Zinsou Application, with the support of Christian Langlois-Meurinne and the IDI