Saturday 26 October 2013

From the country of traditions, Zinkpe’s 'Mystery' of cultures in paintings, sculptures

By Tajudeen Sowole
The common factors among traditional African beliefs, particularly, in the spiritual context, inspire a new body of work by visiting Republic of Benin-based artist, Dominique Zinkpè, in a solo art exhibition titled Mystery, currently showing at Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Zinkpe, whose vastness is spread across painting and sculpture shares his thoughts on religion, perception and reality, noting that the similarities as shared by Africans across cultures is beyond human explanation, and could best be described as "mysterious".

One of Zinkpe’s works from Mystery exhibition

  In stylized figural paintings and wood sculptures, mostly of large sizes, the artist whose country is well-known for retaining traditional African beliefs in officialdom, displays creativity in extravagant volumes. For some of the wood works, the symbolism of Ibeji (twins) in African tradition forms a crucial part of the artist’s argument about the Mystery theme. Patterned and shaped as the title demands, but the Ibeji subject on each work is very conspicuous as the artist populates each sculpture with ere-ibeji – miniaturized pair  that casts some kind of identity on the artist’s technique.

And quite painstaking too, as small as the pairs are, they make up the eventual shapes of each work. For this category of works, something seems to be unnatural: the red coating, which removes the texture of the wood. “The red is part of the spiritual statement”, Zinkpe states through an interpreter ahead of the opening of the exhibition.

From the more friendly natural wood texture or lightly coated in grey comes a piece he titles The Door to Osogbo. Apparently a miniaturized entrance with aesthetics that blend natives and contemporary contents, the works, he explains, is a tribute to the Osogbo arts and culture. He recalls his visit to Osogbo during the era of Susanne Wenger. “What I saw was amazing”.  

 And as native religion and beliefs struggle against the rise of contemporaneity, it’s almost impossible to present the message of traditional African value the same way it was presented in the past. “The works are not in the similar beliefs of my grandfather”. Modern and contemporary situations, he admits, has thrown a new challenge to people of his generation: “For me it’s about peace across all cultures of the world”.

 The Director of Alexis Galleries, Patty Chidiac who sees Zinkpe’s country as her second home, discloses how she stumbled on the artist’s work during a “nostalgic visit” to Cotonou, two years ago. “I was amazed seeing his work”. The exhibition, Mystery, she says, is a “great achievement for me”.

And the challenges of bringing an artist from Benin Republic to Lagos, including all the other logistics needed, Chidiac explains, has been made possible with a major sponsor from Nokia West Africa (Nigeria) Limited. Other supports came from Alexis Galleries, Chocolate Royal, Cool FM Lagos, Nigeria Info, Lagos, Arra Vineyards, Homestores, Veuve Clicquot and Wazobia 95.1 FM, Lagos.

Chidiac notes that Zinkpè's “oeuvre is complex” though with wider scope such as “installations, drawings, painting, sculpture and video”. For what she describes as the artist’s “restlessness” in creativity, it take the two major medium of painting and sculpture to contain.
She argues that the artist plays around “mystical, philosophical, and cultural conundrums thrown up by the merging of Catholicism, Animism as well as traditional and contemporary culture”.

Zinkpe’s vast canvas and in the sculptural area complements his country’s rising profile in producing international artists such as fellow Benin-born artists Julien Sinzogan and activist,  Romuald Hazoume who are well known outside the country.  But the curator at Alexis Galleries, George Edozie sees Zinkpe as one of the “biggest African artists today making waves within and outside the continent”.  

The artist’s bio states that he was born in Cotonou in 1969. He lives and works in Benin and has won numerous prizes, notably at the 2002 Dakar Biennale. 

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