Saturday 10 January 2015

Abroad, Gbré's pictures bring architectural ruins alive

By Tajudeen Sowole
 From the ruins of architectures, Ivorian photographer Francois-Xavier Gbré distils memory of modern man's inability to enhance the environment with sustainable monuments.

The modern ruins, captured by the roaming lens of Gbré's camera, are not in any way compared to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but the depth of the resplendent imaging confirms the strength of photography in architecture documentation. A body of work from the images - shot in Bamako, Mali; Itiberias, Israel, Lome, Togo and Porto-Novo, Benin Republic - is currently showing as Abroad at Art Twenty One, Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. It ends tomorrow. Abidjan-based Gbré is showing Abroad under the collaboration of
Art Twenty One and Galerie Cecile Fakhoury.

Disused State House, Lome, Togo showing as part of Abroad at Art Twenty One, at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

On the left side of the exhibition space are images of victims of the computer age in the unkept, old analogue printing press machines captured at National Press building, Porto-Novo. Parts of the images include waiting room and car garage with a 1980s Renault. As much as the photographer's capture of the images tells a story of so many things, the car garage also exposes the depth of poor preservation culture of the people. "The building is over a century old," Gbré tells me ahead of the opening of the exhibition as the works were being mounted on the expansive walls at Art Twenty One.

Clearly, these images tell a story of parts of the Benin Republic's history, in architecture, that dates back to German rule over the West African country, which is being lost to non-preservation. 

Elsewhere in Lome, Togo, the story is different; culture of preservation exists in an old government house said to have been functional during the reign of one of Africa's notorious dictators, Gnasingbe Eyadema. Also built by the Germans, perhaps over 100 years ago, the building, even in its state of non-functional state house, is properly kept. In fact, recent historical contents include parts of the walls that show relics such as bullet holes that brings back the memory of military combats for the control of the country.

However, it's not exactly clear if the photography of the palace seen from Gbre's lens would not be the only reference left of the old Togolese state house. The edifice is perhaps not standing today with those bullets-riddled walls and architecture features of its colonial builders. The photographer discloses, "I was asked to come and photograph the building two years ago before renovation started."

At Art Twenty One, the star of Gbré's Abroad is a space or site-specific picture of a disused Olympic size swimming pool at Modibo Keita Stadium, in Bamako, Mali. The presentation of the work creates an installation illusion as the picture is cut out and pasted on the wall, deep inside an inner space of the exhibition hall.  Quite an incendiary curatorial presentation, the picture physically lifts the swimming pool from Mali onto the Lagos space. The installation style presentation, Gbré's explains, "reflects the looming effect of the place as it was when I photographed it."

On the invitation of a friend to Israel, five years ago, he came across quite a number of disused buildings, some of which he features in Abroad. His roaming lenses did not spare similar buildings in Paris, France.

Caline Chagoury, curator at Art Twenty One notes that Gbre's work balances "his gaze between the micro and the macro," as he "captures the minute details of the architecture, with its rusted ladders, eroded concrete, and faded signs."

Gbré graduated in photography at the École Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques in Montpellier, France. After working as a fashion photographer, his practice evolved to focus on exploring African stories through portraiture and urban design. His work has been included in major international exhibitions such as New Africa (Casablanca, Morocco), We Face Forward (Manchester, UK), the Visual Arts Festival of Abidjan (Ivory Coast), and the 8th and 9th Bamako Encounters - African Photography Biennial (Bamako, Mali).  

In 2010, his work was nominated for the Danny Wilson Award at the Brighton Photo Biennial and was awarded Second Prize at the Tarifa PHOTOAFRICA competition.

Last year, Gbre was invited to Lagos to document the stretch of the Kuramo Beach and the ongoing Eko Hotel and Suites project. He has a few photographs of Lagos still in the works, that “are too late to meet the Abroad show."

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