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Is Abidjan so sweet? The qualifier is not necessarily the one that comes to mind about the Ivorian economic capital, teeming, constantly expanding, marked by the stigmata of the civil war of 2002-2007 and the post-electoral crisis of 2010- 2011.
But “Babi [le surnom de la ville] is soft” is indeed the expression chosen by the 193 Gallery, in the 3and arrondissement of Paris, for an exhibition highlighting life in Abidjan and contemporary Ivorian art. “It is a well-known and very popular expression [là-bas]. It is also used to signify the economic and cultural attractiveness of the city, a real crossroads in West Africa.emphasize Mary-Lou Ngwe-Secke and Roger Niyigena Karera, curators of the event.
The eight artists presented embody in their own way all the complexity of Abidjan: a certain sweetness of life, the emergence of a city with its dark sides, such as the difficult management of slums and resources for the populations, as well as the delicate preservation of nature, faced with urban development.
Amazing forest of coconut trees
Upon arrival, the visitor enters an astonishing forest of coconut palms. About ten trunks between 1.80 m and 2.40 m high, sculpted, dug, chiseled, polished, painted or varnished are arranged in front of a huge photo by Ly Lagazelle representing a coconut grove in Grand-Bassam in black and white. Jean Servais Somian has made the coconut tree one of his sculpture and design companions for the past twenty years. His “ladies”created during the Covid-19 pandemic, wish to bring a little sweetness and poetry after this troubled period.
“Each trunk guides me. Each of the pieces has its own expression. That hollowed out and beaded with small pieces of ebony is a rewriting of the African mask. Another was inspired by a Dogon scale. Two are covered in carved hibiscus flowers, which represent sweet childhood memories and the love I have for them”notes the artist.
Inspired in particular by Piet Mondrian – a trunk also takes up the colors of the Dutch painter – he is also sensitive to the works of the French architect, designer and photographer Charlotte Perriand, the Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow, the Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo or photographs of Senegalese Omar Victor Diop and Samuel Fosso, born in Cameroon.
On one of the walls adjoining the forest, you can immerse yourself in the “fragments” photographs by Ana Zulma. These images of children from Abidjan, enhanced with paint, are framed in polished and varnished coconut wood by Jean Servais Somian, suggesting small refuges.
In the basement of the gallery, a completely different universe awaits the visitor. welcome to Adjame Liberty 220, name given to the installation by the artist Painter Obou in reference to the district of 220 housing units in Adjamé, a high place of commerce in Abidjan. Two walls of the room are completely covered with small facades, some of which are colorful, typical of this working-class town in the city. This huge fresco made of cardboard symbolizes the “dismissals”, name given to the eviction operations that the local population regularly undergoes.
For its creator, native of the place and claiming his dan culture, it is a question of “talk about the violated privacy of people who live in slums, and more particularly those who live in this neighborhood”. Liberté 220 has forged the artist who, through his work, wishes to share “energy, effervescence and cultural diversity” of his city.
On the first floor of the gallery, the works of Aristide Kouamé are made from a surprising material: recut flip-flop soles. Each offering a sketch of a face carved into the mass and tied together to signify the importance of the unity of a nation made up of around sixty communities, these sandals were recovered by the artist from the beaches, after having been washed up by the ocean.
“The preservation of the planet through recycling and sustainable development is at the heart of my motivation to challenge the viewer”emphasizes the artist, who learned from his ” mentor “ Pascal Konan from Abidjan and is inspired in particular by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui and the South African visual artist Mbongeni Buthelezi.
A whirlwind of lines and colors
Pascal Konan is also present in this exhibition with a series of paintings that express his concern about the inaction of men to protect the planet. By placing a human figure at the center of his canvases, the artist wants to encourage individual action. As in the table The Manipulatorit is “questioning the manager/manager relationship in the conduct of our societies. It haunts me right now. The holders of power, I call them madmen with appearances of piety. They claim to hold destiny in their hands and to direct it as they please. They’re swarming right now.”
Finally, the works of the twin brothers Cédric Tchinan and Ezan Franck, of which Pascal Konan was also the master, often depict scenes from everyday life. The first stylizes its characters and backgrounds with a whirlwind of lines and colors. The second projects beings of spectral appearance, lost in a universe that resembles fingerprints.
“The artistic diversity and the different generations presented during this exhibition wish to highlight the richness of the Abidjan scene and the cosmopolitan identity of the city, free of its expression: painting, installation, sculpture, design, photography”conclude Mary-Lou Ngwe-Secke and Roger Niyigena Karera.
“Babi is sweet”, at the 193 Gallery, 24 rue Beranger, 75003 Paris. Until May 28. Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The violent figuration of Aboudia at Artcurial
The works of visual artist Aboudia, born in 1983 and originally from the working-class neighborhoods of Abidjan, burst with dynamism, even brutality and mystery – and are acclaimed by the art market. Three of them will thus be offered by the Artcurial house during an auction organized in Paris on May 31.
Very inspired by his city of birth, where he grew up in the districts of Abobo, Yopougon and Treichville, whose walls are adorned with numerous graffiti, the painter combines in his canvases spontaneity and representation of a world darker than it seems. In particular, it reflects the economic difficulties, the social inequalities of the city and the traumas inherited from the civil war of 2002-2007 and the battle of Abidjan in 2011.
“Mysterious and containing many details, it is often necessary to observe Aboudia’s works several times before deciphering their full meaning. The artist’s revolt in his daily urban environment echoes artists from the great American tradition such as Cy Twombly. The unrestrained use of violent figuration recalls the power of painting to show the chaos of life”emphasizes Christophe Person, director of the Contemporary African Art department at Artcurial.