Edorh, Metsoko, Oukpedjo… Paris opens to artists from Togo, Jeune Afrique

Edorh, Metsoko, Oukpedjo… Paris opens to artists from Togo

Frameless canvases, shades of raw earth, touches of indigo, animal silhouettes and vast geometric surfaces filled with tight, mysterious writing, reserved for the initiated. Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, in the center of Paris, the Christophe Person gallery is hosting the exhibition until February 10 The Earth of Kind Men by Togolese visual artist Sokey Edorh, as part of a journey dedicated to the Togolese artistic scene designed by journalist and exhibition curator Armelle Malvoisin.

“We talk a lot about Benin, which promotes its spearhead culture, and many artists from Ghana, for another border country, have an international reputation, starting with El Anatsui", explains the commissioner, who deplores that "Togo, whose history and traditions are nevertheless common, remains a culturally unknown land".

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“Even Burkina Faso has its contemporary art biennial [Biso] since 2019, and there is an energy in Ouagadougou that is not found in Lomé, she notes. However, at the turn of the 2000s, the visual artists of what was called “the Lomé school” had a reputation that Beninese artists envied. Today, it's the opposite. »

Laterite and cave paintings

The works of sokey Edorh, born in 1955 in Tsévié, Togo, inevitably brings to mind the cave paintings he was able to observe, notably in Dordogne, in Lascaux (France). The lines, the abstract signs like the pigments used evoke the search for a form of primitivism, in the noble sense of the term, that which refers to the cave works created by men, more than 40 years ago. “Laterite, this red earth from Africa which is both a construction material and a material for the manufacture of artisanal and sacred objects, will give it the possibility of renewing itself and de stand out, writes Armelle Malvoisin. He goes to look for it in abundance at Mont Agou [100 km north of Lomé], whose surrounding villages with their houses with red walls have influenced his creativity. »

The artist readily specifies that he collects laterite in different countries, during his travels, to obtain different shades. “The dust is rather orange in Ivory Coast, rather pink in Burkina Faso,” he says. Thus the lands of Africa mix on his borderless canvases. A painter of everyday life, Edorh does not hesitate to display a political discourse. Si this is sometimes obvious, as with his 2006 painting entitled The vultures, representing eight scavengers leaning over an abstract representation of Africa, it is above all in his texts that he displays his demands.

Sokey Edorh, Les Vautours, 2006. Acrylique, latérite, acrylique et indigo sur toile de coton bogolan, 217 x 160 cm. © Francois Mallet/Courtesy Galerie Christophe Person.

Sokey Edorh, Les Vautours, 2006. Acrylic, laterite, acrylic and indigo on bogolan cotton canvas, 217 x 160 cm. © Francois Mallet/Courtesy Galerie Christophe Person.

Ordinary mortals and the authorities cannot decipher the writing known as the “Dogon alphabet” that Sokey Edorh affixes in well-ordered symbolic flies’ legs on his canvases. The visual artist claims that these texts contain his poetic thought and his critiques of contemporary societies. A manual, which he claims to have written, would make it possible to decipher it. But for now, we must se just imagine what these long silent speeches say which give the canvases of Edorh the appearance of parchments.

It's my way of freeing myself from dictatorial systems that prohibit freedom of expression

Sokey Edorhartist

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“Through the mystery of its meaning, my alphabet aims to express the mystery of the incomprehension of unsaid things,” says the artist, quoted by Malvoisin. It is a means of liberation and independence from the Roman alphabet, imported into Africa by colonization, which limits the expression and genius of certain peoples living under domination. […] This is my way of freeing myself from dictatorial systems that prohibit freedom of expression. »

Profusion of artists

At the start of 2024, Sokey Edorh is not the only Togolese to present his work in the French capital. At the 193 Gallery (24 rue Béranger), Armelle Malvoisin brought together four of his contemporaries under the title Ordinary magic - in reference to the recent novel by Kossi Efoui. Until February 24, we can see the works of Yao Metsoko (born in 1965), the sculptures of Kossi Assou (born in 1958), the photos of Tessilim Adjayi (born in 1988), the objects drawn by Estelle Yomeda (born in 1975). And in Cécile Fakhoury (29 avenue Matigon), it is the painter Sadikou Oukpedjo (born in 1970) who presents with Solitary meditations its massive, sculptural characters, half-man, half-animal, as if shaped in clay and enhanced with primary colors with a rich mineral texture.

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Previously, two other galleries had offered their picture rails to Togolese artists. The Carole Kvasnevski gallery (39 rue Dautencourt) with the ghost-inhabited photographs of Hélène Amouzou (born in 1969) who “freezes the invisible, the solitude, the exile” and whose “double self, spectral, merges with the objects and decor, evanescent, en movement, blurs.” And the Vallois gallery (35 rue de Seine) with the black tarpaulins cut with a cutter or soldering iron by Koffi Mens (born in 1982).

Lack of visibility

“Alongside artists from the diaspora who have managed to break through like Sadikou Oukpejo and Atsoupé by moving to Abidjan and Paris respectively, I wanted to give more visibility to talented artists,” explains Armelle Malvoisin, as dean Sokey Edorh and Kossi Assou (classified as “Living Human Treasure of Togo”) in a country where there are neither galleries nor collectors for support this scene. The French Institute of Togo does not even have a room to exhibit visual artists and the prestigious Lomé Palace, opened with great fanfare in 2019 and which was to be a dynamic arts center, remains an empty shell without artistic programming. »

Basically, this spotlight on the Togolese artistic scene shows that the country has nothing to envy of his Beninese neighbor. Unless, undoubtedly, a Ministry of Culture, and companies and institutions more determined to promote creation Contemporary.

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This article appeared first on https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1531491/culture/edorh-metsoko-oukpedjo-paris-souvre-aux-artistes-du-togo/