This week, we invite you to discover Nouvelle mythologie #9, a work by Sadikou Oukpedjo, a Togolese artist born in 1970 in Ketao.
Suzanne Vogel, in charge of publishing at the Cécile Fakhoury Gallery - Abidjan, offers us a personal reading of this work.
Silentium is the title of Sadikou Oukpedjo's second solo exhibition at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury - Abidjan, from March to May 2019. Nouvelle Mythologie #9, in the centre of the gallery, was the last of a series of homonymous paintings, with intense colours, created by the artist in his studio in Bingerville, a town located on the eastern border of Abidjan.
The work, of monumental dimensions, is part of the narrative of a new mythology that Sadikou Oukpedjo intends to make necessary in the face of the "failure of Greece", as he himself says. According to the artist, Western religions, most of which are based on a fundamental distinction between man and animal, have failed, through the representations they offer of the world and man, to make one perennial and the other joyful. They would have failed to relate the living to each other. The paintings in the exhibition depict this failure, and some of them, including the one studied here, initiate a new state of things, of the world and of human nature.
Silentium, silence. The one that Sadikou denounces in the face of the absurdities of this world. The only one possible, sometimes, in the face of human cruelty. The cowardly silence and the silence of introspection. The silence attributed to animals, inferior to human speech, inferior to logos. The silence of its figures, undoubtedly, massive and floating at the same time, as if hypnotized, spectral and spectators of themselves. To this silence, Sadikou Oukpedjo opposes a questioning. It confronts us with a choice, and therefore with our responsibility.
Sadikou Oukpedjo's embodied painting avoids all univocity, all that is self-evident. Its forms, the depth of its colors, the matter of the pigments he uses, the streaks, the stains, the lightening and shadows, the disordered symbols disturb the eye and divert the interpretation from what is expected. Beyond the simple observation, going beyond criticism, Sadikou Oukpedjo's paintings interrogate. For in the mythology to come, the question of human nature and its relation to the living will not be so quickly evacuated. The contradictions of the human being cannot, this time, be hidden under the heavy carpet of a false distinction between animality and humanity, between barbarity and civilization. The domination and exploitation of some over others cannot be done in the name of a superiority of nature anymore. To silence, Sadikou Oukpedjo opposes a question, and a refusal.
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Beyond its size, Nouvelle mythologie #9 attracts and holds attention with its colours which, while they respond in part to the nuances of the other works in the series - royal blue, yellow, red - are distinguished by the pre-eminence of pastel colours - white-grey, the colour of a shroud, pale pink, water green -, as if faded, allowing plays of transparency to occur.
The construction of the work, too, is marked by its symmetry, with two silhouettes facing each other at the left and right poles of the canvas. Both faces have their eyes closed, their heads bent, both bodies are elongated in height, their arms alongside their bodies. Yet, as in a deformed mirror, the plastic expression of these two figures is not the same. The human figure on the left is diaphanous, as if asleep. It seems to be made of air and conjures up an impression of appeasement, of lightness, whether it is appearing or disappearing. On the contrary, the silhouette on the right is solidly embedded in the canvas, asserted by strong colours, yellow, black. Her face, tormented by religious signs, this time evokes not so much rest as death, the absence of life, or at least an intranquilent silence, a heavy guilt.
From the pure man to the corrupt man, or vice versa - perhaps in the end the direction doesn't really matter. The duplicity of the meaning of the reading is part of the interest of the work, like the immense hand in the background of the canvas, which we do not know whether it calls for help or represents the human being's desire for self-destructive possession.
These two silhouettes are accompanied by a third, in the image of a pagan trinity. This triptych composition is also found in the three other monumental paintings of the series: Nouvelle mythologie #3, Nouvelle mythologie #5 and New land. The character on the left could evoke a first, pure state of birth or rebirth. Conversely, the one on the right would be the metaphor of failure, powerlessness, silence or even death. The central silhouette introduces a new play of mirrors, not vertical but horizontal. This immense and deformed figure, sheltering coloured fish in its belly-ocean, faces the reflection of the big fish stretched out over the whole length at the bottom of the canvas. Between the two, the red wire, fishing line, vector of death. By believing he dominates a species that he assumes is different by nature, man becomes the predator of himself.
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Sadikou Oukpedjo's characters, massive and floating figures at the same time, see without seeing, raise their eyes to the sky. Beseeching or cowardice? But what are they imploring up there? Nothing can save them but themselves. The sepulchral metamorphoses that are taking place before our eyes testify to this urgency to change the model. These canvases stir, worry and disturb, announcing a failure that we had perhaps refused to acknowledge.
For the awakening is violent. These three figures, in the manner of the Holy Trinity, are in fact one and the same person. Nouvelle mythologie #9, announcing New land on this path, opens the door to a new anthropological paradigm. Beyond any reduction, against any simplification, the work suggests the intimate coexistence in the human being of contradictory states, united perhaps by the only possible aspiration, that of a dignified existence. The human being is engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle with his double nature, a struggle without winners, which has become constitutive of his being, his animal part representing its fall just as well as its rise.
Between relief and frustration, Sadikou Oukpedjo's Nouvelle mythologie #9 reveals our own asperities, our eternal duplicity, and our unavoidable responsibility.