sabato 14 maggio 2011


"I am Cyprien Tokoudagba, an artist from Benin. I am 58 years old. I used to say that I was born in 1954, but to tell the truth I was born in 1939. I had to lie about my age to be accepted by the public service.

I started to work as a restorer for the Abomey Museum in 1987.
I started my work as an artist about 35 years ago. I started molding clay and later on started to work with cement and sand. This was due to my determination. My father, Toha, was a weaver.
I was also born with talent for art. At school I used to draw passionately and my teachers often praised my work.
To be able to do with your hands everything you wish is a great gift. When I was in my teens I already earned some money selling paintings.

My grandfathers grandfather moved from Mono, an area near the border with Togo to Adja-Tado. He was a great warrior. This is why king Uegbadjž let his family move to Abomey and made him his prime minister. The father of my grandfather, Adedji, was prime minister of king Ghezo. My grandfather was prime minister of king Glelé. After the death of the king, his son and successor, king Behanzin, kept him in the same post and gave him our family name: Tokoudagba.
When I was young I asked my father to send me to a kind of temple. In other words, I was sent to a voodoo priest, an initiation master. This initiation lasted six months, a period in which you cannot leave the priest. Once there, there is no going back. It was hard because there are rules, laws and a severe discipline to be followed.

The secrets that are passed to us can never be revealed. We must resist all attempts.
It is an initiation. We learn how to make magic, to use the force of words, to make formulas work and the secrets of the plants. It is the quality of his knowledge that gives strength to the sorcerer.
These secrets can only be revealed when we ourselves become sorcerers and we are asked to initiate someone. Everything has to be memorized and we have to be able to transmit everything to the initiate. Today I am just a student. In two years I will surely be a great initiate.
In voodoo each family of initiates pray to one or more gods. In the time of the slaves each one of us used to travel accompanied by his respective voodoo gods. They were the only ones able to transmit strength to them.
In 1989 I left Benin for the first time. This was due to the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, in Paris. It was the first time my art was shown abroad.


To have the chance to show our culture abroad was an important event for me. For many weeks I was in contact with artists from the whole world.

For me art is something that emerges from my inner self. Art is the representation of thoughts and knowledge.
It is an elevated sphere, a castle for philosophers. An artist value is much too great to be explained."

Art is inside my head

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Tokoudagba si occupa di diverse attività che spaziano alla pittura murale, su tela agli affreschi e alle sculture monumentali.
Inizia la sua attività come restauratore al palazzo del re Glelé e al museo nazionale di Abomey. E in contatto con le ricche tradizioni artistiche e culturali del Bénin. Lavora tra l’altro alla decorazione di numerosi edifici vodou e a più elaborate pitture murali rappresentanti i simboli di potenze politiche o religiose. Dal 1989 realizza grandi pitture su tela sulle quali combina con grande libertà gli emblemi dei re di Abomey, i simboli delle divinità (Terra, Fuoco, Acqua, Aria) e di oggetti legati alla sua cultura.
Le combinazioni delle figure, degli oggetti e dei simboli danno ai suoi quadri l’aspetto di rebus curiosi.


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