West African artist exhibit at the October Gallery in London

Julien_Si_artOctober Gallery in London presents Spirit Worlds, a bold new series of works by West African artist, Julien Sinzogan, in his first United Kingdom solo show.  The exhibition which opened at the gallery in latter September will be on display until the 6th of November.   The Sinzogan exhibit explores the theme of the Trans-Atlantic slavery and the spiritual return of long-lost African souls to their homeland.  It has attracted artists and art enthusiasts of different races from all over London and beyond.

Originally trained as an architect, Sinzogan creates an emotive atmosphere that takes viewers back in time to the horrors of the slave trade in his Spirit Worlds exhibit. His creation makes a bold statement on spirituality and the indestructibility of the African soul. Sinzogan use of painted pen-and-ink displays the astonishing, technical sophistication of a master draughtsman. His work is about the transmigration of African ‘soul’ – the persistence of her dreams, visions, ideas and unique cultural identities - across the Atlantic to the New World beyond.  It is also about the return of the spirits of slaves to the African shores.

To understand Sinzogan’s work, you must know a little about the ideas of West African groups such as the Yoruba and Fon peoples of Nigeria and Benin. In “vodoun” – one of the chief indigenous religions of Benin, it is understood that there exists a permanent link between the physical world and the invisible world of the spirit ancestors.  To appreciate Sinzogan’s work, you must understand its interpretation that spiritual ‘ancestors’ look out over the physical world.

JS2Many of his works combine the interlocking realities of these different realms. One exhibit is  of a large monochromatic phantom ships sailing  towards African shores, loaded with spirits returning from the Caribbean that intersect with another layer of reality inhabited by a living flock of birds, picked out as negative white silhouettes as they fly in front of the colorful sails of the spirits’ family crests. Another tableau depicts the floating world of the Egungun spirits, who find their naked bodies redrawn in the distinctive, symbolic, tribal patterns that mark them out as belonging to particular families as they soar above the world of men.

Sinzogan’s vision, like these complex interpenetrating portraits, is both subtle and extensive, and the totality takes time to piece together. The result, however, even given his uncompromising regard for the grim realities of those darkest times of history, is both affirmative and - somehow – incredibly uplifting.

For more information on this exhibit, visit www.octobergallery.co.uk.

About the Artist 


Julien Sinzogan was born in the Republic of Benin, once one of the largest slave-trading ports on the West African coast.  His works often feature ships and depict the mythical return journeys that carried away the people of Benin and other areas of West Africa to be slaves in the New World. Sinzogan lives and works in Paris. After studying architecture in Tashkent and then in Paris, he now devotes his time to drawing and painting.  He often combines monochrome drawing with coloured forms which draw upon the sources of vodun and history in Benin. A special commission made for "Uncomfortable Truths: the shadow of slave trading on contemporary art and design" showed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2007 and his work featured in the Voyages exhibition at October Gallery.  Sinzogan’s fine pen and ink works refer to the ‘Gates of No Return' – the ports of the West African coast through which millions of enslaved Africans passed. By picturing these ports not as a site of loss, but as the arrival point for the homeward return of lost spirits, Sinzogan’s work offers a message of potential redemption and healing.



Photos: Bottom, by Molara Wood; Middle, by Jonathan Greet



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