The “Centre Arts et de Cultures Lobozounkpa” (Cotonou) has been focusing on field initiatives since 2014, through training efforts in a country devoid of arts schools. Its aim is not to reproduce Western and academic teaching models: the Centre develops its own methods and, in particular, focuses on in situ production and dialogues with foreign resident artists. Open to the public, the Centre also features a collection of royal sceptres, the country’s traditional political and cultural symbols of authority.
This collection was compiled thanks to the support of gallery owner Robert Vallois (Paris) and the “Collectif des Antiquaires de Saint-Germain-des-Près”, which donated around 40 objects to the Centre – a particularly meaningful gesture in that France, in March 2016, refused to return Beninese works of art plundered during the colonial era and through commercial theft. The Foreign Minister argues that these unrightfully-acquired objects are now part of public collections and are therefore inalienable.
Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé considers his country’s museums are not adequately structured to receive such a rich heritage. Whatever the case, we would have liked the French State to respond more informally and launch more constructive talks on this thorny subject. France decidedly has trouble talking about its colonial past! This initiative by Robert Vallois and his friends is more than a simple act of patronage. It is a political gesture.
Cover image: Charles Placide, Grand popo Cotonou, Fête de Vodoun, 2005 © Charles Placide