“Genève-Ouidah” is a collaborative project by Laboratorio Arts Contemporains Bénin and the Musée d’ethnographie, Genève (MEG) that proposes to give sustained attention to applied historical research and artistic production. The project will reflection on colonisation in order to shed new light on the ethnographic archives, and on the specificity of Africa archives in Switzerland.
“The collections of European museums are the result of movements of populations, objects, labour forces and the transfer of iconographic representations from the former colonies to the former European metropolises,” the curators explain. “All of these movements and routes between Africa, Europe and America will be explored through the theme ‘The Geography of Denial’, a plural, concerted and shared approach to the process of decolonization. We invite artists, cultural theorists, academics and communities to take advantage of the iconographic representations conveyed by ethnographic collections in European museums. They will be invited to propose a contemporary approach, which will make it possible to decode, demystify and deconstruct the iconographic representations carried by these collections.”
The project will take place from January to May 2023 and will include in-person and online research and exchange between a group of four artists – Lolvé Tillmanns (writer) and Ivonne González (musician) from Switzerland, and Beninois slammers/poets Amagbegnon le Slameur Vodun and Sergent Markus. The Swiss-diasporan writer Max Lobé has mentoring, editorial and curatorial roles within the project.
The project began with the residency of Lolvé Tillmanns in Ouidah from 5-9 January to conduct research and engage with local artists. She presented her writing to local audiences in a multi-disciplinary performance with Beninois-French cellist Thomas Dodji and slammer Amagbegnon le Slameur Vodun.
The next phase of the project will be an epistolary writing exchange between the four artists coordinated by Max Lobé around the collection of statuettes attributed to the Beninese ceramist Yessoufou Assogba and collected by MEG in 1929. This collection is the subject of a provenance research project carried out by the collaboration agreement between Laboratorio Arts Contemporains and MEG.
Future phases of the project include the residency of Ivonne González in Ouidah from 5-25 March, followed by another period of online writing exchanges leading up to the presentation of the project by all the artists with public performances and debates in May.
Born in 1982, Lolvé Tillmanns grew up in the Swiss countryside. A specialist in the energy sector, she worked in this field for five years. In 2011 she decided to pursue literature fulltime. She has published five novels: 33, rue des Grottes, Rosa (2016 Eve Prize), Les Fils, Un amour parfait and FIT. She also won two scholarships, in 2013 to write for three months in Genoa and in 2017 for a six-month residency in Buenos Aires. She participated in the first edition of GenevAfrica, a project led by writer Max Lobé, in 2020 with the Kinshasa cultural promoter Miss M. Bangala.
A lawyer of Cuban origin, Ivonne González is also the head of the “Blacking Wikipedia” project and the operational director of the Blacking association. Alongside this Ivonne is a musician and performer and since 2018, has been director of the Black Guiris collective which carries out participatory artistic performances drawing attention to the invisibility of people of colour in artistic, education and other circles. The performances of the collective have been presented in several museums and festivals in Europe and Latin America. Ivonne gives lectures on the theme of racism for various associations across Europe. She has led the multilingual project “Noircir Wikipedia” since 2018 which creates visibility for the contributions of African and Afro-descendant people to universal online culture online. In 2021 she collaborated with the Department of Public Instruction of the City of Geneva in giving workshops against harassment linked to racism and other forms of discrimination.
Amagbegnon le slameur vodun is a slammer/spoken-word artist and performer whose works are imbued with the ethics and morals that characterise the Vodoun culture. He slams in Fon, Mina and French on Vodun percussive sounds in a spirit of openness to other world music. He is the 2013 Revelation Benin Slammer, Champion of the Slam word cup in 2015 and ranked the 2017 slammer of the year by Littéracteurs magazine. Amagbegnon is also involved in various social initiatives including HIV-prevention campaigns and activism against child marriages.
Toussaint Djaho aka Sergent Markus is a pioneer of rap and the first slammer of the 2000s generation in Benin. As an artist, lyricist, poet, journalist, communicator, press officer, audio-visual producer and former soldier, Sergent easily assumes his multifaceted status. On his 4th album “Vodun Gospel”, Sergent undertakes a quest to return to his Adja-Tado and Dahomean cultural identity through a fierce appeal to the deities of the vodun pantheon. Sergeant Markus’s style is free spirited and unrestrained, drawing from the frontiers of several very different universes.
ABOUT THE PARTNERS
Laboratorio Arts Contemporains is an intercontinental platform for the implementation of multidisciplinary cooperation projects in the field of Cultural and Creative Industries. Created in 2010, the platform has 4 sub-regional offices in Benin, Switzerland, Haiti and France and is supported by a network of institutional and technical partners (embassies, ministries, town halls, universities, artists’ collectives, grassroots communities, etc.) Since 2020, the strategic action plan has been articulated in three components: (i) a residency programme for international artists wishing to develop collaborations with artists from Africa and the Caribbean; (ii) a creative business incubator registered in the territory of Ouidah; and (iii) an international biennale based on Vodun arts and cultures. The first edition of the Ouidah Biennial, organised in August 2022, mobilised more than 16,000 visitors.
Musée d’ethnographie, Genève (MEG) houses one of the finest ethnographic collections in Switzerland. The museum organises temporary exhibitions that highlight the hidden treasures. The permanent exhibition of the MEG, “The archives of human diversity”, presents more than a thousand remarkable objects which cover several centuries of history and a hundred civilizations. The partnership agreement between Laboratorio Arts Contemporains and the Museum of Ethnography of Geneva, initiated in 2020, is articulated in two components: the financing of a research programme of provenance in connection with the objects of the collection “Dahomey” of the MEG, and support for the programme of exchange of practices between Swiss artists and those of the countries of origin of the MEG collection.