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Two years later


When it comes to artistic movements, the concept of spontaneous generation is far less common than you might think. At the outset, we need artists who try things out, open gaps, establish schools and sometimes even disappear, only to be discovered several years later. These artists, models or counter-examples, are very often honoured at the end of their artistic career, or sometimes even later, after their death. This is as true in the world of comics as it is elsewhere.


But thanks to the Fondation Zinsou and the 2013 exhibition, this was not the case in Damien Hector Sonon's native Benin.


His career began in 1987, at La gazette du golfe, the country's first independent private newspaper, during the military dictatorship, before the national sovereign conference, at a time of censorship and pressure. Hector has remained faithful to his work as a cartoonist for almost thirty years, in a different context, for several media outlets and in the midst of a certain disillusionment that the country has experienced in recent years. Hector has also been illustrating children's books since the 90s, with the creation of the first independent publishing houses. This was particularly the case with Ruisseaux d'Afrique, the first West African publisher to specialize in children's books, for which he illustrated Abalo a le palu, Le caméléon de Codjo, Une cargaison d'enfants and several coloring books. But comics have always been his passion, right from the start. From his first album, self-published in 1989, Zinsou et Sagbo, a series of one- or two-page gags recounting the hilarious adventures of two brothers who, like their author, are twins, to Toubab or not toubab, published by Casterman in France in 2012. As the first author to publish a comic strip in his own country, and the first Beninese to publish in Europe, he has come (temporarily!) full circle. But comics can also be enjoyed in groups, as is the case in Benin, where comic book authors have come together in an association, Bénin-dessin, born from the rubble of AILE-Bénin, an association of illustrators for young people created in the 90s, of which he was president. Since its creation, Bénin-dessin has organized a comic strip festival, exhibitions, a cartoon collection and a series of nine mini albums published by Star éditions.

As I write this text today, looking back over the two years since the exhibition, I realize that it's not just the career of a talented comic book artist that the Fondation Zinsou wanted to honor. Indeed, independence of the press, editorial freedom, the right to form associations - all these aspects of Sonon's career are also hallmarks of a country that is discovering democracy. So, without going overboard, we can also say that, through the 25 years of artistic production covered by the exhibition, we have discovered something of the history of this country.


It's like a reminder of what our elders had to go through and endure to create the Benin of today, a country that may be imperfect, but where young people are no longer asked to walk in the same footsteps.


As if to remind us that in times of great despair, there were also men, artists who rose up with their courage, determination and talent as their only weapons. And Hector was one of them.


Christophe Cassiau-Haurie

Specialist in comics in Africa and publishing director at l'Harmattan BD

(excerpt from the Fondation Zinsou's 10th anniversary book)

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