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"I don't take the camera directly. No.I feed myself first”

All my work is based on preliminary research. First, I document myself, then go out and meet history. I use history as a starting point for my work. It's a very important step. It's the basis of my work, and it's exciting for me because unfortunately I wasn't lucky enough to have a family library. In fact, the artistic work I do today is no accident!

No, I don't pick up the camera straight away. I feed myself first, and when I feed myself, I go into a trance. When I read, when people tell me stories, I go into a trance. At times like that, images pop into my head, and that drives me to immortalize them, to fix them with the camera. It's like an initiate going to a convent. First there's the initiation stage, a kind of training he or she has received in the convent, then he or she puts it on the public square, and the divinity takes shape in him or her, he or she is no longer in himself or herself. And it's the same thing when I go to do my research, then I move on to the photography stage, and it's trance that drives me at that point.

So there are always several stages in my work: research, reflection and realization.

There are books that inspired me at the very start of the project, such as José Edouardo Agualusa's (1) La reine Ginga et comment les africains ont inventé le monde (2). I was in residence in Belgium, and hadn't even come up with the idea for the "AGBARA Women" project, when my friend Estelle Lecaille (3) told me about it. I hadn't finished reading it, when I saw that another book had been published, with a preface by Françoise Vergès: Njinga, Histoire d'une reine africaine (1582-1663)(4) and I said to myself "but the history of queens is chasing me! These books gave me a lot of material for my project. I highlighted the parts that interested me and then tore up the books, making collages and works of art out of them. There's also Ecrire l'Afrique-Monde (5), from which I drew inspiration. Furthermoremore, I was inspired by images, traditional Yoruba music, paintings, videos and so on.

When I started this work, I also drew a lot of inspiration from 17th and 18th century paintings in the Louvre Museum (6), for example. It's my instinct as a painter that leads me to research painting. For example, I looked at works such as Pierrot by Antoine Watteau (7), Marie-Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (8) and Portrait d'une femme noire by Marie-Guillemine Benoist (9). In these works, the subject is present. It's on a very sober background, sometimes plain, and we communicate directly with the subject. I wanted to move towards something like this.

I also did my research in the Dahomey archives made available by the Fondation Zinsou, which included drawings, caricatures and so on."

(1) José Edouardo Agualusa is a writer and journalist born in Angola in 1960.

(2) GUALUSA José Edouardo, La Reine Ginga et comment les Africains ont inventé le monde, Collection Bibliothèque portugaise, Editions A.m. Metailie, 2017, 240p.

(3) Born in 1976, Estelle Lecaille is an art historian. In 2006, she founded the Mòsso collaborative platform in Brussels, which supports artistic projects from countries in the South.

(4) HEYWOOD Linda, Njinga, Histoire d'une reine africaine (1582-1663), Editions La découverte, 2018

(5) Collectif, Ecrire l'Afrique-Monde, Collection Les Ateliers De La Pensée, Editions Philippe Rey, 2017, 397p.

(6) Since 1793, the Louvre has been housed in a former royal palace in Paris. The 35,000 works on display in 60,600 m2 of exhibition space were produced from Antiquity to 1848 in Western Europe, Iran, Greece, Egypt and the Near East. The museum comprises eight departments: Oriental Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Arts, Sculptures, Works of Art, Paintings, Graphic Arts.

(7) Antoine Watteau was a French painter born in 1684 and died in 1721, best known for his depictions of fêtes galantes.

(8) Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, born in 1755 and died in 1842, was a French painter renowned for her portraits.

(9) Marie-Guillemine Benoist, born 1768, died 1826, was a French neoclassical painter.

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