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“There is also something of the Yoruba tradition, nagô, which has stayed with me”

"There's also something of the Yoruba tradition, nagô (1), that has stayed with me.

"Vodoun inspires me enormously. I think there's a lot of richness to be found in Vodoun, even if you're not a devotee.

I remember when we lived in Ivory Coast (2) and went on vacation to Benin, every Friday night my grandmother would take me to Ouidah to attend the Egungun ceremonies, because she was the high priestess of this secret society. She was the one who said the prayers. She was Iya Alaché (3). My grandmother is purely Yoruba; in fact, it was her ancestors who brought the Egungun to Benin. She comes from Oyo (4) and her parents came to settle in Ouidah. When I was little and she used to take me to these ceremonies, I didn't understand anything, but I think there's something that's stayed with me. There's something she shared with me that never left. And every time, it comes back in my work, it comes back in my way of seeing things, and I think that helps me a lot too. There's an attachment and you can feel it in my work.

I wasn't born in Benin, so it was much later that I went to my paternal family to go through the initiation stages that a newborn baby might go through. My paternal family comes from Nigeria (5). We live near Savè, more precisely in a village called Challa Ogoï (6), a few kilometers from Tchaourou. It's a family of hunters. So there's also something of the Yoruba tradition, nagô, that's stayed with me. And since I've been doing these ceremonies, all this information, all these things and me, we've become one, we're associated. In my photos, you can feel this Yoruba tradition, you can feel Ogou (7), the hunters, you can feel that. The crown, for example, is purely Yoruba. So, whether I like it or not, tradition is present in my work.

And without being a practicing artist, as someone who sees and respects tradition, as an African, it's like our passport. I couldn't talk about the Catholic religion any better than those who were born into it. But I can tell you more about my hunting tradition, the Yoruba tradition, because I was born in Africa. So it's ingrained in me. There's a saying (8) that goes: my umbilical cord was buried in Africa, so I'm in communication with the earth, I'm in communication with my ancestors. Something comes along and pushes me. I'm always going towards things related to tradition, and I like to research that and share it with the generations to come."

(1) Most of the Nagô people live in Benin.

(2) Ivory Coast is a West African country bordering Liberia and Guinea to the west, Mali and Burkina Faso to the north, and Ghana to the east.

(3) Literal translation from Yoruba: Mother of Powers.

(4) North of Ibadan, Oyo is a town in Nigeria with a majority Yoruba population, not far from the border with Benin.

(5) Nigeria is a West African country bordering Benin to the west, Niger and Chad to the north, and Cameroon to the east.

(6) Challa Ogoï is an arrondissement of the Ouesse commune in the Collines department in central Benin.

(7) Ogou (or Ogoun or Gou) is the divinity of war, hunting and iron in Yoruba tradition.

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