Claire Griffiths, “Imaging the Present: An Iconography of Slavery in Contemporary African Art” in Nicola Frith & Kate Hodgson, At the Limits of Memory: Legacies of Slavery in the Francophone World, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2015→
Simon Njami (ed.), The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt ; National Museum of African Art – Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 2014-2015
“HERstory” – Des Archives Féministes (Feminist Archives), Maison des Arts de Malakoff, Paris, 2017→
Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt ; National Museum of African Art – Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 2014-2015
The work of Pélagie Gbaguidi (lives and works in Brussels, Belgium) raises the question of writing, which lies at the heart of a protean artistic practice that incorporates painting, drawing, performance, and installation. The artist fills the pages of countless notebooks with written entries about her readings, encounters, current news, and emotions and, in doing so, develops a visual language which later spills out onto the various media she uses in her exhibitions – from the notebooks to the walls, display tables, sheets, canvases and suspended rolls of paper. P. Gbaguidi fills up spaces with her powerful and sensitive writing and a visual reflection driven by great freedom in style and tone.
The work is motivated by poetry and politics, leading the artist to share stories, experiences, myths, poetry, and points of view. As such, it falls in line with the griot tradition. In many African countries, griots are the depositaries of oral heritage, and therefore of a great responsibility: they are tasked with ensuring that stories, events, traditions, and legends live on from one generation to the next. Griots are nomadic figures who pass on narratives, iconography, metaphors, songs, music, and poetry. P. Gbaguidi is a griot artist who is not afraid to delve into the past and to merge it with the present and future. In 2004, she began working on a painting and drawing project based on the 1685 Code Noir (Black Code), from which she excerpted all the violence and visible, or invisible, trauma. This remarkable and essential memorial work led to the acquisition of 100 of her drawings by the Mémorial ACTe centre in Guadeloupe. In 2017, the artist created a large-scale installation for documenta 14 in Kassel and Athens featuring rolls of white paper hung from the ceiling, school furniture, old toys, and archival documents. The paper was partially covered in drawings made with coloured pencils, earth, and lipstick, which the artist used to put into perspective the subjects of slavery, Nazism, and Apartheid, and to ask a series of questions: who wrote the so-called “official” version of history? From whose point of view? For whom? How is this history taught?
At the heart of her writing, the body – her body – appears as the receptacle for stories, of which the works are by-products. Through painting and drawing, the artist imagines bodies freed from gender, race, and class norms and other categories that divide people. P. Gbaguidi creates a free, anti-authoritarian, anti-academic, and poetic depiction of humanity, which she examines from the inside out. By addressing issues like education, history (colonial and postcolonial), migrations, identities, power dynamics, and all sorts of violence, the artist reflects on humanity’s place in a shared history, in the multiple realities that it generates in the present, and in the living world in all its plurality, freed from oppression or domination. Her work can be understood as a flow of energies that runs through bodies, time, and space to unite, treat, and heal wounds, divisions, insensitivities, and impermeabilities.
© 2018, Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions