Inventer-le-monde :
l'artiste citoyen
Gérard Quénum, "Les ombres (Shadows)," 2012.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

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Gérard Quénum,
Les ombres (Shadows),
Acrylic on canvas, 4 elements,
170 x 130 cm.
Collection privée.

Born in 1971 in Porto-Novo. Lives and works in Porto-Novo, Bénin.

Gérard Quénum left school in 1988 to begin working while also training the in the studios of sculptor Emmanuel Alidote and painter Simplice Ahouansou, with whom he had his first exhibitions, beginning in the mid-1990s. In his sculptures, he only uses discarded European dolls that he blackens with fire and which he trusses together with wood and other salvaged objects. Some of his paintings also incorporate these small dolls, revealing a similar inspiration. At the end of the 1990s, Quénum’s paintings found their theme - anecdotes from urban life - and style - a deliberately schematic graphic style and a palette made up exclusively of black, white, and primary colors.

Stereotypes associated with contemporary African art are thus directly addressed in order to make them the object of a dialectical inversion. Dolls are paradoxical, closer to effigies of martyrs than vodou fetishes. Recycling denounces the relationships of domination that persist between Europe and Africa. Supposed naivety is countered by dismembered dolls and by the alcoholics, child soldiers, lynchings, and wars that are omnipresent in Quénum’s paintings. Closer to Max Beckmann than Jean Dubuffet, Quénum uses the aesthetics of art brut but questions it by introducing the movement of History.

Seriality is an integrative part of this critical approach: the repetition of urban scenes responds to the multiplication of images depicting current events; the systemic use of dolls responds to the incessant violence inflicted on children. Far from rendering these issues banal, Quénum imbues these objects and scorned lives with dignity. This use of seriality has a particular force with the series, Ombres (2012). In each of the four canvases, a black silhouette with a monstrous black hand appears, clearly detached from a white background with discernible forms. Like an x-ray showing the passions that tear apart the contemporary world, these paintings form the worrisome counterpoint to the entirety of his oeuvre.


  • Gérard Quénum, Les ombres (Shadows), 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 4 elements, 170 x 130 cm. Courtesy of the artist. Vue d’exposition au Centre Kora. Photo: A. K.