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Sadikou Oukpedjo (Togo) at The African Studies Gallery, Apr 2018

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

Sadijou Oukpedjo, Fetiche 2, 2018.

Sadikou Oukpedjo arrived in Israel in April 2018 to participate at the International Ceramics Symposium at the Umm al-Fahm Art Gallery, followed by a residency in Tel-Aviv with Africa First. The collaboration was organized by Idit Toledano, curator of The African Studies Gallery in Tel Aviv, where Oukpedjo then exhibited his works along with Israeli artist Sharon Pazner in an exhibition titled "Palimpsest", from July 2018 to January 2019.

View the exhibition catalog here.

" Sadikou Oukpedjo acquired his professional training in the studio of Togolese artist Paul Ahi, where he specialized in sculpting and drawing. There, he delved into the recesses of local artistic heritage in order to apply it in his own work. Today, Oukpedjo claims, his art is completely detached from Togolese or West-African traditions. He therefore entitles himself to create a universal epic on the belligerent confrontation between Nature and Humanity. Like other myth-makers before him, Oukpedjo gives meaning to existential conditions. Unlike them, his epic tale is plotless and has no protagonist or victors. The only recurring motif in Oukpedjo's works is the struggle between humans and animals. Paradoxically, the forced detachment from his original culture does not leave him disconnected or in a constant search for roots. Instead, it allows him to simultaneously connect to a time-honored European romantic tradition, as well as to African mythologies that address similar confrontation.

The depicted struggles in Oukpedjp's paintings produces hybrids – a fish with a human foot for a tail, an animal-headed man, or other dissected mutations. The hybrid characters create a dramatic effect that inheres passion and violence, yet unlike other mythologies, Oukpedjo does not wish to offer a moral to the story. The artist refuses to give explanations of his work and leaves the viewer in a realm of endless inquiry and questioning. Oukpedjo's varied coloring techniques and changing finishing levels reinforce the deceptive shifting between completeness and incompleteness, leaving room for a flexibility of the imagination. The sense of suspended completeness betrays disorder yet hold the possibility for change. The dissection of the heroic, mythic body of both African and European cultures embodies the ability to start anew, to structure a more equal footing in reality. In many cultures, pairs of opposites are seen as a unifying vital force. In many artworks, the harmony is produced by opposites, or alternatively, dichotomies disrupt the order of the familiar image, inviting the viewer to reexamine and thereby interpret the uninterpretable.

Oukpedjo and Pazner met in the International Ceramics Symposium at the Umm al-Fahm Art Gallery. For a week, it seemed that the French language was their only common ground. A black man vs. a white woman; creative drama vs. stoic calmness; an artist working confidently in large scales vs. an artist who probes and prods, carefully examining her materials in an miniature scale. At first sight, Oukpedjo and Pazner seem like a binary opposites. However, during their mutual work at the START Studio / Africa First residency in Jaffa-Tel Aviv, it appeared that these opposites were simplistic if not clichéd. Once more, it became evident that opposites and contradictions are nuanced and enable dialogue and transformation. In their unique way, each of the artists performs an impossible synthesis of materials and contents, Pazner between ceramics and concrete and Oukpedjo between human and animal – thus grappling with the impossible in their work. There are no winners or losers in their hybridization processes. Nevertheless, again and again they return to the drama of the encounter. The representation of this drama rejects the sense of perfection provided by beauty or any other external idealization. On the contrary, both are engaged in a recurring search for deeper, ancient and eternal truths."

View the exhibition at African Studies Gallery.


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