On the walls of Cotonou, graffiti artists painted “New Benin” and its treasures

Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2022 at 07:36

Famous Brazilian artist Edgar Bernardo dos Santos (Ed-Mun) stands on a scaffold, spraying paint by hand, carefully examining the work he’s just painted on a wall in Cotonou, Benin’s economic capital.

Against a blue and yellow background, he then revised his brush stroke of a half-man, half-shark statue of King Behanzen, one of the 26 treasures looted by French colonial forces at the end of the 19th century and returned to Benin at the end of 2021. After more than two years of negotiations between Paris and Cotonou.

At his side, 25 other graffiti artists, including 15 also from outside, wave bombs and brushes to see a drawing of Benin’s history and culture on this wall of more than one kilometer along the port of Cotonou.

Their goal: to create the largest mural in the world as part of the Graff Effect Festival, which chose the theme of “New Benin”, in its eighth edition.

More than 700 meters of the wall has been painted since April 11, and organizers hope to expand it to 1,300 meters during the ninth edition to be held in early 2023. They hope to break the record for the longest mural in the world.

“To create the boys of the future, we must keep the boys of the past before our eyes,” explains Laurenson Djihouéssi, on behalf of his artist Mr. Stone, graffiti artist and promoter of the festival.

Many graffiti artists have chosen to depict on this wall the 26 restored treasures, which have been presented since February for the first time in Benin within a historical exhibition in the Presidential Palace, located a few hundred meters away.

– ‘Art for the public’ –

“There, the public goes in the direction of art, but here art goes to the audience,” explains graffiti artist Mr. Stone, who decided to honor the Amazons, the elite bands made up exclusively of women from the Kingdom of Dahomey (one of the kingdoms that formed Benin before colonization).

Their warrior jackets now appear in the exhibit presented at the Presidency, but Mr. Stone decided to represent the Amazons with a robe on which he painted the emblems of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

“It’s a continuation of the exhibition (in the presidency) and we’re betting here on graffiti that is a great vector of communication to reconnect us with our history,” adds the graffiti artist.

Through this work, the artist wants to put the Benin woman “at the center of work and development”, in his words, to be the “Amazon of the modern age”.

But it is not only the royal history of Benin depicted on this mural that attracts dozens of passers-by.

Supported by the Claudine Talon Foundation, the First Lady of Benin and the Ministry of Culture, this wall also highlights recent achievements in the West African country.

– update –

Drusel Fanipo, 32, is one of the few artists participating in the festival. A raffia hat is on her head, and she is burning under the scorching sun to finish her work.

Cranes evoke the reform of the port of Cotonou, the economic lung of the country, passing through agricultural machinery, in reference to the modernization of the agricultural sector, or even asphalted roads, symbols of hundreds of kilometers of roads that have been built, major projects launched by the President of Benin Patrice Talon represented in this mural.

Since his first election in 2015, the head of state, re-elected in 2021, has implemented dozens of comprehensive projects with the aim of setting his country on the path of development. This impressive modernization of the economy, with the speed with which it is being imposed, has also accompanied a significant democratic decline, according to the opposition, which has been reduced to almost nothing today.

On his side of the wall, Drusel Fanipo also represented the building of the Court for the Suppression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism (Crete).

This special court, set up in 2016 to end impunity within the political class, is seen by its critics as the armed arm of power.

In particular, it has sentenced key opposition figures in Benin to very harsh prison terms, but the government denies any form of interference.

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