“Without color… there is no life… it is for that I appreciate Chakaia Booker…” – Rafiy Okefolahan.
Internationally-known artist Chakaia Booker has been commissioned to create a site-specific sculpture for the grounds of the new U.S. Embassy in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, to be completed in 2015. Like many contemporary artists, Booker concentrates on the expressive impact of her work rather than on making specific comments on modern life. She also forces the viewer to contemplate materials in a new light, and to think about material culture. In December of 2013, the sculptor traveled to Cotonou, Porto Novo, and Ouidah, on the coast of the Republic of Benin as part of Art in Embassies’ Artist Exchange. Though her work has always drawn inspiration from African sources, this was the artist’s first trip to Africa.
Chakaia Booker’s art, known internationally through exhibitions and publications, focuses on the repurposing of materials not usually associated with fine art, into large-scale abstract sculptures that make powerful visual statements. A number of contemporary Beninese artists place the same focus on transforming non-art materials into works of art. The studio visits with Beninese artists, including Romuald Hazoumé, Simplice Ahouansou, Rafiy Okefolahan, Marius Dansou , Virgil Nassara, Romuald Guezo, Benjamin Deguenon, Midy (Yves Midahuen), Ludovic Fadairo, Makef(Makoutode Enagnon Fulbert), Dominique Zingpé, and Aston (Serge Mikpon) reiterated many connections between the different artists’ bodies of work. The Gérard Quenem exhibition at the Zinsou Foundation and an exhibition at the French Cultural Center provided inspiration for artist Chakaia Booker as well as an opportunity for greater understanding of different cultural and artistic perspectives in their multicultural society.
SOPPELSA: It’s our first visit to Benin, we are basically introducing ourselves to a number of artist who we hope we can include in the connection we’re building for the new American embassy which will open officially in 2015. We also brought the American sculptor, Chakaia Booker, who’s been commissioned to create a major sculptural piece specifically for the embassy.
BOOKER: I work with found materials but one of the primary materials I work with are automobile tires, truck tires, bicycle tires that I deconstruct and transform these materials into works of art.
SOPPELSA: There’s nothing like person to person contact, direct person to person contact, in which you are either in the studio or in a space that the artist knows and the artist is relaxed and comfortable and really opens up about talking about the work.
OKEFOLAHAN: (speaking French)
SOPPELSA: He says that when he went to Paris the first time, it was cold, it was wintertime, and everybody was dressed in black from head to foot and he said, where’s the color, where’s the life here. He says he’s always chosen to show his work in Paris during the cold months because that way people will sense heat through his work.
OKEFOLAHAN: (speaking French)
SOPPELSA: (speaking French)
CAMERAMAN: What, what’d he say?
SOPPELSA: He said, without color there is no life, he says it’s for this that he appreciates Chakaia because she’s so full of color.
BOOKER: The inspiration, yes, of being here has been fantastic. Haven’t quite figured out how it will all mix in together but I think that there has been enough of the exchanges to make a great start.
SOPPELSA: Art the world over and artists the world over understand each other in ways the rest of us don’t quite can’t quite imagine, but we appreciate it. And in this way, in placing American art and in this case Beninese art, together on the walls of the new American embassy what we hope is that we will create a diplomatic conversation through art.