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fondation Zinsou

Artists of Abomey

visuel de l'affiche de l'exposition Artistes d'Abomey

Dialogue on an African kingdom

East mezzanine

Collections ticket 8.50€ full price and 6€ reduced price

From Tuesday, November 10, 2009 to Sunday, January 31, 2010

Head Curator: Gaëlle Beaujean, head of the Africa collections at the musée du quai Branly

With the collaboration of Joseph Adandé, art historian at the Université d’Abomey-Calavi and Léonard Ahonon, manager and curator of the site of the royal palaces of Abomey


This exhibition presents the artists of the kingdom of Dahomey (1600-1894), in present-day Benin, through 82 works and eight old graphic documents.

It has the objective of presenting their works but also of investigating their role and their status within Dahomey society, and more specifically in the capital of Abomey. Indeed, the artists chosen by the king, enjoyed great privileges while being constrained by their allegiance. The exhibition will explore through their creations the different functions of art in Abomey.

This is done by associating the artists and families of artists with each type of object presented. This new approach is the fruit of research led by the scientific team, resulting in an attribution – at times extremely precise – of certain objects.

The exhibition proposes in the end a dual perspective on the works presented: that of the country of origin (thanks to the participation of two scientists from Benin) and that of the French curator.

Around the exhibition

A number of rendezvous are organized in the reading room, around the Artists of Abomey exhibition

Consult the programming of the reading room around the Artists of Abomey exhibition

le mini-site de TV5 MONDE

le site de TV5MONDE, chaîne internationale de télévision francophone, propose un mini-site autour des artistes d'Abomey : visite virtuelle commentée, galerie photos, entretien avec la commissaire de l'exposition Gaëlle Beaujean-Baltzer et quiz sur l'art africain en 10 questions et réponses...

voir le mini-site Artistes d'Abomey de TV5 MONDE

statue anthropomorphe © musée du quai Branly photo Michel Urtado et Thierry Ollivier
Anthropomorphic statue © musée du quai Branly photo by Michel Urtado and Thierry Ollivier

Exhibition route

After an introductory space presenting an old map and genealogy of the kings of Abomey, the exhibition presents the status and role of the artist within Dahomey society in five sections.

The memory of names

This section presents the sculptures of six artists identified by name, a relatively rare case in African art. Presented therein are some masterpieces of Abomey art, including the statue of the god Gou by Akati Ekplékendo, and the statues of the kings Glele and Behanzin, by Sossa Dede.

trône de Béhanzin de la cérémonie de l'ato © musée du quai Branly photo Patrick Gries
Throne of Behanzin for the ato ceremony © musée du quai Branly photo by Patrick Gries

The court artist, Master - Servant

The question explored in this section is the place of the artists: how to become one? What are the advantages of the Master, the indications of servitude?

The artists created for the king his regalia and narrated his exploits. This section will bring together both the royal emblems and the works bearing the official history.

Notably seen therein are a precious ivory recade, two thrones marking the power of the king in an imposing manner.

siège royal vue d'ensemble et détail © musée du quai Branly photo Michel Urtado et Thierry Ollivier
Royal seat, overall and detail views © musée du quai Branly photo by Michel Urtado and Thierry Ollivier

The palace, window on the world

In situ information has allowed for the determination of the usage and placement of certain works within the palaces. The kings had exotic objects and typologies of sculptures, such as the ibeji (statuettes of Yoruba twins)

Under the term “treasure of Behanzin” are regrouped certain of these pieces seized by French officers. A part of this “treasure” constitutes almost all of this section.

paire de bracelets du premier ministre. Style fon. Famille Hountondji © musée du quai Branly, photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado
Pair of bracelets of the prime minister. Fon style, Hountondji family © musée du quai Branly, photo by Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

Distinction through art

Artists also intervened for dignitaries and soldiers, here the amazons. The possession of works from royal workshops constituted a privilege.

Four categories of people were thus honored :

  • the prime minister or migan: very close to the king, he was notable responsible for the execution of prisoners during the annual customs meant to communicate with the royal ancestors
  • the amazons, woman soldiers of the Dahomey army
  • the priest of Heviosso (god of thunder)

This section notably includes two knives and an outfit that the minister wore for decapitations, as well as the precious recade of the priest of Heviosso.

porte du palais royal d'Abomey © musée du quai Branly photo Michel Urtado et Thierry Ollivier
Door of the royal palace of Abomey © musée du quai Branly photo by Michel Urtado and Thierry Ollivier

On the walls of the Palaces

The artists of Abomey finally also intervened on the walls, doors, pillars of the royal palaces. The exhibition will present bas-reliefs and wooden doors from these palaces.

In regard, the acrylics on the canvas of the artist Cyprien Tokoudagba will allow the consideration of the reality of contemporary art in Abomey, still living and inspired by the works of the royal workshops of the past.