Born in West Africa and now living in Germany, the artist Tôkpéou Gbaguidi represents a collision of cultures. Spirituality and rites are essential elements of his home country, and his art works reflect these traditions through his chosen design elements and materials. But Gbaguidi goes beyond these cultural boundaries and he often reflects on these critically by, for example, challenging the Euro-centric perspective on the African continent and its artworks.
For Gbaguidi, everyday life and objects are culture and cultural actions, views and customs shape our environment and make us a community. Consequently, through his artistic practice Gbaguidi breathes new life into everyday objects. Discarded objects, which have reached the end of their life cycle, are given another function – they are re-activated for the arts – via complex compositions drawing on his concerns with recycling and sustainability. Gbaguidi’s use of colour, both impasto and with glaze applied, has a simultaneously symbolic and atmospheric character. Besides the use of earthy colours, he employs strong primary colours, such as yellow, orange, red or blue, “which are – analogous to the colours – rich in values, cultures and traditions.” Besides acrylics and oil, Gbaguidi uses a wide range of materials in his art – from pigments and materials, tables and pots to rings and wires. He examines these “elements of the cultural everyday life” in their functional and ritual ambiguity. Even jeans are transformed to meaningful murals by a mixture of water, glue and colour pigments and sculptures with carved faces and symbols are created from chairs. Although these renewed objects lose something of their original and past function; they remain a witness to both humanity and betrayal. How many people have probably been sitting on this chair, rested, loved or fought? Who wore the crumpled cloth on the painting to protect against sun or cold? Which drink or remedy was in that container?
While he worked exclusively in a figurative and representative style at the beginning of his career, Gbaguidi employs more abstract forms of expression today, complemented by the Nsibidi signs – a pictographic system of writing from the east of Nigeria. In terms of form and content, Gbaguidi’s art can best be summarised under the concept of “collage”. He expands the themes of communication and community in his observations of humans and animals to rest and emotion. His artworks can be seen to represent emotive collages of contrasts, from West African and European culture, from art and everyday life. In so doing, Gbaguidi creates vital and critical art at the same time and understands art as an universal medium of communication between cultures. To the question of a concrete source of inspiration beyond everyday life, Gbaguidi replies smiling, but still determined: “No artist, but insects.”