Artist Statement

My artistic practice has become more critical, direct, and truthful through observing the socio-political processes in the world, particularly on the African continent. I am interested in the layering and inter-weaving of meaningful exchanges between people, cultures, and experiences. What emerges may be paintings, sculptures, or installations that are enriched by the values and heritage of our ancestors, informed by numerous political and cultural elements.

The vibrant bricolage of mediums, techniques, and motifs in my work mirrors the intercultural synergies of my own lived experience—as far reaching as Benin, my birth country, and Germany, my current home. I seek to nuance cultural and political connections between European and African perspectives. Some of my work shines a light on the African continent’s hidden side and current socio-political movements like Black Lives Matter. Through art, we can articulate issues of global relevance and compose a universal language capable of unsettling traditions for the better.

A vital element of my practice is giving new life to objects that have seemingly lost their function. I find myself on a journey to expose the poetry in everyday things—the shapes, textures, and patterns that often go unnoticed. I communicate with symbolic use of colour to express deeper meanings. I am also drawn to using language, such as Nsibidi signs, and abstract forms. I hope to express that which is intimate, shocking, or, perhaps, unexpected.

Emotive collages

Born in West Africa and now living in Germany, Tôkpéou Gbaguidi’s work represents a collision of cultures. Spirituality and ritual are essential elements of his home country, Benin, and his art reflects these traditions through his design elements and the materials he uses. But Gbaguidi’s expression goes beyond such cultural boundaries to critically reflect and, challenge the Euro-centric perspective of the African continent and its art.

For Gbaguidi, culture can be found in everyday life and objects; cultural activities, views and customs shape our environment and create communities.  Gbaguidi’s plastic art breathes new life into everyday objects. Discarded objects that have reached the end of their lives, are given a new function; they are recombined and re-purposed for art and express his concerns for recycling and sustainability. Gbaguidi’s use of colour, both impasto and using glaze, simultaneously express symbolic and atmospheric themes. Besides earthy colours, he employs bright yellows, oranges, reds or blues, „which, like the choice of material, are rich in value, culture and traditions.“ Besides acrylics and oil, wood is central to Gbaguidi’s art. He also uses a wide range of pigments and material, objects like tables, cooking pots, rings and wires. He examines the functional and ritual ambiguity „of these cultural elements of life“. Even jeans are transformed into meaningful murals by a mixture of water, glue and colour pigments, and sculptures with carved faces and symbols are created from chairs. Although these objects have lost their original function, they still have a story to tell as witnesses to both humanity and betrayal. How many people have probably sat on this chair, been rested, loved or argued with? Who wore the crumpled cloth on the painting as protection against the 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, today, Gbaguidi employs more abstract forms of expression, together with Nsibidi signs – a pictographic system of writing from eastern Nigeria. In terms of form and content, Gbaguidi’s art can best be summarised as “collage”. He distinguishes between the themes of communication and community through his observation of humans and animals, of peace and emotions. His art represents emotive collages of contrasts, between West African and European culture, art and everyday life.  Gbaguidi creates art that is vibrant and, at the same time, critical.   He perceives and understands art as a universal form of communication between cultures. In response to whether there is any concrete source of inspiration outside everyday life, Gbaguidi replies smiling, but quite explicitly: „Not artists… but insects.“


Jasmin-Bianca Hartmann, M.A. art historian; Translation and proof reading: Doreen du Boulay, Eva Bulgrin