Gérard Quenum (Benin, 1971)
Gérard Quenum investigates the connection between material objects and cultural
heritage as he blends traditional methodology, contemporary references, and spiritual
iconography. Best known for his sculptures that incorporate found objects and
recovered materials, Quenum also works in painting, drawing, and installation.
In recent works on canvas, Quenum has expanded his normative practice to explore the
processes of sketching. His paintings incorporate crudely drawn figures that protrude on
a blank picture plane, floating ambiguously as ghostly and unidentifiable presences.
Using a stark application of color, with dominate black brush strokes and splashes of
blue and red, the figures remain obscure due to their absence of facial features or
personalized traits. Their silhouette-like forms instead animate through the artist’s
depiction of gesture and body language as they interact with each other in subtle
Quenum focuses on the subject of social interactions, depicting transportation,
movement, political struggle, kinship, and community. His loose and spontaneous style
is rough and emotive, with expressive brushstrokes on a largely empty canvas. The
childlike scribbling suggests a detached observer, depicting his social surroundings not
as a documentarian but in its immediacy and abstraction.
He works across multiple artistic practices including painting, drawing, and sculpture. In his works on canvas, Quenum depicts loosely drawn figures that protrude on a blank picture plane, floating as ghostly and unidentifiable presences. Using a stark application of color, with dominate black brush strokes and splashes of primary colors, the figures and actions remain obscure through vague gestures, shadows, and body language.
One of the most compelling features of Gérard’s work is his examination of the concept of history. The dolls are steeped in their own particular histories, in and out of Africa, histories which draw them close and link them inextricably with the people who made, loved, used and discarded them over the years. They animate the objects to which they are attached: hoes, drums, mortars for pounding fufu – even the staff of a babalawo or diviner over there. Like the simple figurines, bocio, used by the babalawo for centuries, Gérard’s work ensures that these objects, like the living fabric of society which they represent – WILL NEVER DIE.
(October Gallery – London - 19th Oct. 2012)