The avant-garde scene that wants to shake Benin's creative landscape

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Credit: Aisha Fadonougbo for Esthet Studio editorials

When it comes to the Republic of Benin’s culture, the first thing that comes to mind is the Vodun practice which is a pillar of the country’s rich cultural and artistic heritage. Even though Vodun is indeed completely integrated in its artistic and cultural DNA (the first edition of the Vodun Days festival has been held the 9th and 10th of January 2024 in Ouidah and has welcomed more than 100 000 attendees), Benin is more than that and is bubbling with a visionary creativity carried by a young and prolific generation that is just waiting to be acknowledged. 

Since a few years the country has been witnessing a dynamic renaissance in its creative art scene stimulated by the strong will of the public authorities. This is manifested by a global restructuring of the cultural sector and the active promotion of the artistic and cultural scene. 

In 2022, the exhibition Art du Bénin d'hier et d'aujourd'hui, de la restitution à la révélation (Benin's Art of Yesterday and Today, from Restitution to Revelation) that is currently touring over the world (the last edition took place in the French Caribbean island Martinique) has presented over 26 royal treasures which were returned to Benin in 2021 by France but also highlighted the revival of traditional Beninese art forms and their modern interpretation through the work of established as well as young artists. Also, currently underway for its 60th edition, the Venice Biennale is hosting Benin for the first time with the exhibition Everything Precious Is Fragile.

From visual arts and music to fashion, film, and literature, a new generation of Beninese artists is emerging, blending tradition with innovation, and making their territory both locally and globally. Alongside this Beninese contemporary cultural scene is rising slowly but surely an alternative scene with talented, young, and vibrant creatives that have decided to share their narrative in their own terms. 

Here is the portrait of three creatives shaping the Benin avant-garde scene and whose work is worth following: 

Peter Toni

Credit: @mobutupeter/Instagram

Peter Toni is the founder of FARE, a timeless clothing brand and has the simple ambition to redefine the style and the Made in Benin. With his ethical approach using upcycling, working with local artisans and his distinctive sense of Fashion, he subtly and artistically invites us to enter and discover the rich cultural heritage of Benin.

Credit: Augustin Dehoumon for Fare editorials

Shawn Hounkpatin

Credit: @shawnpicture__ /Instagram

Through the lens of his camera, Shawn Hounkpatin captures with accuracy moments of life and offers powerful compositions. Photographer, art director, music producer, Shawn rightly identifies himself as a multidisciplinary artist, a storyteller and is dreaming big. He recently started his production studio Kerawa Space

Credit: Shawn Hounpkatin

Adenile Borna Soglo

Credit: @bornasoglogallery/Instagram

Adenile Borna Soglo is a passionate and expert of African contemporary art, culture, and creative industries in general. He has dedicated himself to empowering artists by giving them a platform of expression. In 2021 he opened the Borna Soglo Gallery that “operates within a subversive dynamic, deconstructing the conventions of the classic gallery through a constant need for innovation and a subtle spirit of insubordination.” This state of mind also shows through its collective Le Club des Fada (The Crazy People Club), that gathers creatives as crazy and innovative as him.

Credit: Last on view, Sparks Fly by Ugo Ahiakwo - @bornasoglogallery/Instagram

Despite this vibrant growth, Benin's avant-garde scene faces significant challenges. Limited funding, inadequate infrastructures, restricted market access and visibility are common hurdles for many. However, the resilience and vision of these creatives are evident in their ability to overcome these obstacles. And it is essential to support and nurture this burgeoning scene. Digital platforms have become crucial in amplifying their reach, allowing them to connect with global audiences and share their work beyond geographical boundaries. It’s now the time for the world to listen to them.