Benin Arts and Literature


According to franciscogardening, Benin can boast a whole range of contemporary artists, some of whom are well known beyond Benin’s borders and are represented at important exhibitions and biennials around the world. An important event is the Cotonou Biennale, which took place for the first time in 2010 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence as ‘Regard Bénin’. The doyen of the Benin artists was Cyprien Tokoudagba, who died in 2012. He lived in Abomey all his life and the royal symbols of the court in Abomey, whose wall reliefs he restored, played an important role in his work. He and the wood carver Amidou Dossou from Cové participated in the legendary exhibition ‘Magicien de la terre’ in Paris. Kifouli Dossou, the brother of Amidou Dossou, received in Paris the ‘Prix Orisha’ for contemporary African art to which it but now dispensed has.

In his multi-part in-situ installations, Georges Adéagbo always integrates objects that come from his environment in Cotonou and supplements them with objects that he has collected on site. Today Adéagbo is one of the most renowned artists in Africa.

Romuald Hazoumé has been known to a larger German audience at least since his participation in the 12th Documenta 2007 with his installation ‘Dream’ ([refugee] boat with canisters). He had his resounding success as an artist in 1989 with his masks made from plastic canisters.

Dominique Zinkpè, the ‘Basquiat des Vaudou’, is an artist who, in addition to painting, is best known for his installations such as ‘Taxi Zinkpè’ and performances. In Cotonou he founded the street art festival ‘Boulev’art’ and was also a co-organizer of the 2012 Biennale.

In his installations and performances, Meschac Gaba refers to the effects of colonialism and globalization, with the banknote repeatedly appearing as a motif.

Tchif, actually Francis Nicaise Tchiakpe, born 1973 in Cotonou, opened the private cultural center ‘Espace Tchif’ in 2009, which has now been taken over by the president of the French holding company Scintillo, Steven Hearn. At the 2012 Biennale, the artist Aston, who creates plastic with recycled objects, won the ‘President of the Republic of Bénin Prize’ worth 2 million FCFA. The brothers Calixte and Théodore Dakpogan are also known for their metal sculptures. The Senegal-born artist Pélagie Gbaguidi also works as a photographer, while the versatile Edwige Aploganflagged some of Cotonou’s emblematic buildings during the celebrations of 50 years of independence. The painter Elon-m Tossou wants women to take first place in society and plays with gender roles in his works.

Other well-known and successful Benin artists are Simplice Ahouansou Gérard Quénum, Didier Viode, Zinsou, Simon Soha, Virgil Nassara, Charly d’Almeida, Laudamus Sègbo, Syl-Pâris Kouton, Grek, Thierry Gansa, Koffi Gahou, Simonet Biokou, Bamouss, Hervé Cossi Attigla, and Eloi Lokossou. Many works by as yet unknown artists can be found on the Dantokpa market.

A head-high drum in Abomey Benin


Bénin’s literature is unfortunately virtually unknown in Germany, as almost no works have been translated into German so far. This may hopefully change as the novel, Iman ‘ of Ryad Assani-Razaki now available in German exists and the author presented it on reading tours in Germany. In September 2014 he was a guest at the Berlin International Literature Festival.

Benin, also known as the Latin Quarter of Francophone West Africa during colonial times, not only produced capable administrative officials, but also produced writers. Some authors published their first works as early as the 1920’s. Born in Porto-Novo in 1890, Paul Hazoumé was an ethnologist, researcher, writer and Beninese politician, also a candidate in the presidential elections of 1968, which ultimately failed to take place. In 1938 he published the first African historical novel ‘Doguicimi’ for which he was from the Académie Française in Paris was awarded the ‘Prix de Langue Française’ in 1939. He died in Cotonou in 1980.

Félix Couchoro, born in Ouidah in 1900, is considered one of the pioneers of West African literature. In Togo, where he lived from 1939 until his death in 1968, he is revered as the father of Togolese literature and a library is named after him in Lomé. His first novel ‘L’esclave’, which he wrote in 1926, was published in France in 1929. Olympe Bhêly-Quenum was born in Ouidah in 1928. He studied in France and became a diplomat. In favor of literature, however, he gave up his diplomatic career. In his writings he describes the depths of Africa, emphasizing the contradictions and contradictions of a changing society that at the same time remains firmly connected to its cultural roots. Jean Pliya was born in Djougou in 1931. As a professor of history and geography, he published not only novels and short stories but also some school books. He died on May 14, 2015 in Abidjan.

The writer, painter, artist and actor Gratien Zossou, born in Porto Novo in 1948, lives and works in Abomey. Camille Amouro, born in Boukoumbé in 1963, is a committed author, dramaturge, essayist and journalist. As the founder of the ‘Médiatheque des Diasporas’ in the center of Cotonou, he has developed a whole range of cultural activities that enrich Benin’s cultural life. Florent Couao-Zotti, born in 1964, received the important Ahmadou Kourouma Prize at the Geneva Book Fair in 2010 for his crime novel ‘Si la cour du mouton est sale, ce n’est pas au porc de le dire’. Arnold Sènou published his first novel ‘Ainsi va l’hattéria’ with Gallimard in Paris. Edwige Aplogan was born in Porto Novo in 1955 is a poet, artist, painter and lawyer.

Paulin J. Hountondji, born in Abidjan in 1942, lives in Benin and is one of the most important contemporary African philosophers. One of his works, ‘African Philosophy: Myth and Reality’ was also published in German in 1993.

The author Akéouli Nouhoum Baoum, born in the northwest of Benin in 1985, published a collection of Lokpa fairy tales among other titles. Mensah Wekenon Tokponto and Adelheid Hahmann are editors of a collection of folk tales from Benin. Wekenon Tokponto received the Thuringian Fairy Tale Prize in 2015. In Calavi, ‘La nuit du conte’ (The Night of the Fairy Tale) took place for the second time.

Narcisse Dovènon presented his work ‘Jérôme Carlos, Un homme d’exception’ to the public.

The ‘Prix du Président de la République’ literary competition, worth two million francs CFA, is being held for the fifth time and is intended to motivate and support writers and enrich the national publishing cultural heritage. The 18th Festival Selibej, the festival of books for children, took place in February 2016. In 2016, the ‘Miss Littérature’ competition took place in Cotonou for the first time, in which a 16-year-old schoolgirl won the ‘intellectual beauty’ title.

The theater landscape of Benin manifests itself primarily at the Festival International de Théâtre du Bénin (FITHEB), which has been held every two years since 1991 and took place in five locations for the 13th time in February 2016. The actor and theater director Tola Koukoui is a co-founder of FITHEB. A first international theater meeting took place in Athiémé.

Ousmane Aledji, author, actor, director and initiator of various cultural projects, was the editor of Artistik Afrika, a magazine for African art. He is now involved in the Cotonou Biennale. Alougbine Dine is a theater director who helped the Ecole Internationale de Théâtre du Bénin to rise. The Institut Français in Cotonou is another venue for theatrical performances as well as an important forum for artistic activities.