Graffiti fills Benin’s city walls with treasures of the past

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Cotonou (AFP) – On a blue and yellow background, graffiti artists retouched a spray-painted image of the half-human, half-shark statue of King Behanzin, one of the stolen treasures returned to Benin by France late last year.

The image is just one of 26 local and international graffiti artists who have created a mural depicting Benin’s history and culture that stretches over a kilometer along a wall in Benin’s main city, Cotonou.

Their aim is to eventually create the largest mural in the world as part of a festival themed “New Benin”.

“In order to create the Benin of the future, we must keep the Benin of the past in our sights,” said festival promoter Laurenson Djihouessi, known by the artist’s name.

Murals depict Benin’s history and culture Yannick Stupid AFP

Many graffiti artists have chosen to represent restored treasures, which were stolen by French colonial powers and returned to Cotonou this year after negotiations with Paris.

For the first time since February, the artifacts were on display at a historical exhibition at Benin’s presidential palace, just a few hundred metres from the mural.

“There, the audience comes to the art, but here, the art comes to the audience,” said Stone, whose photographs pay homage to the Amazons, the elite all-female soldiers of the kingdom of Dahomey, the city of Benin in Colonization of one of the former kingdoms of France.

The artist said he wanted to place Benin women “at the heart of action and development” and make them the “modern Amazon”.

Laurenson Djihouessi, better known by his stage name Mr Stone, is the promoter of the festival
Laurenson Djihouessi, better known by his stage name Mr Stone, is the promoter of the festival Yannick Stupid AFP

But it wasn’t just the frescoes depicting Benin’s royal past that drew dozens of passersby.

Supported by the Claudine Talon Foundation, run by Benin’s first lady, and the Ministry of Culture, the wall also highlights the West African country’s recent achievements.

There are cranes that symbolize the reform of the port of Cotonou and agricultural machinery, a reference to agricultural modernization.

The road images are meant to show part of an infrastructure project touted by President Patrice Talon as one of his successes.

Talon has launched dozens of projects since he was first elected in 2015, in what he calls a movement aimed at putting his country on a development path.

Benin-based artist Lionel Attere, also known as Lionel Davinci, is another person involved
Benin-based artist Lionel Attere, also known as Lionel Davinci, is another person involved Yannick Stupid AFP

While the economy may have modernized, Benin’s opposition says the country’s democracy has also suffered under Talon’s rule.

On her walls, female artist Drusille Fagnibo also painted the building of the Economic Crime and Terrorism Court, known as Criet.

Critics say the special court, created in 2016 to end impunity for the political class, is used by the government as a political weapon against opponents.

In December, a court sentenced opposition leader Madougu to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges, a term her lawyer described as a political attack.

The government denies any suggestion that the courts are being manipulated for political purposes.

More than 700 meters of walls have been decorated since April 11, and organizers hope to expand it to 1,300 meters in early 2023. They hope to break the record for the longest graffiti mural in the world.

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