How a street painter from Benin got an art exhibition in Finland

How a street painter from Benin got an art exhibition in Finland
20 February 2019, Wednesday
BBC

Louis Houenoude lives in the small village of Heve, just outside Grand-Popo, in the small West African country of Benin.

 

He used to paint barber shop signs for a living. But now he is a bona fide artist.

 

An art gallery in Finland is exhibiting a series of portraits painted by Mr Houenoude.

 

The portrait series, called Bad Hair Day Leaders, consists of 14 portraits of today's world leaders, from Angela Merkel to Xi Jinping.

 

The portraits are a collaboration with Finnish visual artist Riiko Sakkinen, who visited Benin last year.

 

"I initially wanted to know if Benin had the same painted film poster culture as Ghana - it doesn't. But I saw painted signs for barber shops and hair salons and was intrigued by the colours and composition of the signs.

 

"The perspective and the shape of figures looked different to the ones familiar to me from European classicism and renaissance tradition. The advertisements worked remarkably well - I kept wanting to go to the barber even though I am bald," Sakkinen told the BBC.

 

Sakkinen came up with the idea for a series of portraits of world leaders, all done in the style of West African barber signs and Houenoude did the painting.

 

"Louis is very meticulous. I myself make a mess and could never wear nice clothes when I paint, like Louis. The language barrier initially proved a challenge because I couldn't give much direction. But in the end it turned out to be a good thing, the work looked like him rather than me."

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