Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou

The discovery of this important work is the sole credit of the London based Jack Bell
Gallery.
The Gallery is pleased to present a new body of work by Bienese photographer,
Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou: "His ongoing portraiture project, 'Citizens of Porto-Novo',
captures the people of Benin's capital. Using a daylight studio and a medium format
camera, Agbodjelou interprets the experience of a generation caught between tradi-
tion and progress. This new series looks at Porto-Novo's competitive bodybuilders who
compete locally and nationally; the subjects aspire to one day achieve recognition
beyond West Africa and work towards a better life in Europe. The bodybuilders have
been a popular subject in African studio photography since the 1950s and 60s, yet
for this series Agbodjelou has them holding fake flowers, a somewhat incongruous
touch.
'Plastic flowers have always been used in the traditional studios to show style and
taste', he says. 'I thought they added a nice contrast to the musclemen'. In a pre-
view to the current exhibition for Modern Painters magazine, Coline Milliard loca-
tes subversive undertones: 'Agbodjelou's pictures draw on an African tradition
famously championed by Seydou Keita, yet the subtle rearranging of established
iconographic elements twists their potential narratives. Although the images of the-
se flower-adorned 21st-century bodybuilders function first as a social record, in this
show they also seem to evoke issues about the objectification of the black male bo-
dy.'
Agbodjelou is one of the preeminent photographers of the Republic of Benin. Born in
Benin in 1965, he learned the craft from his father, world-renowned photographer
Joseph Moise Agbodjelou (1912-2000). Joseph Moise opened a photography studio in
Porto-Novo in 1960 and today Leonce Raphael continues the family business on that
same site. He is the founder and director of the first photographic school in Benin
and recently been appointed president of the Photographer's Association of Porto-
Novo. Leonce's work has been exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, London, and the Kelvin-
grove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow. Recent acquisitions have been made by the
CAAC Pigozzi Collection, Geneva, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, Museum of Modern Art,
Equatorial Guinea."

Jack Bell

Citizens of Porto Novo

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The Egungun Project

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