Born in 1969 in Cotonou, Benin, Dominique Zinkpè is an autodidactic and versatile artist who creates drawings, paintings, sculptures, and art installations. As an active artist, he has worked for more than ten years on the development of contemporary art in Benin and in Africa; it is in this cadre that he has notably collaborated with AAD for the organization of the “Les Belles Bibliothèques du Bénin” (The Little Libraries of Benin). Today, he is also now a board member of the “Jeux de la Francophonie” (Francophonie Games).
Dominique Zinkpè, Hello. First of all, what does your role consist of as a board member of the Francophonie Games? And how did you get involved in this project?
I was invited by the Francophonie Games team to take part as one of the fine art judges. Naturally, each discipline represented here has its own set of judges. Ours is therefore asked to divide among about thirty fine artists who are between 15 to 35 years old and, obviously, who all come from a Francophone country. The goal is for these artists to network with other fine artists who already have played an important cultural role in their home country: they are all “artistically committed.”
Regarding their participation in the Games, they go through a few stages: first an art exhibition containing the works from which artists were selected; then an art demonstration where they must create a piece on site within a set time limit. This demonstration allows us, the judges, to truly observe and to get involved in their creation process, to understand their methods, and their esthetic.
Does the participation of these young artists in the Games earn them recognition for their work?
Certainly. An indirect recognition. The “Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie” (OIF) (International Organization of Francophonie), which is a recognized and respected label, considerably increases their visibility and legitimacy. As well as being one of the best means of diffusing their work, it also allows to officially and internationally be identified with this group of artists. Therefore that opens a considerable amount of doors, especially as the OIF gives real backing to the artists it supports.
What happens is a positive spiral: these artists, active in their respective countries, receive the support of the OIF, which allows them to return and double the efforts in return. It is also for us, the judges, an excellent means of identifying young talents who with we could then propose collaborations, residencies, …
One of the objectives that was announced at these Games was development in the South of the country, notably in Africa. The program is therefore organized alternating between a Northern and a Southern country. What, in your opinion, is the impact of this event in Africa?
The impact exists, even if it is a little bit indirect when the program is organized in a Northern country. But, I find the idea of alternating interesting and constructive. We must also remember that all the towns in the South, notably in Africa, do not have the capacity and infrastructure to host such a large event.
What do you think of the choice of the city of Nice for this year’s event ? Does the dimension of the “bond” between France and Africa, between the North and the South, something important to you?
Yes, totally. Nice is an excellent choice, more so culturally than for facilities and the climate. The conditions were ideal for this type of event. And it is true that we feel a deep political inclination to facilitate things.
The “Francophonie” is what brings together these artists, athletes, and public officials with a large audience.What does “Francophonie” mean to you ? Is it still an important concept?
Yes, I think that it is fundamental. You know, in a lot of African countries, French is the first language that we learn after our mother tongue. It is the language of learning and of fulfillment. We think in French. So coming together around a value as strong and transcendent as this language that we share, all seems to be important to me.
What did you think of the opening ceremony on the 7th of last September in the Masséna plaza?
What struck me the most, besides the beautiful show, was the attendance of many Heads of States and African officials, equal with their Western counterparts. That really illustrated the fact that in all the involved countries in this competition had participated in the same manner. It’s a true and wonderful work of cooperation between the countries in the North and the South.
Does this cooperation give real respect to the African continent?
Yes, this balanced dialog between the nations allows a mutual respect between the cultures. The Francophonie Games, as a whole, is becoming a major part of connecting together for these two peoples.
You are very active in developing art in your country. Are you considered a “militant” of contemporary African art?
Militant, I don’t know, but it is true that it is a commitment that I keep close to my heart. Our African countries need cultural organizations that accompany and support their actions. The grants provided for culture and creativity are often minimal and therefore there is a real need to relay artists on the ground to create art schools, studios, galleries, …
For ten years, I have been very active in the organization of cultural manifestations. I have as well created my own resident art studio, the “Lieu Unik,” and recently directed the second edition of the Benin biennial in 2012. This commitment is not revolutionary, nor political, it is simply necessary.
You have therefore changed “sides of the fence,” if I may. In any case, you are on both sides.
Yes, exactly. As time passed and I had different opportunities, I became capable of judging, scrutinizing, and organizing. The project “Bibliothèque à Cotonou” (the Cotonou Library), in Benin, led with AAD, is a perfect example. It is still there today! But to the point, my wish is to return to my first love, art. When I feel like I have completely launched all my projects and they don’t need me any more, I will pass on the baton and re-center myself only on my art. But for the moment, I owe it to myself – and to my country – to assist all the immediate needs.
30 artists, of which more than ten are African artists, were involved in the painting competition where Zinkpè was a judge. We notably retain the paintings and fine art works of Ezéchiel Mehome (Benin), the painting by Boubakary Bello (Chad), and also those by Léopold Segueda (Burkina-Faso).