Life & Afterlife in Benin
By Okwui Enwezor, Alex Van Gelder
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: July 6, 2005, by Phaidon Press
This collection of portraiture, comprising the work of nine photographers from Benin, mostly working during the 1960's and 1970's, opens a new chapter in the history of African photography. Most people's knowledge of West African photography is limited to the Bamako school of Mali, whose masters Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe were widely discovered at the beginning of the 1990's. But where Keita and Sidibe worked predominantly to establish the modernity of their lives, here in Benin, photographers such as Sebastien Mehinto (otherwise known as Pigeon) often travelled miles by bicycle to find their clients in far-flung villages, and sometimes developed their exquisitely crafted photographs in makeshift darkrooms constructed in the bush. Marked by dark dramas and deep mysticisms, their portraits record a people caught between a pre-colonial past and a post-colonial future. For many of the people in the photographs it would be their first and last encounter with a photographer. Amongst the weddings and communions, the courting couples and proud parents, lie astonishing images of revenants and ju-ju men; voodoo priests and priestesses; thieves and murderers; prostitutes and pimps— and most startlingly, an extraordinary sequence of aprèsmort or deathbed portraits. For if you happened to live in the People's Republic of Benin (formerly known as the Kingdom of Dahomey) during the 1960s and 1970s, photography was likely to play a role not just in your life—but in your afterlife. It is a commonly held belief, and source of fear, in many African cultures that a person's soul lives on, trapped, within the photograph. In Benin, with its mixed spiritual traditions of Catholicism and voodoo (born in Benin and now its official religion), the photograph came to play a fascinating role in rituals of death.
Fools, Thieves and Other Dreamers: Stories from Francophone Africa
By Florent Couao-Zotti, Abdourahman A. Waberi, Seydi Sow (Translations by the Dept of Modern Languages, University of Zimbabwe)
Paperback: 52 pages
Published: January 1, 2001, by Weaver Press
Original Title: Fools, Thieves and Other Dreamers: Stories from Francophone Africa
Setting: Senegal, Benin, Djibouti
This is a rare achievement: translation of contemporary francophone African literature into English, and published within Africa, with the aim of promoting greater understanding and links across the continent. The impetus came from the focus on francophone Africa at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2001. Supported by the French Embassy, three lecturers at the University of Zimbabwe, assisted by nineteen students, undertook the translations of three short stories.
The writers are Seydi Sow from Senegal, Florent Couao-Zotti from Benin, and Abdourahman Ali Waberi from Djibouti. Couao-Zotti's story, ‘Small Hells on Street Corners,’ was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing, 2002.