Top Image: "Madeleine, After M.-G. Benoist - Série Modèle Noir", 2019. Acrylic and elixir bath on free canvas. 261 x 258 cm.
Roméo Mivekannin's family history, like many of us, shapes the way he views the world. But his family history also shaped how others view the world. As the great-great-grandson of King Benhazin of the lost kingdom of Dahomey, now located in present-day Benin, Mivekannin would hear stories of how his ancestor fought as hard as he could to keep his kingdom from the French, only to be exiled with a few members of his close families.
His perception of his identity changed when he moved to France to continue his studies. Where he was respected for being part of the royal family in his home country, he was often seen as lesser than, as part of the blue-collar workers, when he was in Europe.
The fact that he was viewed as different hit especially hard when he brought his earlier abstract work to a gallery. The gallery owner responded by saying that Mivekannin should be making work about his “rich, African culture” instead. Though initially he felt insulted that his background should dictate what he can and cannot make, he stepped back and realized that to move forward, he should face his past first.
The works that Mivekannin is now more known for, are inseparable from his roots. Using a tapestry of cloth dipped in voodoo potions as his canvas, he tackles one of the biggest problems in Western art history: the objectification and fetishization of the Black body. While recreating these paintings or photographs, Mivekannin would replace one or more of the heads with his own. By doing so, we are confronted with the discomfort of Mivekannin’s out-of-place head staring at us. His interference highlighted just how disturbing these images were in the first place. It’s through this discomfort that he tells his story.
View more of Roméo Mivekannin’s works here.