Akasia News

Thank you, Florent!


ILOMANTSI. I’m afraid I have some disappointing news. The first ever world champion of bear sculpting isn’t traveling back to Benin now that the competition is over. Florent’s workmanship was largely appreciated – both by the jury and the public – but the jury decided to give the first prize to a Finnish chainsaw sculptor who demonstrated astonishing skill in describing the movement of the bear in a statue.

The first three prizes were awarded to:

1) Esko Heikura, Finland, 1500 euros

2) Erkki Rytkönen, Finland, 1000 euros

3) Silver Treiman, Estonia, a set of protective workwear

Congratulations, winners!

Leikkiä ja totta


Ms Helka Ketonen, member of the Jury, and cultural director of MSL gave thanks to Florent’s original idea about a hibernating bear and African perception of the Finnish national animal. Florent’s concentration and working technique also earned thanks, said madame la directrice.

Florent is leaving Finland in a couple of days with lots of new contacts in his phonebook and a few new skills in his pocket. “I’ll start using a chainsaw in my work. It’s very interesting. I’m also happy about all the new contacts I have”, he told VK reporters on the way back from Ilomantsi. He is looking forward to continue sharing with his European peers via Internet.



And what does Florent think about Finland? “The trees is Finnish forests are very straight and growing in clear lines”, he says. “It’s like Finnish people. Everything is straight and well organized, things have their own places.”

Along with new sculpting skills and contacts, Florent is bringing back home an experience of Finland. Here, up north, the air is fresh and working outside is very consuming. For this reason, one of Florent’s new experiences includes munkkikahvit, coffee&donut, a Finnish institution almost as important as the hot sauna. With the help of munkkikahvit, skill and artistic vision he finished his work and built a long-lasting Beninese monument in Ilomantsi. Florent’s Le Rêve Puissant will be displayed there every summer for years to come.




A Log of Scots Pine in Beninese Hands

Miikka Pörsti reports from Ilomantsi:


“I hear it’s louder here now than during the Winter war”, said member of the jury and outsider artist Eero Pulkki as the Bear sculpting championships had just begun in the keskusta of Ilomantsi, 10am this morning. Many of the 32 competitors are using chainsaws. However, some of them, like Beninese competitor Florent Nagoba, scholarship holder for VK and the Union for Rural Education and Culture, work with their handmade custom tools.


Estonian sculptor colleague Raivo inquired if Florent’s instruments had been made the same way as the Sampo. Yes, his tools are an accomplishment of a very skilful blacksmith (taitava seppä in Finnish, kvalifitseeritud sepp in Estonian). But unfortunately, for both Finns and Estonians, the Sampo has been destroyed a very long time ago. As the picture tells, talk of this tragedy devastated both competitors. To not unnecessarily darken the moods of the sculptors, the VK media team left the premises to enjoy a cup of coffee and a delicious vatruska in the nearby coffee shop.


Nevertheless, the competition is now on and our cheering thoughts are with Florent, proud son of Benin, who competes as number 24 until Saturday morning. By then his artistic vision and gifted hands will have turned a large log of scots pine into a bear.

Stay tuned.

Natural Mathematics and the Number 24

ILOMANTSI. Several gunshots have been fired in the forests surrounding Ilomantsi during the last 24 hours and at least seven casualties have been reported. One more soul is destined to leave behind its earthly vessel before ceasefire. Probably by dusk, the blood of one more will have been spilled into the rich soil of North-Karelia – and Ilomantsi’s killing quota filled.

It is the never-ending struggle between man and bear taking place once again, as it does every autumn in Finland. For those worried about the county’s bear population, let us remind you that there are some 200 adult bears plus from 1 to 4 baby bears per bear mother living on Ilomantsi’s grounds (3172km2).

Ilomantsi’s hunting quota of eight bears this year is excellent news for VK and MSL scholarship holder Florent Nagoba who competes under the number 24. Why is that? It’s simply because of the magic of the number three. Aha! Three times eight equals 24. This is a very simple case of natural math practiced daily in VK. Let us now present you some hard evidence behind this calculation.

Tools and Coovi

Akasia reporting team counted over 90 circles on this piece of log that comes from the same pine that Florent is carving. It means that the tree is over 90 years old.

Three is of course an important divine number in many worldviews. It is present i.e. in the Christian trinity, the Hindu Trimurti and the three layers of the ancient Finnish mythical cosmology.

And there is also the so-called rule of Three in story-telling and writing. This rule implies that three is good and three is nicely unstable and that whenever there’s a three, something is bound to happen. Ceasar’s famous line veni, vidi, vici, The Three Musqueteers by Alexandre Dumas and Goldilocks and the Three Bears are well-known examples of this truth.

All this evidence presented to you is to describe the good story we are all living in today in Ilomantsi (except for the eight bear casualties, of course). Florent is working side by side with colleagues from Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary and Russia. There’s lots of laughter and sharing: “Here, try this tool of mine!”, “Hey, could I see some pictures of your work?”, “Sure, thanks, kiitos, grazie, akpe, spasiba!”

In a couple of days, at noon on Saturday, when the competition will end, we will know the ending of the story. Here, we know it’s going to be good, whatever happens.

Today we’ll let Florent concentrate on his work, but before that we’ll to ask him how are things this fine North-Karelian afternoon.

“Ça va!”, he says with a smile.


Florent’s first name is Coovi as he has been born on a Friday. We nicknamed his log Coovi, too. Coovi is a fine gentleman that is over 90 years old.


A Mighty Dream

ILOMANTSI. Lot’s of – excuse me – damn good coffee is being consumed today in this lovely town that reminds many of the TV cult classic Twin Peaks. As the third day of the contest is starting, many sculptors are beginning to feel tired after laborious hours spent carving and long evenings spent Eastern European Style (za vas!). Although the mood of this place is very lynchian, we are not here to solve the murder of Laura Palmer but to witness a true mystery.

Ilomantsi Peaks

View on Kalevala street, in the Keskusta of Twin Peaks.

There are a few hours left of the competition and we are beginning to see that the logs that the 32 sculptors have been carving for now two and a half days, have never actually been trees. No sir! It is obvious now for all of us present here that the 100-year old pines and spruces have always been bears and that the artists are simply setting them free with their skill and intuition.

This morning it is also the time to celebrate the Father of Evolution’s heritage. As a sign of it our scholarship holder Florent put a Darwin cap hat on and grabbed his new Italian pal’s chainsaw – for the first time in his life. Fulvio Borgogno was happy to teach his Beninese colleague how to use this powerful tool. Florent seems thrilled about this evolution as an artist and has now a few more tricks and techniques in his pocket to bring back home.


As mentioned earlier most of the contestants are using chainsaws and other motorised tools. Florent and Fulvio are the only two to be doing most of the work by hand. In this sense, Florent is a double rare bird, both as the only African fellow in Ilomantsi and as a sculptor working mostly with traditional methods. This makes of Florent and his working site perhaps the most interesting place to visit for tourists and locals that are gathering now in town for the Bear festival starting tonight.


Florent Nagoba meeting the festival public. At his left is Miikka, Florent’s loyal cultural attaché, sidekick and bodyguard.

The bear is a mighty animal. We haven’t seen any live ones so far, but local hunter Arto was generous enough to borrow the skin, skull and penis bone of a 200-kilogram beast he shot in 2012 to the Bear festival. “And if someone claims that there is no bone in the bear’s prick, he is darn wrong!”, this fine local gentleman told MSL and VK reporters during this morning’s press conference, swinging the bone in question in the air.


Arto with the penis bone, the deceased bear and an MSL reporter at the press conference this morning.

Indeed, the bear is mighty in many ways. The power of the animal also inspired our scholarship holder Florent. “My piece is called A Mighty Rest (Fr. Le repos puissant), as I was inspired by the fact that when winter comes, the bear goes to hibernation under the snow”, he says. “It is this mighty rest that gives him back it’s God-given force.”

Here in Ilomantsi we are still hearing the mighty sound of chainsaws raging into the bear-logs for a couple of hours. This afternoon, at 4pm, silence will fall back from the skies upon this mysterious place.

And tomorrow, 24 hours later, we shall know the name of the first ever world champion of bear sculpting.

Stay tuned.  


As we are following closely news from Ilomantsi where a competition for sculptors is going on with the participation of a Beninese by name Florent Coovi NAGOBA, we are also happy to announce the arrival of Scholarship holders from Finland on the 1st of September to sanction the beginning of Villa Karo’s operational season.

Our staff under the leadership of Kwassi AKPLADOKOU, assisted by Richard TANDJOMA, Alphonse BODJRENOU, Georgette SINGBE, Boniface GOSSOU just to mention a few, is ready to receive incoming artists into its fold with joy. For more information, we have breezy sunny days and moderately cold nights that will sure disappear at the end of August for a warm weather.

Let’s talk about health, EBOLA, the suspected case detected some weeks ago has been proved negative. Beninese health authorities and international organizations ie. PLAN BENIN have cleared the air assuring Beninese and visitors of safety. All health centers and populations are well instructed about way of protection and prevention. Olette kaikki tervetulleita Grand Popoon. Ei pelkoa!

-Kwassi Akpladokou

Gildas Houessou in Ouidah – Comé – Grand-Popo – Agoué

Julia Autio, music pedagogue and trainee in Villa Karo

I have been lucky to follow the work of one real artist from Grand-Popo who is currently living in Salo, Finland. His name is Gildas Houessou but he uses GLDS as his stage name. The first time I had a chance to hear a few songs from his album ‘Grand-Popo-vi’ was in Ouidah the 10th of January. I already realized that what I saw on the stage was pure enjoyment and one big love of music.

Then a few weeks later I wanted to see his concert in Comé and there I really didn’t refuse to dance. Trying to shake my chest and shoulders like a real African dancer I might have looked more silly than authentic but I really had a good time in Comé! Even though the electricity went off during the concert, the rhythm continued thanks to the djembes, and the artist took advantage of the situation by singing acoustically. The flashlights lit the stage and the crowd.

Respect! Photo by Tuomas Uusheimo

One week later Gildas had a concert again, this time in Villa Karo, Grand-Popo. The concert was one of the biggest for the artist and the public even had the honour to hear two national hymns, Finnish and Beninese! To boot, the director of Villa Karo, Kwassi Akpladokou, gave a speech on the stage! Such a great evening full of love and music and not to forget that this concert was free of charge for everyone as it is a style in Villa Karo’s events.

At St. Valentine’s day there was still another surprise to come in Agoué. A group of Finnish musicians came to play with Gildas and their performance was like a refreshing breeze to the ears! Eight young talents playing African rhythms with djembes and congas acoustically! Such great solos and mutual understanding in the playing! Congratulations Heviosso, it was wonderful!

Later on, there was still Gildas’s concert and he didn’t let the public down this time either. A great atmosphere in the concert place full of people singing along with the artist, and Gildas didn’t loose his energy even in the end. If something should be criticized, the volume was way too loud for my ears.

Many many thanks to Gildas and his group for letting us enjoy his music! You shouldn’t miss this man’s concerts in Finland either!

Gildas ja Heviosso-group from Salo, Finland. Photo by Julia Autio