Non à la violence – No To Violence

Victor Amoussou, Jaana Houessou and Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou write about the exhibition they organized in Villa Karo in December 2012 and its backgrounds. The position of the girls in Benin, as well as the problems caused by the naval base set up last year in Grand-Popo, worried the artists and an exhibition was created that seeks to address the ills through means of art education.


Text: Victor Amoussou, Jaana Houessou and Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou

Ihmisiä istuu tuoleilla salissa. Monilla on vihreä paita päällä.

In late 2012, Grand-Popo was shaken by the encounter between the people and the villagers of the military base opened between Villa Karo and Hotel L’Auberge. Usually the uniform is respected, but these soldiers aroused fear and resentment with their behavior. There was talk of harassment, even rape of schoolgirls and women, and of blatant beatings of men. The violence was real and the peace of the bird sanctuary, or the village, had been broken. The soldiers quickly word from a high level and life returned to its old streams, but the chain of events shocked both the villagers and the visitors and made the artists tackle the subject when the situation was acute.


The Cracking Dignity exhibition was initiated by Jaana Houessou and Victor Amoussou. The content was honed in discussions with Villa Karo's director Kwassi Akpladokou. Kwassi’s text for women’s rights against violence became a central theme of the exhibition. The text was part of the exhibition written on the wall. Jaana, as a non-community Western woman, and Victor as a community member and African man, interpreted their own perspectives in their works.


Concerns about the situation of girls were particularly raised during the discussions. Young girls in Benin are not traditionally taught how to defend themselves nor how to protect the integrity of their bodies. In general, the idea of immunity is different in tone than in Western countries, because in addition to members of one's own community, adult guests can also intervene in the affairs of children and young people on a very personal level. Girls’ obedience and naivety can easily turn against the girls when faced with young adult men outside their own family community for military work. Girls' education should now emphasize the development of critical thinking and the opposite sex encounter with a healthy self-esteem.


Jaana's work Dignity dealt with this theme. The continuous fabric from the hem of the school uniform of the girl standing in the foreground of the work combines with the white dress of the authoritative ancestors supervising behind her back. The skin of the ancestral mothers is dyed white as is customary for those initiated by vodka. The concrete connection with the schoolgirl reminds us that behind every small and disadvantaged is the tradition of her family. The insult to the defenseless and powerless affects the whole family, according to cultural tradition, always present and highly respected ancestors.


The violence perpetrated against civilians by the military of our own state is surprising and crippling the community. Various authorities, from priests to teachers, from politicians to soldiers, act as constructive and supportive figures in society. Therefore, their bad and violent behavior hurts the whole community. Jaana's work Unity dealt with this theme. In a dense village community, the victimization of one affects everyone. Experiencing violence is traumatic for the victim himself, but his immediate circle also feels insecure. Can anyone in Grand-Pop no longer trust the soldiers after the clashes?

Jaana Houessoun 'Dignity' teos.

Jaana Houessou Dignity 2012

Jaana’s work Awareness consists of ten pencil drawings, each with one person hiding their face behind their hands. Close-knit violence and insecurity provoke a wide range of reactions. The hidden face hides various reactions from the community, such as compassion, denial, anger, grief, loss of self-control, and empathy. Jaana’s idea of hiding reactions encouraged Victoria to take the opposite view: to look at violence brutally in the eyes through art so that we understand not to use it.


Victor’s contribution to the exhibition expanded the theme from a family and village community to a national and global perspective. The ensemble consisted of two installations as well as a performance at the opening, in which he opened the content of the works in his own language. Such an important message was delivered in the villagers' own mother tongue.


The installations were based on two paintings, Abortion and Shout Without Consolation, which Victor had painted as a prophecy as early as 2009, but never presented in public before. Now the time was ripe and the works painfully topical in Benin. The installations and performance continued the story of the paintings, urging the audience to look at the causes and consequences of the violence so that conflicts could be prevented or dealt with before embarking on a fatal crisis. The numerous bloody civil wars and genocides in Africa are the result of similarly initially initially violent conflicts that got out of hand, such as Rwanda, Liberia, Zaire, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, among others.


Children and women gather in the Husiga's place. Photography workshop in the town of Agbanakin, Togo.

There is a gun at the top of the Shout Without Consolation painting. Where do guns come from in Africa? Historically, barter to natural resources, today also as political support for colonial powers and allies to certain parties. The power machinery swallows national funds and at the same time the people live in poverty. Corruption and crime, mental and physical violence come as a mild phenomenon. The red cross drawn on the gun reflects humanitarian aid in general: why is war needed before aid is provided to those suffering from poverty? Blood flows from the gun and cross along the surface of the painting. Beneath them is a lame Chinese plastic doll thrown into the beach by the waves in dirty wraps. It reflects the cultural heritage acquired by children who experienced war.


Jaana Houessou Awareness 2012


In wars, violence is always cruel. In the worst cases, it targets civilians: women are raped, parents can be killed in front of a child. War children in particular find it difficult to recover from trauma and often result in rebellion that leads to a spiral of war. Army soldiers also come from families: why are they willing to beat and kill their own brothers? The installation has wooden sculptures on a stand in front of the painting. In the middle is an old sage with an egg on his head symbolizing life and its fragility, as well as innocent victims. On the head of a desperate woman kneeling next to him is a broken egg with a dead embryo. On the other side of the young woman's head are pieces of the shell. Life has been destroyed and she sees the war openly and bitterly, ready for resistance. One child looks frightened in the background wondering what is happening; the other has turned his back because he cannot bear to look; the third has decided to surrender and flee; the fourth has fallen and died in shock. An elderly man leaning on his rod of power has turned his back on war, showing that he nevertheless wants to believe in the power of life.

The red garment in the foreground of the installation symbolizes danger and black sadness. On opening day, they hid under an army-dressed puppet, with whom puppetist Jacques Kpade performed a choreography designed by Victor. Lyricist John Folass also performed as part of the performance. He presented a Kalevala-like rhyme slam about the suffering and life challenges of an African in relation to Victor’s works.


In Abortion, Victor takes a stand on the position of women and young girls, the power of an adult to decide on a child’s life, and respect for life in general. As young people become independent, money, drugs and sex interest both girls and boys. Young people do not understand the serious and far-reaching consequences. Many boys quickly drift into a criminal path, but the position of girls is even more fatal. Teenage pregnancies are common, also caused by adult criminal men. When a girl wants to go on to an “easy” life or finds that the desired family life is not allowed, she wants to get rid of the fetus by any means, such as through illegal doctors, by taking doses of illegal drugs or traditional herbal remedies. While the life of the unborn child is violently destroyed, the girl’s health is endangered. The death of a young woman who tried an abortion is a tragedy for the community and a silence of shame for the whole family. Often, a family or community takes care of girls left in a desperate situation, but if loved ones are unable to help, the girls can be left completely alone. Benin’s radio and television confirm that newborns are found alive and dead, even in landfills and on the streets. In the installation of Victor’s Abortion, an elderly priestess stands in front of an antique mirror. The old mirror is like a window of history that has seen many faces. Young people look at the exterior surface of the mirror, which is not culturally significant, but the elderly see the weathered and the present from the mirror and are worried about the future.

Jaana and Victor wanted to do an art education exhibition, at least for the opening audience the wish came true. At the opening, Jaana presented her own works in English and Victor translated the speech into Mina. Known as a charismatic performer, Victor’s dramatic performance moved many to tears. Shout Without Consolation, so in the language of Mina, “Ahoua ma sé gbo”-shouts echoed on the village track of Grand-Popo several days after the opening.


Victor Amoussou Shout Without Consolation 2009-2012


Victor Amoussou Abortion 2009-2012


Victor Amoussou Abortion, details


Opening night


John Folass


Opening night on Lissa Gbassa's terasse.


John, Victor ja Jaana