As part of Art Paris Art Fair, which is celebrating Africa this year, the Dapper Museum presents Les Mutants, by Soly Cissé, an exhibition bringing together some twenty works often unpublished in France and dialoguing with some of the artists Sculptures of Masterpieces of Africa.
The artist took inspiration from visual elements belonging to different aspects of pop culture. From this perspective, masks and statuettes are isolated from their context, reinterpreted and thus intentionally demystified to be included in a virtual world. Here fragments of text appear in the mouth of a mask, there a Bamana (Mali) Tyi wara crest tops a feminine body. Such a detachment, rendered by the distortion of these elements, gives Cissé’s work a contemporary dimension. By this means, cultural habits – implicitly mentioned or not – leave their mark and we might be invited to figure them out.
Soly Cissé’s art is marked by an ambivalence that charac- terizes figures belonging to several levels of representation. In fact, in Les Initiés, indefinable beings seem to be part of remote worlds. Two of them bear the staid attitude of statues guarding a sacred place. Could they be religious references? Nevertheless, it is not about limiting the inspiration of the artist to some “African” heritage but quite the contrary; it is about finding how cultural elements engage in a global approach opened on the contemporary world.
Reinforcing the relationships between the spirits and the divinities, the complicity between human and animal species is very common in the culture of most of the sub- saharian Africa societies. It determines the specific rituals that mark either the private or public life… In fact, Soly Cissé names his animal figures the “Soso”; he added the “so” of Soly to the “so” of Socé – which is the name of the people related to the Manding group his father belonged to.
In the artist’s creativity, a strange catlike ani- mal stands out and, when depicted many times on the same work, sets off a striking effect, giving the impression of a pack of stray predators. Curiously enough, its bul- ging eyes give it an almost human look, as if it were the only survivor of a violent earth- quake. Could it be an intercessor, a privileged intermediary between men? In some of Cissé’s other works, horned creatures, sheep, hyenas appear and the artist always seems to highlight their part in the environment.
Sculpture is growing more and more important in the artist’s work: in the 1990’s, he created Totems, which are real narrative objects. He used various materials and tech- niques for these artworks. The combination of sculpture and painting, far from being limited to an anatomic realism, offers an enigmatic image of the body. With a small head reminding an animal’s (a bird maybe?), Totem I includes two containers closed with painted glass like the traditio- nal reverse-glass paintings. These reliquaries circled with sharp elements remind the nkisi aesthetics – a term that qualifies certain powerful objects from the kongo cultures (Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo). Moreover, the small face appearing on the upper part, with its eyes wide-opened like it were sounding out the mysteries of the hereafter, shows similarities with some kongo masks and statuettes. Couldn’t this artwork also be analyzed from a ritualistic perspective? For the Soninke people and the Dogon people from Mali, this specific gesture, with the arms up, could be in fact a sign of imploring the divinities to make the rain fall.
As a scholarly artist, Soly Cissé deliberately plays with lots of various references and codes that mingle without spoiling each other. From this aesthetic point of view all the combinations are possible. The dis- tortion of forms and objects linked with traditional beliefs and myths especially, brings pieces of the past and renews them by including them in a statement that depicts the contemporary world.