During 2020, when Côte d’Ivoire was bracing itself for the potential of violent elections and fearful of another bloody period of civil unrest, I received a large donation of unwanted zippers. They were left over from a closed income-generating project started by a foreign NGO and had been languishing in storage for years.
I was struck by both their bold colours and the irony they presented; zippers are only brightly coloured in order to blend in with other fabrics and disappear. They are intended to be invisible servants holding the object or garment together. I couldn’t resist playing with this duality.
As violence played out on the political stage and fear grew, I started piecing these zips together into long, striped bands like traditional royal Kita (Kente) cloth. I am not able to vote here so this work represents my own quiet act of resistance. It also became my prayer for the kind of leadership we need: humble persons willing to make themselves beautiful through service.
Etoffe de Gloire
reclaimed nylon zippers
233cm x 215cm
A red bonnet is worn by many village chiefs in various West African cultures. Worn slouched to one side, it is a traditional symbol of humility. I exaggerated its form by making it two meters long. This creates a fun paradox: its exaggerated dimensions make it phallic but at the same time limp, dragging on the floor. Simultaneously it alludes to a man’s greatest pride and greatest fear. Again, I’m thinking about humility and vulnerability needed in leadership.
People seek to make themselves appear, strong, wise, beautiful to impress and oppress. But what if we clothed ourselves with abnegation instead? What world could that create for us all?
220cm x ⌀30cm
Photo: Eddy Dagher
I took motifs from embellishments found in prestigious Kita cloth and extrapolated that into an entire new textile, woven completely out of zippers.
The titles of these two works are traditional West African proverbs which call for modesty and compassion in leadership. These oral traditions ask, ‘what if the very essence or nature of leadership was humility, as these entire ‘royal textiles’ are made of zippers?’
When Asked to Look Up Don’t Lose Sight of What is on the Ground
200cm x 194cm
Leadership is a Borrowed Garment
204cm x 204cm
Princesse Yennenga is a historic heroine celebrated for disregarding gender rules, defiantly fleeing an arranged marriage and, through forbidden love, becoming the matriarch of the entire Mossi culture (Burkina Faso). My hope is that as people emulate her laudable qualities they also temper this with humility and service for those around them. The geometric block design was derived from my drawings of traditional Mossi weavings.
Everybody wants to be a star, but without the night, stars are invisible.
The best leaders work hard to make those they lead shine.
94cm x 77cm
The Night Between the Stars
203cm x 197cm
I draw my conceptual inspiration from Jesus as leader. He, as he claimed, came to be king and yet chose humble service in the most debased and degrading ways possible. According to Christian teaching he sacrificed himself to save his people. The diptych Coronation Week tells a little of this story. At the beginning of the week Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not in fanfare or a display of power, but in humility and peace. People welcomed him with joy and a makeshift ‘red carpet’ of palm branches.
By the end of this week the same crowds who welcomed him with praises were calling for his blood, and jeering at him as he was tortured and crucified outside the city. An expensive purple robe, normally reserved for the social elite was placed on him as an act of bitter mockery. Little did the mockers know that this was Jesus’ plan all along. His service as King was to pay off a debt his people could never repay themselves, and by doing so offer them liberation from a punishment too horrible to imagine. This is more than just an example to follow but a complete paradigm transformation.
Diptych: 62cm x 153cm; 156cm x 137cm
Like patchwork traditions around the globe, “N’Zassa” seeks to make the best with what is at hand. Each piece brings a contribution to the table, making the whole richer for its presence. Using zips and unconventional colour combinations I have reimagined traditional Baoulé cloth, different types of Kita and Faso Dan Fani, and cloth from Yacouba, Mooré and Benin cultures. I want each viewer here in Côte d’Ivoire to see their own region and culture represented, yet reimagined into something new. These “Anthems” and flags are, in a sense, a vision for the future. They are proposed as new flags of new societies marked by humility and mutual service on interpersonal, inter-ethnic, inter-regional and political levels.
Anthem for a New World Order
nylon zippers, brass rivets
307 x 503cm
Photo: Eddy Dagher
The Song We Could Sing If We Really Wanted to,
177cm x 314cm
Photo: Romaric Ibrahim
Whilst creating the “Anthems” collection, I was asked to create an artwork in response to the question “Where are we going?” I do a lot of research into pattern and motif in many cultures and times. Squares, triangles and (zig-zag) lines are common to many of these diverse traditions. Focusing on these primal elements, makes this work at once familiar to the viewer, and a place to find common ground with a stranger. Here, again I use zippers as a metaphor for deference: something needed to see that what we share at our core is more important than our differences. The future is something we must build together, and this basic understanding is the only place we can begin.Where are we going? I cannot exactly say, but what I do know is that Where We Start Is Where We Meet.
Where We Start is Where we Meet
95cm x 93cm
The Grounded series expresses my deepest longing to see local, cultural authentique expressions of faith that are simultaneously true to the core message of the Christian truths and truly and endemically African. They are encouragements in the task of decolonising biblical expression.
The textiles used and created are emblematic of this part of West Africa : Bogolan from Mali and northern Côte d’Ivoire, Ivoirien cotton, all naturally dyed. These are at once symbols of cultural identity and products of the earth— representing local, culturally-specific humanity. The use of gold paint and gold leaf symbolises the Divine and the result is an attempt at expressing the incarnation in a contextualised way. I use zippers as metaphors for abnegation, service and sacrifice. The Grounded works express the Man of Sorrows and the Suffering Servant of Scripture in a contextualised way, and also provoke local religious leadership to emulate this cultural authentic sacrificial style of servant-leadership rather than imitating the mega wealthy demigod tele-evangelists seen on international television.
bogolan, nylon zippers
86cm x 77cm
Western quilting traditions call this pattern ‘flying geese’. Instead of making a show of flying high, Jesus was brave enough to serve.
natural-dyed cotton, nylon zippers
68cm x 68cm
“See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah…has triumphed!”
Then I saw a lamb looking as if it had been slain standing on the throne.
— Revelation 5: 5
Behold the Lion
natural-dyed cotton, nylon zippers
141cm x 61cm
The idea of Jesus as healer is popular — and for good reason— but we ought not neglect the price it cost for him. In order to do so, he abased himself low as a sacrifice. A dressing covers a wound while it heals, but Jesus removed our sickness from us by by taking it on himself.
nylon zippers, natural fibres (gôgôlili)
442cm x 43cm
TRÔNUS is a brand new collection of original functional art pieces: footrests, stools… or whatever you want —they are your servants.
The name TRÔNUS, means throne, the irony of calling a footstool a throne, represents a great and wonderful mystery. The throne of the universe is occupied by one who chooses to serve. In the Bible the cube appears twice, as a symbol for the sacred presence of God. Will you take him home and let him serve you?
Each TRÔNUS footrest is an original and entirely unique handmade artwork. Click the image to see the list of currently available designs.
Photo : Eddy Dagher