Nuits Balnéaires, (Detail) Alonhomba from The Power of Alliances series, 2021, Fine Art Print on Epson Enhanced Fine Art Paper, 20×80 cm, Edition of 5. Courtesy of DADA Gallery.
Hi Nuits Balnéaires! Your artist name, Nuits Balnéaires, translates to “seaside nights” in English. How did you choose this name and what does it mean to you?
Nuits Balnéaires expresses the quintessence of my fascination for the energy and the spirit of the Gulf of Guinea coastline, this space where I find my balance. The expression indeed comes from this poem that came to me one night as a revelation. From depression, cataclysm, and troubled moments, I found a new peace in the vision of looking at a horizon and seeing miniature catamarans sailing on the “seaside nights of Sao Tomé and Principe”. I feel something very strong and spiritual from this viewpoint, hence the omnipresence of the sea in my work.
“I try to create a parallel space-time outside geographical constraints by embracing the universality of the oceans, and the way they connect worlds and universes.”
Your photographs document places dear to you; calm waters, sinuous landscapes, and ancestral cultures are perfectly portrayed in your pictures as poetic traces of our existence. Through your work, you reconnect with the cultural heritage of West Africa, creating new narratives for African youth. How did nature and your surroundings become so central in your practice?
I spent my childhood between Abidjan and its surrounding coastline and my village Tanokoffikro in the eastern part of Côte d’Ivoire. The moments spent in these environments have deeply shaped my sensitivity. The history of my family, the migratory flows through the territories of West Africa, the coast of the Gulf of Guinea – gateway to the global culture that I carry today, art and the many cultural influences that have nourished my practice. The essence that has over time shaped the culture I have today resonates strongly within my work.
The duality in your name — the sea and the night— is soothing yet turbulent. The sea at night can be frightening and overpowering, but also at times alleviating and comforting. Does this duality inspire you? How is this conveyed in your work?
I try to create a parallel space-time outside geographical constraints by embracing the universality of the oceans, and the way they connect worlds and universes. The ocean, the sunset, the night, the presence of stars, of the moon and the sun, as well as the atmosphere that emerges from my images, all illustrate this duality.
“The search for a deep spiritual connection is the catalyst of my life and my work. I try to create a space of peace and harmony through the exploration of subjects and questions that fascinate me.”
There is something transcendental about your work; an ability to reach across space, location, and time. Bayo Hassan Bello aptly described your work in Magic Bassam as projecting “fantastic landscapes and familiar moments” with a “euphoric stillness that is both historic and contemporaneous in its subtle references of the spiritual and the mundane.” Can you tell us about your own spiritual journey and how that is reflected in the landscapes you envision?
The search for a deep spiritual connection is the catalyst of my life and my work. I try to create a space of peace and harmony through the exploration of subjects and questions that fascinate me. For example, my series “The Power of Alliances” was born from encounters in the community of Grand-Bassam, where I settled in 2019. The residents’ resilience during the floods made me want to know more about the values of this community. A year-long Visual Journalism Fellowship with the World Press Photo Foundation and Chocolonely Foundation was the perfect opportunity to develop a large-scale project through which to delve into this topic. It is a research-based work that allowed me to illustrate the 7 great families of the N’zima Kotokô tribe of Grand-Bassam, and it shed light on the foundation of a solid social structure that has spanned several centuries.
In 2020, you were the recipient of the Goethe Institut and Prince Claus Fund 2020 Call for Proposals to support cultural and artistic responses to environmental change. What was your inspiration for the project and what do you think is the pertinence of initiatives like this?
Death is the Space that Nature Needs to Be Alive is an experimental feature film and a collection of texts. I conceived the project while in isolation in the remote village of Tanokofikkro in the Central East of Côte D’Ivoire. It is the result of an introspection questioning how the disappearance of humans affects the sustainability of natural life. My partner Bayo Hassan Bello and I have developed the project and enriched it with our different perspectives. The film draws inspiration from family archives, oral interviews, tales and folklore of the Agni-Bona people (the main residents of Tanokoffikro). It narrates spiritual beliefs, social structures and the relationship the people of Tanokoffikro have with their environment. An initiative like this aims to stimulate public attention on local responses to environmental issues, provide space for different perspectives within the sustainability discussion, and encourage a harmonious relationship among people and the spaces they inhabit.