I was born in Dakar in 1965, I am of Benin origin.
I heard about The Black Code when I was a child ; it was mentioned during a lesson at school but so briefly, that it got buried in the deep crevices of my memory.
I have always been attracted to the Loire river and the surrounding region in France.In 2004, I was invited by the Center of Contemporary Art at Nantes on an artist-in-residency programme linked to the Dakar Biennale of the same year. It was during my stay there that I discovered The Black Code by “coincidence” sitting on a shelf in a local book fair.
Nantes was a revelation to me, it felt like being in a burial ground. Her position in French history is crucial as the point of departure of the slave trade; it was here that the slave boats were constructed between the 17th and 19th centuries, destined to embark on their mission to export slaves from Africa into exile.
I returned home with this “book” which has never since left my side and with the clear conviction that < no matter how you try to escape from your past it will eventually catch up with you> My encounter with the Black code has been at the very least the most metaphysical experience in my creative path; My first impressions were of disbelief an non-comprehension. After several re-readings, I was taken aback by the cold, methodical cutting tone underlying each phrase. My entire being rejected this information as if it were too horrible, too filthy to digest or even assimilate. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to dig deeper; I wanted to understand how fellow human beings could develop such an anti-human concept as The Black Code ( bear in mind that this was no quick after thought but that Colbert and his commission spent three years planning and writing “legal” text of 60 articles ).
I has been one hell of an internal battle trying to plunge into this book without getting soiled but this duel was necessary and has opened up in me new channels of strength; physically, emotionally and spiritually and the images started to flow....Consequently, I have been haunted by the memories of those who can no longer testify for themselves. Faces, Forms and Associations began to manifest as tangible creative expressions.
After months of immersion, it has become evident to me that it is time to de-mystify slavery as a unique phenomenon particular to the black race but rather to view it as part of universal patrimony. It has helped me to link the problems of racism and Xenophobia, past and present, N/S or E/W as essentially economically based.
For me, outing the “monster” from oblivion has required my taking a stand in relation to the History of Africa; and in so doing, participating in the transmission of the contemporary story.
Translation Obi Okigbo