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meeting with the Franco-Beninese painter Leslie Amine – Jeune Afrique

Last November, Also Known As Africa (AKAA) resumed its quarters at the Carreau du Temple, in Paris, under the theme “Back in time”, after two years tinged with a health crisis. From April 6 to May 24, a piece of the fair travels to Lyon, in a reduced committee of 14 artists, in the Manifesta gallery, a former silk workshop in the heart of the city. Young Africa came to explore the work of Leslie Amine. She tells the genesis.

Two paintings in red tones are installed side by side in the large hall of the Lyon gallery. They are signed by the Franco-Beninese artist Leslie Amine, taken from the “Conversations” collection. The painter plays with transparencies, works on the fluidity of matter, superimposes acrylic and inks. The gaze travels between the strata of her technique and the story she delivers. Both illustrate discussions against the backdrop of a dreamlike landscape, where the palm trees contrast with the setting sun, at a time when the sky takes on its color of blood. As is often the case in her painting, according to the artistic director of the fair, Armelle Dakouo, Leslie Amine sweeps her brush through anecdotes, self-searching, travels and memories of Africa.

Identity quest

Leslie was 18 when she discovered the continent, through her father’s country, Benin. She goes there alone, finds part of her family who still lives there, as if to respond to a quest for herself. “I really wanted to go there, I imagined a lot of things, it was a slap in the face and I started researching my origins with this trip,” she recalls.

People often ask me why I only paint black people. I think I need that representation right there

Leslie grew up light years away from that reality, in Saint-Étienne, “a town where there weren’t many blacks, I was presented as such, and where I suffered from racism”, she explains. In Benin, she unexpectedly becomes “la Blanche”. Her interbreeding makes her wonder about the place that could be hers: “Who am I in this world where I am always the stranger? “, she formulates many years later, in memory of this time. In fact, we find in the work of Leslie Amine a great exploration of the question of interbreeding and identity.

“Conversations” by artist Leslie Amine. © Manifesta Gallery / Guillaume Grasset

She found a form of answer to her question over the last fifteen years of artistic work. Today, it’s “integrated,” she says. She pauses. “People often ask me why I only paint black people. Perhaps the quest continues? The left painting on the wall of the Manifesta gallery represents two men in the foreground, on the right, a man and a woman discuss. All of them are indeed black. “Why are they the ones that interest me? “, she wonders, before starting to answer. “I think I need this representation, to illustrate the black body, like a second search that would be broader than myself, than my questioning about who I am. »

These bodies come at the same time from her travels, in Haiti in particular, in Benin, in Cameroon, where she has ties through her husband. But also many street encounters she makes in France, where she photographs the black-skinned people she meets. “There is a whole phase of my work which is based on the representation of the diaspora, those in the painting on the right posed for me in Grenoble”, she explains.

Dive into the postcard

Between the palm trees of the painting on the left emerges a shell, signaling the Shell petrol station. Leslie Amine likes to slip “symbols of the big cities of Africa” into her paintings. When I took the photo that inspired this work, I framed this sign, it seemed to me so significant in the landscape, so imposing”. On the right painting, the jungle is visited by a pair of Stan Smiths. She smiles at these encounters which can sometimes create “strangeness, or forms of anachronism”, but which are familiar to us.

Ink and acrylic on canvas, 130 x 160 cm.  © Manifesta Gallery / Guillaume Grasset

Ink and acrylic on canvas, 130 x 160 cm. © Manifesta Gallery / Guillaume Grasset

Leslie Amine leaves his viewer free to interpret, everything is “without particular claim, without labels, open to possibilities”. She is fascinated by these exotic landscapes, perfect illustrations of her idea of ​​”elsewhere”. His funds always give the impression of plunging into a postcard. She works from photographs taken during her travels, “not on the spot”, therefore, even if there is something very instinctive about her painting that gives the impression of jumping into one of her memories. Her layering of materials and stories are reminiscent of “the do-it-yourself and layout of the streets” that she often sees in Cameroon. She soon said she was running out of images to feed her painting. Strongly the next departure.

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