Emmaus International

The street artist Jinks has recently completed an art project in West Africa. In each of the countries he visited, he painted murals depicting women and men who work for their communities. He brought his tour to a close by visiting two Emmaus associations in Benin. He spoke to us about his project.


Interviewed on 3 November 2016

What is your Djiguene & Goor project about?
The project is a sort of “pictorial tour” around West Africa, spanning Senegal (Saint-Louis and Tambacounda), Mali (Bamako), Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou), Côte d'Ivoire (Abidjan) and Benin (Cotonou and Pahou). Djiguene & Goor means "Woman & Man" in the Wolof language. In each town, I painted a mural paying tribute to the women and men of the country using multi-layer stencils. And, where possible, I collaborated with local artists like El Marto, Manoos, Art K'Ange, and Zifu...

How did you have the idea for this project?
I've always liked to do tributes and I'd had this project in mind for West Africa for a long time. For nearly two years, I'd been building up contacts for another project here. A year ago, I was in Nepal for a similar project organised by the ArtLab collective from Kathmandu. I made a stencil measuring 430cm x 250cm mounted on 15-metre-high bamboo scaffolding in the small village of Beni. When I got back to France at the end of December, I decided it was the right time to launch this project in West Africa.

Who are the women and men you depict?
The Djiguene & Goor project aims to pay tribute to those who devote their time to others, or to the environment. The women I've painted often work with street children, orphans, or people with disabilities... The men tend to be more involved in organic farming, supplying organic vegetable baskets, keeping poor neighbourhoods tidy, addressing public health issues...

What message do you want to send with this project, and through your work in general? 
I just want to show the local people that some individuals are working for the community as a whole. I want to put these people in the spotlight, so that people know what they are doing for the benefit of the country. In Abidjan, Djo Drigbé, who set up an NGO working on tackling and publicising environmental issues in Côte d'Ivoire, told me that being immortalised in this way spurs him on to fight even harder. When they see me working on the stencil portraits, passers-by are surprised, of course. They stop, and this gives me the chance to talk about these heroes, who are all too often forgotten.
I send a lot of messages through my work. Above all, I want to encourage awareness so that people stop being intolerant and stop making generalisations. But sometimes, I also want to make people smile (laughs).

What role, in your view, can art play in raising awareness?
In France, we have the good fortune to be able to express ourselves *almost* freely, and artists even more so. So I think that we have to make use of this power to say what we think! Hasn't that been the aim of street art for over 40 years?

What did you take away from your visit to the Emmaus associations in Benin, where you painted portraits of Patrick Atohoun and Véronique Gnanih?
I was happy to see that an organisation like Emmaus has been managing to help people here. I'd even say that I'm astonished to see the tireless campaigning done by Patrick and Véronique in Benin! It isn't easy to make people understand that they will have to change their way of life. We have to remember that the colonial powers tried to change the ways of life of the local people, which ultimately led to customs and traditions disappearing, to some extent... Access to drinking water is one of the major projects Emmaus is working on Benin, and it was a very long battle for Patrick. As for Véronique, she has fought indefatigably to help young people get out of bad situations.
All this confirms my impression of Emmaus: an organisation for tolerance, which has been authentic since 1954! I think that says it all (laughs).

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In what way do you, as a citizen, share Emmaus' campaigns? 
A citizen has a duty to help their neighbour and to be tolerant. These are the values that I see in Emmaus, and which speak particularly to me. I am not an artist who hopes to get rich from my art. I don't understand the value of money: it doesn't interest me!
I just want to finance the projects that I do on a voluntary basis around the world. Sharing moments in the workshop or on a wall with people is far more rewarding for me than a salary. I think that for Emmaus, too, sharing is very important.

How do you hope that these works of art will live on after you leave?
I hope that they will stay up for at least a year, but we cannot forget that it's still street art, so if they disappear, that’s part of the game. They are all in public places (except in Bamako, where it was the Institut Français), so they're going to have a limited lifespan anyway.

Do you plan to make more out of this project by holding an exhibition? 
Next March and April, Galerie 18 in Nantes (France) will host an exhibition to complete the project. I don't want to give any more away because I want it to be a surprise for the visitors! But get ready (laughs)!


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