The HealersLSHTM logologo: Africa 05 in collaboration with BBC
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Loulou Cherinet
Cyprien Tokoudagba
Zwelethu Mthethwa
Tracey Rose
Abdoulaye Konate
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image of Tokoudagba's work

Benin, b. 1939

Cyprien Tokoudagba's work was originally for commissions received from urban and rural community leaders to restore and decorate Voudou Temples to honour their deities. It was not until after his inclusion in the Paris exhibition 'Magiciens de la Terre' in 1989, that he began to paint on canvas.

His work is strongly associated with the social and religious history of Aborney, the former capital of the kingdom of Fon, now Southern Benin. His themes are largely derived from the Vodun (gods) of the Fon Voudou Pantheon and mythology. The presence of the Vodun is manifest in spirit possession, in the form of ritualized trance.

The three paintings included in the show are on loan from the October Gallery. They explore a religious cosmology that defines life and life-events including pro-creation and ritual healing. In a holistic approach to healing, Voudou medicine uses herbs with the idea of establishing and maintaining equilibrium between human vital energy, family/community obligations and the spiritual world. Tokoudagba's striking work is far more than mere decoration: it carries a powerful symbolism that has been described as 'ideograms'. In paintings made for the Vodou rituals each element that goes into them must be seen as a 'force-sign' symbolic of a god. Each force-sign - or 'ideogram' - indicates a particular quality, such as sexuality, and also designates the conjunction of the physical and spiritual power.

The rainbow serpent, pictured in one of the paintings on show (and above), is an incarnation of the Vodun god Da whose body encompasses the earth - physical and spiritual - and whose colours each speak of a sexual meaning; for example red is the male pole, blue the female.