Beninese photographer Stéphane Bossart has developed his art practice around social and cultural life in Africa. Here he talks about his project focused on one of the stages along the historic Slave Route in the city of Ouidah.
Ouidah, a city located in the south of Benin, is known for the history of Voodoo culture and for its key role in the Atlantic slave trade from the 17th to the 19th century. It was a powerful sales and embarkation center for the Western slave trade, where enslaved people traversed a path marked out by stages before arriving at the "Door of No Return", where the ships were.
This route, now called the “Slave Route”, has seven main stages and four kilometers you can visit to go back in time and pay homage.
The Tree of Oblivion is one of its stages that I wanted to highlight with this project. The enslaved people had to turn around this tree a number of times before boarding the ships.
In accordance with Voodoo tradition, this was believed to make them amnesic. Once their past origins and cultural identities were "forgotten”, they became malleable, without any desire to react or to rebel.
In this series of images combining digital photography and photoshop montage, I document and playfully recall the history of this Tree of Oblivion, which can still be visited today in the historic city of Ouidah. The men in the foreground represent the “kings, dignitaries, fetishists, wise men and slave traders” and, in reality, all people who have contributed to the slave trade and attended the ceremony.
The idea of these pictures taken in Ouidah is to illustrate the story in its originality and share this experience with the world, because many ignore this part of the story when we talk about slavery in Africa.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Stéphane Bossart is a Beninese photographer who develops his practice around social and cultural life in Africa. After training in audiovisual and communication studies, he became a photojournalist. Attracted by documentation, discovery and personal encounters, he travels through different African countries in order to expose the many faces of the region. In parallel, he covers international sports and cultural events, developing his practice between Europe and Africa. His professional experience has allowed him to develop a series of artistic works that expose his personal vision of the African continent and, more particularly, of his country, Benin. The social relationships and ties within cities and communities, as well as historical and cultural heritage, are the driving force of his artistic research.