Nuits Balnéaires United in Bassam

Apr 25–May 25
    Nuits Balnéaires, Adahonlin 6, from the series The Power of Alliances, 2021. Courtesy of the artist
Nuits Balnéaires, Adahonlin 6, from the series The Power of Alliances, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Nuits Balnéaires’ first solo exhibition in Canada, United in Bassam presents his 2021 series The Power of Alliances, which explores the shared heritage of the N’zima Kôtôkô—the seven founding families of Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast. This coastal city, where the multidisciplinary artist is based, forms the backdrop for his striking images and deeply inspires his work, which, in its richly woven narratives, aims to share ways of living in harmony, fostering a deeper spiritual connection and a sense of belonging.

Nuits Balnéaires, Alonhomba 4, from the series The Power of Alliances, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

In the wake of two destabilizing political crises in the 2000s, and amidst Ivory Coast’s ongoing national reconciliation efforts, Nuits BalnĂ©aires’ work emerges as a poignant tribute to solidarity. Toward this end, he delves into the symbols, roles, and relationships of the seven families who founded Grand-Bassam—the N’vavilĂ©, Alonhomba, EzohilĂ©, Adahonlin, N’djua, AzanwoulĂ©, and MafolĂŞ families. As members of the N’zima, they are also integrated into the broader Akan group, predominantly situated in present-day Ivory Coast and Ghana. The families founded Grand-Bassam in the 13th century after being exiled following a succession dispute within the Akan. Initially adopting diverse roles including miners, travellers, farmers, teachers, and rulers, their enduring social structure stands as a testament to interconnectedness, reinforcing the values of unity and accountability.

Nuits Balnéaires, Ezohilé 2, from the series The Power of Alliances, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Nuits BalnĂ©aires’ extensive research and meticulous approach culminate in powerful images portraying figures set against local scenery, created in collaboration with regional artisans. The artist engages in the dynamic dialogue between his subjects and their surroundings, attuned to every detail, and embracing spontaneity. His visual language intricately weaves together cultural heritage and tradition, with a dramaturgical perspective that breathes life into contemporary N’zima experiences and individual stories. Through portraiture, Nuits BalnĂ©aires strives to evoke a spectrum of emotions. The use of stark contrast between background and attire, highlighted with harmonious shades of gold and sepia, imbues his work with a nuanced intensity. His poetic approach guides the viewer’s experience, sometimes drawing them intimately close, at other times holding them at a respectful distance. In The Power of Alliances, individual images interweave to create a cohesive narrative, with distinct symbols illustrating the defining traits of each family. For example, N’djua 3 features fire and a dog as representations of the family’s self-discipline, reflecting their poise, control, and masterful serenity.

Collective endeavours are pivotal in building and preserving community. The N’zima Kôtôkô built kinship and a sense of shared history through gatherings like the Abissa. The N’vavilé originally introduced the Abissa as a spiritual and cathartic ceremony uniting the seven families and heralding the New Year—It has since evolved into a magnificent festival that draws thousands. Its vibrant music and dancing moves participants to express their true selves, and also serves as a powerful medium for reconciliation. The work Abissa 1 encapsulates that ephemeral moment when eyes, hearts, and minds open to welcome the unknown.

Nuits Balnéares, Abissa 1, from the series The Power of Alliances, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

In challenging times, the importance of nurturing connections and valuing collective identity over individual contributions becomes paramount. Each family within the community plays a vital role. For instance, the Azanwoulé women take on the communal grief during the mourning of N’zima kin, singing burial hymns and crying on behalf of the whole group. This unique form of support is depicted in Azanwoulé 1, which features three figures draped in traditional red-and-black Akan mourning fabric, each adorned with a black lace veil, while one of them dons a pendant of the Virgin Mary—a juxtaposition highlighting the complexity of their identities and embodying the coexistence of various realities and beliefs in Bassam.

Nuits Balnéaires, Azanwoulé 1, from the series The Power of Alliances, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

In an era marked by the difficulties of navigating social and physical landscapes, Nuits Balnéaires’ work emerges as a beacon of respect and mutual appreciation. The Power of Alliances not only mirrors the intricacies of current global realities, but also ignites a vision of collective aspirations, tracing a path towards unity.

Nuits BalnĂ©aires, N’vavilĂ© 2, from the series The Power of Alliances, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Further experience Nuits Balnéaires’ complex narratives of Grand-Bassam, brought to life in the heart of Tkaronto/Toronto with Window into Bassam, a captivating outdoor installation presented on billboards at College Street and Delaware Avenue, on view April 22 – May 31.

Curated by Mariah Coulibaly

Presented by Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue (BAND) in partnership with TO Live and CONTACT Photography Festival

Nuits Balnéaires is an Ivorian multidisciplinary artist born and raised in Abidjan in a large Akan Agni-bona and Malinké family. Currently based in Grand-Bassam, his practice explores territories and exile, the passage of time and nostalgia, the social structures and mechanisms that underpin the multiculturalism existing along the current Gulf of Guinea region. Over the years, his works on the cultures and social structure of the N’Zima people of Grand-Bassam have opened him to a new perspective of the collective imaginary of Côte d’Ivoire. Through his photo practice he shares stories intimately rooted in tradition and culture. Nuits Balnéaires’ work has been exhibited internationally including at ART X Lagos, 1-54 Contemporary art fair in Paris Christie’s, and FNB Art Johannesburg.

Mariah Coulibaly is an independent curator and researcher from Côte d’Ivoire and France, currently based in Toronto. Informed by her upbringing in West and Central Africa, her work explores identity, perspectives and imaginaries. Fascinated by the intricacy of social and cultural relations and the balance between individuality and community, Coulibaly aspires to create unique experiences and space for dialogue between observers and artists’ works. Coulibaly holds a Master’s degree in Cultural Policy and Management from Sciences Po Paris’ School of Public Affairs.