Azankpo is a self-made man and a self-taught artist. He had to learn to fend for himself early in life: At the age of 16, he had already left school for financial reasons, and in the years that followed, did all kinds of jobs to earn a living. He worked as a welder and metal worker, as a real estate agent, advertising homes for rent from posters on poles in the street, as a painter of advertising boards, as a serigrapher. His artistic career, that spans over 20 years, was launched in 1997 with Les Épouvantails des Champs, an open air installation. Today, he is an accomplished artist, creating unique pieces that are the result of complex life experiences, deep intellectual reflection, and intense physical work.
A mixed media artist, Azankpo uses plywood as a first layer and stitches onto it pieces that he has cut from materials he collects: enamel basins and metal containers. Each piece is carefully chosen for its themes, motifs, colors and purpose.
The enamel basins were originally acquired by women for their aesthetic appeal and the symbolism of their motifs - fruits, fish, peacocks, hunters, political figures, flowers, tigers, symbolizing prosperity, luck, and individual or collective affinities. They were a critical part of their owners’ history – they carried dowries, bathed children, held food shared among families, and transported goods sold at the market. Their importance in lives may be compared to that of wax prints. Although made in China, India, Nigeria, Eastern Europe or Spain, they became part of national culture.
The metal boxes and canisters, that Azankpo finds and buys on the second-hand market in Togo, come from all over the world. They contained chocolates, cookies, card games, video games, crayons, glue, baby powder, nivaquine, champagne… you name it! Some of these products are still being commercialized today, some have given way to more modern versions. They originate largely from multinational corporations, based in Asia, Europe or America. Azankpo chooses them not only for their motifs but for the story they tell. The resulting artworks can be read like a book, each element being a part of the narrative.
Bringing together these uniquely selected materials into complex works, Azankpo describes his art best: “The basin contained lives, it was present in every household. The metal box is a reflection of our current times, and what sustains us… food, entertainment, medicine. Basins and metal containers, coming from the far reaches of our world, meet in my work to tell universal human stories.”
Each of Azankpo’s series builds on his past work – as he creates, future artworks take shape in his mind.