On Friday November 25th, NMAG opens Don’t Sit In. Please join us between 6 – 10 PM at Nieuwe Herengracht 121-123 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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Thierry Oussou (Benin, 1988) is a current resident at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam (2014-2016). The self-taught artist has an interdisciplinary practice, to be witnessed at his concurring exhibitions at Rijksakademie OPEN and at No Man’s Art Gallery. Oussou is represented by Ornis A. Gallery in the Netherlands and exhibits with Stevenson Gallery in South Africa. 

Oussou refers to his current practice as social archeology, exploring the nature of objects and humans in continuos transformation by social context in which they exist. A point of departure for ‘Don’t Sit In’ can be found in the work that Oussou simultaneously exhibits during RijksakademieOPEN (24 – 27 November 2016 in Amsterdam) where he displays an installation of dug up objects and artifacts. One of the objects is a throne, a replica of the throne of the last pre-colonial king of Benin, Béhanzin. The original throne was looted by French colonialists and brought to France, where it is today part of the museum Quai Branly in Paris. Replicating the throne and making it visible in his studio at Rijksakademie Oussou reflects on the relationship between contemporary art and ethnographic objects in museums and questions who owns the throne and where should it be displayed.

‘Don’t Sit In’ continues the attempt to disentangle the complexity of human relations and their impact on power relations and questions of entitlement towards objects. At the center of the exhibition are three beach chairs of European design, created by hand by Beninese women. On the fabric of the three chairs the words ‘Don’t’ ‘Sit’ and ‘In’ are embroidered by Oussou. When one comes across only one chair, it might just encourage a passerby to ‘Sit’ on it and use it for it’s original purpose. The chairs are visible from outside, but accessible only through a complex forest of burnt masks, that are suspended from the ceiling and cover the floors of the exhibition space.

The position of the chair is not chosen at random. Our entitlement to make use of an object, to occupy a space as if it is our own depends on the relationships we form and the extent to which we are prepared to adapt in order to claim a position within existing power structures. The masks symbolise the different adaptations of behaviour depending on and defining the context. Ultimately, whether we are allowed to sit, are not allowed to sit or choose to sit in the chair regardless of our entitlement depends on our place within the power structures. It is a shifting position. Influenced by concurring decisions to adapt by others that move within the same structures.

The placement of masks and the chairs testify to the consciousness of the artist about the necessity of navigating social spheres in order to arrive at what we want. Our need to adapt behaviour decreases with intimacy and power, signified by the decreasing amount of stacks of discarded masks when we approach the chairs in the exhibtion space.

No Man’s Art Gallery thanks Thierry Oussou for trusting us with his work, Ornis A. Gallery for collaborating with us on this exhibition, Ashley Swagers for her ample contributions to this text and Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten Amsterdam. The exhibition is open until December 18th on Fridays to Sundays, 11am – 6pm at Nieuwe Herengracht 121-123 in Amsterdam.

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Thierry Oussou was born in Allada, Benin, in 1988, where he created the art studio, Yè. In 2016 he has been awarded with the Jacqueline van Tongeren fellowship. He is currently a resident at the the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam (2015-2016). And has exhibited Solo show Ornis Gallery Amsterdam (2016), Nine Artists Stevenson Gallery Cap-Town (2015) , Dokoutin, Brussels (2014) , the Dakar Biennale, DAK’ART 2014 and in the exhibition ‘Utopia’ in the Holbæk Museum, Denmark. (2013)

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