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Jems Robert Koko Bi

Jems Robert Koko Bi talks to the tree before he starts to saw. Will it accept his plan for a figure, abstract form or curve? He then carves heads using a chain saw, chars them black, and places them on a dish; or takes a tree trunk and builds a boat full of scorched, wooden people.

He has carved chairs that cannot be sat on, and depicted the face of Nelson Mandela with an expression of relief, suffering and exhaustion (Mandela, 2700 Pieces of Life's History, 2014). When making a sculpture, Koko Bi first carves a rough outline then ‘draws’ the details with a chain saw and burnt marks. His expressive form is angular, brutal, grimy and crude, but it also reveals his respect for the mythical power of the tree and forest, as well as the sensitivity and intimacy of his own highly personal relationship to his materials.

Koko Bi addresses the pain of freedom with its warped power relations and the brain drain of qualified workers from the African continent. His works draw on the long tradition of woodcuts in his home on the Ivory Coast, but is also conceptual. The piece in the exhibition has been made locally in Holbæk to mark a gathering place.

Born in 1966, in Sifra, Côte d'Ivoire, Jems Koko Bi studied Spanish History 1986-1988 at the University of Abidjan and later 1988-1995 art at Institut National Supérieur des Arts et de l'Action Culturelle (INSAAC) in Abidjan. In 1997 he achieved the DAAD scholarship and moved to Germany where he studied at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He has exhibited as part of "The Divine Comedy. Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists", Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), at the Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, and at the 7th and 8th Dak’Art Biennial of Contemporary African Art.


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Julie Damgaard Nielsen