All of my sculptures speak of my country, my culture, my surroundings and my beliefs, as well as of the entirety of my worldview. I work with recovered materials since they are weighed down by time and transformed by usage, conferring a degree of vitality upon my sculptures that I would not be able to attain if I used new materials.
—Calixte Dakpogan (Interview with André Magnin, Porto-Novo, Benin, 2005)
Calixte Dakpogan is a descendent of the royal blacksmiths of Porto-Novo in the Republic of Benin. His ingenious sculptural compositions reflect upon coastal Benin's long history of exchanges that have defined its religious and political history. The country is the spiritual center of the religious system known as vodun, a faith that was disseminated and expanded to communities throughout the Americas as a result of the Atlantic slave trade.
Together with his brother Théodore and cousin Simonet Biokou, he has kept alive the royal forge at the Gukomy quarter of Porto-Novo dedicated to Gu, vodun's deity of iron and war. Inspired by Romuald Hazoumé, the Dakpogan forge began creating secular sculptures from composite material. In 1992, Benin's government commissioned one hundred works from the forge, including site-specific references to Gu, to be exhibited at the First International Festival of Vodun Arts and Cultures in the former slave port town of Ouidah.
While metal remains an essential component of his works, Dakpogan's sculptural creations have come to incorporate an expensive repertory of discarded consumption goods, including cassette tapes, floppy disks, CDs, combs, sandals, and soda cans. His skillful use of negative space is another formal device exploited in compositions. Consciously invoking the mask's importance as it relates to regional expression and to its centrality to the art-historical canon, Dakpogan reflects with humor on this status through a highly inventive synthesis of unexpected yet familiar elements.