The Griot

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Oil on canvas / 114 x 145 cm / 2004 – Sold

Prior to colonization, they were important personalities, king’s advisors , Masters of Ceremonies, and guardians of the memory of an entire people. In time of war they were the only captives, considered as a precious commodity that is concealed, like a secret book that contains history. Thus the Griot passed under the command of the victorious king, who also enriched himself with knowledge. The griots transmit their memory only generation to generation, and became griot father to son. Today, these guards still tell stories dating back several centuries. The stories are not written, but they stem from the memory keepers. They tell the stories to the rhythm of drums and other traditional instruments that give each of their sentence even more weight and expression.

This painting evokes the transmission of knowledge. In this table, the Griot shares his knowledge at the court, at the request of the king. It is surrounded by musicians, a player of Inza (a horsehair monocord, with the sound box composed of a half calabash on which is stretched a goat skin, an arched bow with a rope, also with horsehair of horse). This instrument has the particularity to imitate the hum of human voice, which is why it remains the preference of griots and West African storytellers.  The king is shown here with his two wives, his personal guard and his second to his right, all transfixed by the story of the Griot. Through this painting I describe the power of the intellectual and spiritual faculties opposite of material and military forces.


Griot player of Inza

Photo  : Archives de l’Afrique Noire – Editions de Lodi 2002