The work of Erick Ahounou makes some people uncomfortable. His latest work was on display in Benin’s capital Cotonou. Named “Erotic gaze”, it left nothing to the imagination.
The exhibition showcased the female body in all its forms, while his subjects’ identities remained hidden.
Ahounou’s photos catch the audience off-guard, pushing boundaries where art, intimacy and vulgarity blur to create a bold collection.
In a conservative world, Ahounou said he wanted to showcase beauty and inspire conversation.
“I wanted to show a different view of African beauty, to show the beauty of my African sisters and I decided to take their pictures, and showcase all their curves. I have been doing it for 20 years and I own it. There was a time when I was criticised, but with time I have gotten used to it. It doesn’t affect me. The models that I use are protected. So as long as they are protected and I take the blame, which is fine with me,” he added.
The photographer says it was not easy to convince his models to pose in the nude. He had to assure them that their identities would never be revealed.
At the same time, Ahounou says he was anxious about how his work would be received at home – he has already exhibited “Erotic gaze” in Europe. He said he expected rejection, given the subject matter.
He was surprised when many of the visitors complimented him and expressed curiosity and enthusiasm towards his pictures.
Women were especially complementary of the series.
“I think it shows how women look. A woman has soul but also a body. Her body is an asset and it needs to be displayed in some form or another. He is doing it through his work, photography. It becomes a science. People here are appreciating this pictures because they are not vulgar,” said one guest, Djamila Idrissou Soule.
“I really like it. He respected the dignity of a woman. We see a woman, we see here women’s bodies and yet you can tell the identity of the woman in the picture. The mystery remains and its the love and it shows that all this work was done with a lot of love and has produced the beauty that you see here,” added another guest, Priscile Imelda Kpogbome.
Ahounou, who started photography at the age of 12 is a sought after especially in the fashion industry. His work has featured in different local publications.
“What I like about his work is how he works with colours and how the colours come out in his pictures. I like the way he uses different types of models, he doesn’t just use one model, and that gives his work a lot of depth,” said model
Ahounou hopes the exhibition will challenge the criminalization of female nudity and make it less taboo in the country, given how acceptable it is in certain rural communities in Benin.
“The fishmongers back at home, our grandmothers who sell fish do not care if their breasts are exposed or not, because they are always topless. There has never been a problem with that,” Ahounou added.
He hopes to take the exhibition to other parts of Africa as well.