Alexis Peskine is an internationally renowned artist attracting a lot of attention for his incredible large-scale portraits of powerful black figures intricately rendered by hammering nails into wooden boards (what has now been coined as acupainture). Coming from a mixed heritage, he uses his art to make comments on identity and race within a global context. His use of nails has been linked to that on the Minkisi “power figures” of the Congo basin. But beyond cultural references, the tension embedded in the nail as an object that both has the possibility to build and destroy places the figures depicted in a similar state of tension. The very tension of an object forcefully inserted into another allows for the very aesthetically and formally pleasing work to become charged with meaning and possibility. Themes of immigration and the tensions of growing up mixed-race in a somewhat homogeneous society such as France have begun to permeate his practice as Peskine draws a wide range of different mediums and materials into his body of work.
The much acclaimed exhibition of work titled ‘The Raft of Medusa’, shown at Dak’Art ‘16 showed a new and exciting direction in Peskine’s practice. The multimedia installation featured video, sound, photography, as well as paintings on three dimensional objects (a carriage and a canoe) in his signature acupainture style. There were exciting moments that emerged which began to bridge fashion and art, specifically in Peskine’s use of the now globalised Ghana Must Go bags as a carrier for meaning. Figures clad in high-fashion-like assemblages of these bags wander the beach, stare far off into the distance or pose as the hawkers selling key-ring versions of famous landmarks to the tourists of Europe. Addressing themes of globalisation and colonialism through these carefully constructed images has allowed Peskine not only to highlight social issues, but to challenge the narratives constructed around these issues. The figures he depicts are strong individuals, and just as the Eiffel Tower looms behind the figure in the image so the challenges of inequality and racism still loom large, and are impossible to ignore. However, the presence of these issues does not detract from the strength of the individuals facing them.
There is an elevation taking place through Peskine’s work, both in the use of materiality, and in the figures he portrays. Especially powerful is the aforementioned image from the ‘Raft of Medusa’ series (referencing the historically famous painting by Gericault), positing the figure in a number of different registers for the viewer to read. Just as the Ghana Must Go bag interweaves different coloured strands, so a street-vendor selling curios, a kingly figure adorned with a crown of gold and holding a sceptre, a mighty warrior, and a Christ-like figure, are interwoven to give us insight to the complex visual language at play in Alexis Peskine’s work.