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Issue 238

The Entangled Microcosm of Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien

In ‘L’être, l’autre et l’entre’ at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, the artist weaves together human and cosmological in-betweens

BY Zoë Hopkins in Exhibition Reviews | 02 AUG 23

The objects in Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien’s latest exhibition, ‘L’être, l’autre et l’entre’ (Being, the Other and Between), appear restless, insistently pushing against the confines of the space. Wall-hung tapestries extend out into the gallery, pebbles coat an expanse of the floor and a voice-over of Manlanbien reading aloud her own poetry gently reverberates around the room. The experience is one of totality – a microcosmic world in which things overflow and become entangled with one another. 

Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien, Ofititi, 2022, Musée Carnavalet, weaving, sewing, engraving, ceramic, painting on silk, sculpture, variable dimensions. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, © Adagp, Paris

Manlanbien, who lives and works in Paris, is of Côte d’Ivoirian and Guadalupian heritage. These cultural milieux and their matriarchal craft traditions are crucial substrates in her art, which also borrows from historically feminine Ghanaian and Creole mythologies and aesthetics. As a young child, the artist was surrounded by female artisans – in particular weavers – whose practices remain vital to her own but which she has come to modify with her own visual language. Ofititi #3 (Audio #3, 2022) and Ga ï sa – Maternity Goddess of Love #1 (Here It Is – Maternity Goddess of Love #1, 2022), for instance, employ raffia palm – a material used by countless generations of Central and West African artisans – as a base material, which the artist then embeds with contemporary techniques, such as photomontage. 

Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien, ‘L’être, l’autre et l’entre’, 2023, exhibition view, Palais de Tokyo. Courtesy: © Adagp, Paris; photograph: Aurélien Mol

At the centre of the gallery, we encounter a three-part installation comprised of Mater Hydro, Take Care and Asoasa – Mater Hydro (all 2023), a grouping of sculpture and tapestry resting on a bed of rocks. Take Care, a monumental coil of copper, signals towards systems of bodily circulation in its infinite loop. Crystals – which the artist takes as material signifiers of clairvoyance and healing – accentuate the sculpture’s snaking line. It is tempting to imagine a life force moving through the sculpture, a potentiality echoed in a line of Manlanbien’s poetry: ‘This Energy / This Power / It comes from our blood.’ 

The works at Palais de Tokyo not only drawn on the materials associated with Manlanbien’s cultural identities but are also inflected by her attunement to a plurality of psychic places. The tapestries are marked by converging and diverging eddies of thread. In Organic Landscapes – La nuit #2 (Organic Landscapes – The Night #2, 2022), shells, plants and other natural materials carrying cultural significance in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are embroidered into a web resembling a map of the earth or the cosmos. Here, the idea of interconnectedness is physically embedded into the work, with codependent materials literally woven together.

Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien, ‘L’être, l’autre et l’entre’, 2023, exhibition view, Palais de Tokyo. Courtesy: © Adagp, Paris; photograph: Aurélien Mol

This visual cartography resurfaces in the artist’s poetry, which appears not only in the voice-over but written on the wall. Divided into two parts – one resembling a spiral, the other an astrological map – its morphology approximates concrete poetry. Both these schemas resist any clear start or finish: rather than tracing a precise narrative, words are loosely mapped in relation to one another.

Though they move beyond the human and towards the cosmological, Manlanbien’s artworks are also concerned with the embodied experience of being human, lavishing careful attention on corporeality and outlining bodies precisely. In a self-portrait titled Portrait – Soigne et Protège (Portrait – Heals and Protects, 2021–23), a silhouetted figure erupts from the head bearing a profusion of flowers and shells. Embroidery resembling mycelial networks emerges from the crown of this figure, entangling the human with the non-human. On the back of the same tapestry, the artist has stitched a portrait of her brother, weaving their bodies and beings together. Manlanbien’s exhibition is a map of its own title, an ontological cartography of the relationship between one entity and another.   

Marie-Claire Messouma’s L’être, l’autre et l’entre is on view at Palais De Tokyo, Paris, until 10 September 2023

Main image: Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien, L’être, l’autre et l’entre, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: © Adagp, Paris; photograph: Aurélien Mol

Zoë Hopkins is a writer and critic based in New York, USA. She received her BA in art history and African American studies at Harvard University, Cambridge, USA, and is currently working on her MA in modern and contemporary art at Columbia University, New York. Her writing has been published in Artforum, The Brooklyn Rail, Cultured and Hyperallergic.