In a nocturnal landscape, abandoned and deserted petrol stations.
The story you find is never the one you expect from the outset. I could not envision a sense of a nearly total disability of verbal communication, though I knew I lacked any knowledge of the local languages. You get along with French but my french is, to say the least, rudimentary and few people here understand English.
Of course, we have our guides, with a basic knowledge of English and a preconceived idea of what a visitor would like to experience. I, on the other hand, have no interest in tourist attractions and my guide has a narrow vocabulary of comprehending my undefined search of motives. Slowly, after mutual misinterpretations, my own instincts start setting in.
On the busy market streets of the town of Comé an agitated mob have surrounded a thickset woman. More and more people gather and seem to heckle and jeer at the woman, who is sweating profusely. Steve, my guide and a university graduate, tells me she is a “bat woman”. Someone in the crowd has witnessed a bat descending on the street and transforming into a woman. The woman appears dazed and stares in front of her with empty eyes. She seems to have no means of defending herself, confronting a collective verdict. Many of the onlookers have their mobile phones raised, filming and recording the incident. A witch hunt in the age of mobile communications. Unable to escape or move, the woman lies down on the street, blocking all traffic.
I have an interest in individual and collective mental issues, which seem to converge into local spiritual practices. Here we have a base of voodoo beliefs and an
abundance of christian churches and configurations. And along this, there are the vendors of all things, from goods, services to guidance and spiritual practices. We westerners are the masters of this commerce, we do it behind a mask of cultivation.
I feel no desire to verbalize what I see. I react on a universally human visual language, based on gestures, glances, looks, shapes, forms and colours. One needs to understand there is only one story to tell, the story of the human experience.
And it comes with variations.
Hans v. Schantz
Villa Karo, Grand-Popo, Benin