Christian Lattier

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Article

Nike of Samothrace is the Chicken Thief

Sculptor Christian Lattier, born in 1925 in Grand Lahou on the Atlantic coast, is the most renowned artist of the Ivory Coast. He studied arts in France, where he achieved his first artistic success with his unique string-and-wire constructions, often designed as ironical adaptations of classical figures. In 1962, Lattier returned to the Ivory Coast to teach sculpture at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Abidjan. Christian Lattier died in 1978.
The “bare-handed sculptor”, as Christian Lattier was nicknamed, was born in 1925 in the port of Grand Lahou, about two hundred kilometres west of Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast. Twenty-five years after his death, he undoubtedly still is the country’s most renowned artist. He left his home country when still a boy, emigrated to France and joined the Marist Brotherhood of Saint-Chamond on the Loire in 1935. At the age of 21, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Saint-Etienne. One year later, he went on to study sculpture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he also worked for some time at the architect’s office of Dometh Guth.

Paris is also where Lattier first achieved artistic success. Not long after his arrival in the artists’ city in 1947, his extraordinary talent was recognized and soon won him considerable fame; particularly his unique sculptures fashioned of wood, stone, wire and a strong hemp fibre attracted considerable attention. In his creations Lattier used the traditional West African technique of weaving a mask around a core of wire, or better: he tied it up, with motifs mostly rooted in European art and cultural history. The resulting figures display a spirited eccentricity, born of the mixture of the powerful effects of tribal art and subject matters that are full of allusions and often also ironical and disrespectful.

One of these curiously fanciful, skilfully ornamented creations of string and wire is a statue named “The Chicken Thief or the Victory of Samothrace” from 1962, about 4.2 feet high, which today forms part of the estate of Christian Lattier and is on deposit at the Musée des Civilisations de Côte d’Ivoire in Abidjan. Lattier’s inspiration for this work obviously came from the Louvre, where the ancient statue of Nike of Samothrace, a main piece of Hellenistic Greek sculpture, is displayed.

At first glance, however, Lattier’s version does not seem to reflect its source of inspiration at all. Instead of the sublime goddess of victory, with her passionate, furious movements frozen in white marble, the viewer will be faced with what indeed looks more like a chicken thief: a ridiculously slender, miserable wretch in a brazen, straddling posture, seemingly on the verge of taking to its heels at any moment. Around the neck the figure wears a long chain with several lockets in classical vein, and on closer examination, a further reminiscence of the famous model can be discovered in the form of peculiarly dynamic shapes on the figure’s back, which, by a well-disposed viewer, could be interpreted as the wings and the flowing garments of the original Nike.

However, Lattier’s ironical approach to centuries-old traditions was not limited to European culture; also West African ritual masks were a subject matter of his artistic reinterpretation. In 1975, three years before he died, Lattier created a piece he titled “Mask”, again combining, in his special way, traditional techniques and traditional – in this case African – motifs with elements of European Abstraction and American Minimal Art. While prominent features are still faintly recognizable in the “Mask”, on the whole Lattier’s concise formal expression and love of ornament achieve a very free adaptation of the ritual model.

In 1962, the year in which he created “The Chicken Thief or the Victory of Samothrace”, Lattier returned to the Ivory Coast to teach sculpture at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Abidjan. For his works, Lattier received many awards, among others the “Premier Prix des Cathedrales de France” during his time in France (1953), the “Premier Prix Chenavard” (1954) and the Grand Prix at the first Festival of Black Arts in Dakar. In 1976 he was appointed a “Knight of the Order of the Republic of the Ivory Coast”. Christian Lattier died in 1978 under circumstances supposedly not fully known.
Author: Ulrich Clewing

Bio

1925 born in Grand Lahou, Ivory Coast
1946 Écoles des Beaux-Arts, Saint-Etienne
1947 École des Beaux-Arts, Paris
work at the architect’s office of Dometh Guth
1962 professor for sculptural art at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Abidjan
1978 dies in Abidjan

Works

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
1958 Sorbonne, Paris, Frankreich. 1959 Musée Rodin, Paris, Frankreich. Paris Biennale, Frankreich. 1961 Salon de Comparaison, Paris, Frankreich. 1966 Festival of Black Arts, Dakar, Senegal. 1967 Universal Fair, Montréal, Kanada. 1969 Festival de Algier, Algerien. 1975 Centre Culturel Français, Abidjan, Elfenbeinküste. Auszeichnungen: 1953 „Premier Prix des Cathedrales de France“ 1954 „Premier Prix Chenavard“ 1966 „Grand Prix Festival of Black Arts“, Dakar 1976 „Knight of the Order of the National Republic“, Elfenbeinküste

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)