Ras Sankar, also known as Kossi Aféli Agboka, is a Togolese self-taught artist who uses his body as the main medium of his performance art. He is the winner of the third edition of the Ellipse Prize, an initiative that supports emerging artists from sub-Saharan Africa or south-east Asia in France. The theme of this year’s prize was “Dreamy Memory”, and Ras Sankar impressed the jury with his engaged and provocative interventions that address sociopolitical and environmental issues in his country and beyond.
The Ellipse Prize was launched in 2021 by the endowment fund ellipse art projects, which aims to promote artistic creation and cultural diversity in France. The prize is linked to a theme every year, and invites artists living in a specific region to submit their works. The winner receives an exhibition at the international art fair AKAA – ALSO KNOWN AS AFRICA, as well as professional media support.
The 2023 edition of the prize was dedicated to the Togolese emerging artistic scene, and received 54 applications from artists living in Togo or abroad. The jury, composed of contemporary art professionals and Togolese art scene specialists, selected five finalists: Parmenas Awudza, Clément Gbegno, Ras Sankar, Koffi Seble and Thierry Tomety. After long and rich debates, Ras Sankar was chosen as the winner for his original and powerful performances that challenge the audience and generate reflections on the past, present and future of his nation.
Ras Sankar was born in 1989 and started his artistic career as a visual artist. He began performance art in 2015, using his body as the principal medium to express his messages. He considers performance art as a way to “kill the fear, resurrect courage with optimism”. He often performs in public spaces, such as streets or markets, to reach a wider audience and to create a dialogue with the people. He also founded an association that gathers artists who are involved in social actions.
Some of his notable performances include:
- Prière d’une nation (Prayer of a nation), 2021: Ras Sankar performs a “forgiveness ritual” to the ancestors for the past, and seeks to understand it for a better present and future.
- Mémoire du sang (Memory of blood), 2021: Ras Sankar pays homage to the history and the struggle for freedom of his country, which was marked by massacres, assassinations and forced exiles. He considers blood as inseparable from the being, and as a carrier of memory and trauma.
- Recycle-moi (Recycle me), 2018: Ras Sankar covers himself with rubbish to raise awareness about the environmental crisis and the need to protect nature from overconsumption and pollution.
- Agbantè, 2021: Ras Sankar uses an Ewe word that means “the load on the head” to question the identity and cultural heritage of his people. He invites them to free themselves from the spiritual and colonial weight of slavery and colonization, and to embrace their own values and traditions.
- Position du vent (Position of the wind), 2022: Ras Sankar addresses two metaphors related to the wind. On one hand, he refers to the wind of democracy that blew in Africa in the 90s, bringing multi-partyism but also violence. On the other hand, he mentions a toxic wind called “AYA dudu” in Ewe language, which means “the misery wind”. He acts as the spokesperson of his nation and calls for a change in the current situation.
Ras Sankar will exhibit his works at AKAA – ALSO KNOWN AS AFRICA from October 20th to 22nd, 2023, where he will have the opportunity to share his vision and his art with a wider audience. He will also receive media coverage and recognition for his talent and his engagement.