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Alexis Peskine’s spiritually charged art delivers with pin-point accuracy

The French artist tells Turbare how he’s gained inspiration from the power figures of Central Africa to hold up a mirror up to society.

Author Will McBain Fri 28th May 2021
Alexis Peskine. @alexispeskine

When 6ft 5 tall Paris-born artist Alexis Peskine won a Nike scholarship at 17 to play Basketball in the U.S, he could have traveled a busier road into the professional ranks of the NBA.

Shooting hoops on stretched-out summer days in the 1990s with future All-Star compatriot Tony Parker preceded securing three art degrees, picking up the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, and finding his true calling along a road less traveled by and into the world of art.

Speak to Peskine and you’ll realize the journey he took has come at a significant personal cost, however, with his art reflecting both the beauty and brutality of much of his subject matter.

His work explores realities of the Black experience and of the African diaspora in the contemporary world. Meeting head-on topics of institutionalized racism, identity, the lingering effects of slavery, colonialism, and current migration journeys.

His life and his art appear inseparable, and from run-ins with the French police to driving the length of the Sahara desert, to street protests and acclaimed exhibitions at October Gallery in London, Peskine has needed to be as tough as the nails he deploys in his most famous works.

Alexis Peskine by two of his artworks titled Rita Endabu, 2019 (left) and Tilo Ndin Ngo, 2019 (right)


Turbare caught up with the mixed-media artist in his studio just days after Michel Zecler, a 41-year-old Black music producer was assaulted by 4 French policemen as he entered his music studio, in the French capital.

Peskine had been protesting that latest act of cruelty, following on from the murder of George Floyd, the Nigerian governments savage crackdown on #EndSARS protesters, while conversations were growing around what Peskine views as the failure of French, American and Brazilian societies to face up to their historic injustices committed over the last 7 centuries.

“It never stops. The stuff in the States, the stuff in Brazil, in Nigeria. The aggression against the black body has the same routes, with propaganda trying to depict us as lesser human beings,” the 42-year-old Peskine says.

“People do not see the black body as valuable as other bodies, so it’s okay to beat us up. It’s okay to go and touch our hair. From the little things to the bigger things, but now people are waking up, in France and elsewhere and realizing these people (the Police) are freaking crazy and they have no guards to their craziness.”

The art that is birthed from the multi-lingual, multi-cultural Peskine – his mother is Afro-Brazilian and his father is French-Russian, and the son of a Holocaust survivor – is both ambitious and reflective.

His tools are hammers and black or gold-leafed painted nails of different gauges, which he beats and forges into wood stained with mud and coffee, a technique he calls Accu-painting.

Bringing images to life, Peskine creates complex depictions of powerful and hopeful faces, portraying the strength and perseverance similar to the Nkisi N’Kondi power figures of the Congo Basin – “spiritually charged objects whose traditional function was to protect and ward off evil spirits,” says Peskine – and a source of power like the faces he now creates.

Alexis at work on his art


His mixed-media pieces of Black skin nailed into wooden planks are draped in metaphor.

The nail represents transcendence with its ability to destroy, but also to build and create, with the act of driving the nails into wood mirroring the aggression inflicted upon the Black body, conjuring allusions to bullets puncturing skin.

His pieces are necessarily heavy both in the literal and figurative sense, and it is the Mixed Media Art Professor at Howard University, Sorrels Adewale, who Peskine credits for encouraging his experimenting with nails and his use of halftones, the act of penetrating nails at different heights, thus giving a sense of three-dimensionality to his work.

“Very early on I wanted to have my own visual language, so I experimented with a lot of things,” says Peskine, whose artwork germinates from a digital image.


“Very early on I wanted to have my own visual language, so I experimented with a lot of things”


“I translated a photograph of my mother that I had taken and played with on Photoshop, doing what I’d do in printmaking, but transforming the process to find nails of different sizes, and change these digital dots on Photoshop with nail heads of the same diameter. I thought it was very interesting on the metaphoric level. I tried it and it worked, and then along the years I perfected the way I did it,” Peskine adds.

The illusions manifested create striking portraits, exemplified by his works ‘Mwasi Likolo’ and ‘Soua,’ that speak of Africa’s relationship with metal and foreign entities.

‘Mwasi Likolo’ and ‘Soua,’ and indeed all of Peskine’s published Power Figures, read like a visual metaphor for the symbiotic relationship between beauty and pain, and of people and communities surviving exploitation over many generations.

“Metal can be a scary thing and can hurt. During slavery, metal was heated to mark people as property and keep them in chains. But in the opposite way, metal holds things together, and Africa’s ancient culture of blacksmiths and goldsmiths is too often overlooked and disregarded.”

Peskine is working to rebuild and reclaim the image of Africans and Afro-descendants. A revolutionary liberation artist at heart, his instantly recognizable works have demanded growing attention from audiences worldwide.

He’s exhibited regularly in France, the U.S, and the UK, and in parts of Africa, including at Investec’s Cape Town Art Fair.

The Parisian has visited close to 30 of Africa’s 54 sovereign countries and plans to reach the remaining 24 before his 50th birthday.

It is stories of voyage and travel – both his own and from others – and particularly from West Africa, that Peskine continues to turn to for inspiration, and builds upon the critical acclaim he achieved for his first solo show in 2016 at the Institut Francais, Senegal, showing his Raft of Medusa: Le retour de la vague, a multimedia installation first shown at the Dak’art Biennale of Contemporary African Art.

Raft of Medusa told the story of the eponymous French ship in 1816 that was shipwrecked off the coast of Mauritania while on course for Senegal, causing 15 survivors – mostly African’s out of an initial 136 when the ship broke apart – to cling to a raft and to life for 13 days in the open ocean.

Thoughts of home, migration, identity, and masculinity are also represented in much of Peskine’s other works, notably in his beautifully sensitive and dreamlike short film Aljana Moons, which he shot in the Casamance region of Senegal and had a run at film festivals, revealing his love of photography to a wider audience.

The film movingly captures paternal relationships through the rites of Jolas, who are an ethnic group living in Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau, and the conditions of the Talibe, young boys who study at Quranic schools in West Africa.

The multi-media artist is working on another documentary this year and says he’ll continue using art as the vehicle to processes the events that are shaping our world, and also to provide an outlet for creative expression to an emerging generation.

For the French-born creator, art has the power to transform lives, believing it has the power to awaken communities when it’s tied to activism, and Peskine has been busy setting up projects in France, Brazil, and parts of West Africa, to evangelize the empowering nature of art through social projects.

“I am privileged that I can express my anger and frustration through my art. A lot of people don’t have that.”

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