Bikok Pierre

Bikok in front of his studio

Bikok T. Pierre was born in 1940 in Cameroon. To escape the poverty in his native village of Sackbayémé, he moved to Libreville, the capital of neighboring Gabon, in the late 1960s. Gabon had achieved relative prosperity due to a lucrative wood industry and the presence of raw materials such as uranium and manganese. This prosperity was given an extra boost by the discovery in the mid fifties of oil fields off the coast of Libreville. From that moment on, Libreville experienced an unparalleled rise in Africa. In a short time the population doubled in size and the increased purchasing power was reflected in a growing demand for luxury goods and personal services.

Hairdressing board with 2 hairstyles, Painted by Bikok Pierre and drawn by the ravages of time, Acrylic on panel 20×40 cm

Bikok turned out to have entrepreneurial talent. He noticed a spectacular growth in the number of hairdressing salons and barber shops and decided to offer his services as a billboard painter for the hair fashion sector. In 1969, he made his first billboard for a hairdressing salon on Marché Mont Bouet in Libreville, the largest market in Gabon. The product was so successful that more customers followed.

Hairdressing board with 10 hairstyles, Painted by Bikok Pierre and drawn by the ravages of time, Acrylic on panel 40×100 cm

A new phase in the development of Bikok’s reputation followed when Mrs. Jessica Osakwe – one of the most successful hairdressers in Libreville – opened a salon specializing in braiding hair. To market this brand new product, she asked Bikok to paint a panel showing the variety of hairstyles she offered for the customers to choose from. Bikok’s panel proved commercially and artistically so effective that after this no hairdresser-entrepreneur dared to open a salon without calling on Bikok’s talent.

Hairdressing board with 20 hairstyles, Painted by Bikok Pierre and drawn by the ravages of time, Acrylic on panel 113×79 cm

Although Bikok had many successors in various African countries, he reigned for decades as the ultimate master of the art of hairdressing plates. With the income from his work he was able to pay for a good education for his children and to build some houses in his native country Cameroon.

The Arnhem gallery owner Felix Valk (1924-1999) was one of the first Dutchmen to recognize the artistic value of contemporary African art. He came into possession of one of Bikok’s early products by accident and immediately proceeded to build up a rich and varied collection of hairdressing plates (by Bikok and his followers), sculptures from various African countries, war flags of the Ashanti people, etc. As a gallery owner and in his later positions as director of the Rotterdam Lijnbaanscentrum and director of the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, he made an extremely important contribution to breaking through the Eurocentric view that reduces all non-Western art to folklore and ‘handicraft’.

Hairdressing board with 8 hairstyles, Painted by Leo Vincy, Acrylic on plywood 44×76 cm

In a long-term and friendly collaboration with the collector and gallery owner John Loose, the Valk collection gradually moved on to the Stichting Beeldende Kunst Amsterdam, the Kontakt der Kontinenten conference center in Soesterberg, private collections and (posthumously) the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal.