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How a street painter from Benin got an art exhibition in Finland

Louis Houenoude lives in the small village of Heve, just outside Grand-Popo, in the small West African country of Benin.

He used to paint barber shop signs for a living. But now he is a bona fide artist.

An art gallery in Finland is exhibiting a series of portraits painted by Mr Houenoude.

The portrait series, called Bad Hair Day Leaders, consists of 14 portraits of today's world leaders, from Angela Merkel to Xi Jinping.

Last year, Mr Houenoude painted a portrait of the Finnish President Sauli Niinisto which was bought by the Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

So how did a Beninese barber shop painter wind up having an exhibition in Finland?

Well, Bad Hair Day Leaders is not entirely his work alone.

The portraits are a collaboration with Finnish visual artist Riiko Sakkinen, who visited Benin last year.

"I initially wanted to know if Benin had the same painted film poster culture as Ghana - it doesn't. But I saw painted signs for barber shops and hair salons and was intrigued by the colours and composition of the signs.

"The perspective and the shape of figures looked different to the ones familiar to me from European classicism and renaissance tradition. The advertisements worked remarkably well - I kept wanting to go to the barber even though I am bald," Sakkinen told the BBC.

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