BARTHELEMY TOGUO… AFRICA AND BEYOND
From march 31st to june 30th 2015
Vernissage: march 31st from 5:30pm with Barthélémy Toguo.
On the occasion of the vernissage, Barthélémy Toguo will do a special performance about « AFRICA ». Through a special staging, he will realize a map of Africa with glass fragments.
In his black suit, white shirt and red tie, microphone in front and map of Africa behind, he’s the very image of a president on the campaign trail. Or, poking his bare head out of a white oil-drum marked “AFRIKA OIL?”, he ‘drinks’ from an empty plastic water bottle. And then, clad in white overalls and helmet, he overturns garbage cans, the contents taking the shape of the African continent. There’s a performance artist at work here, but Barthélémy Toguo is equally at home with drawing, print-making, sculpture, video and installation, all of them equally charged. His approach is fundamentally altruistic. Following Picasso’s claim that an artist is foremost “a political being”, Toguo could easily take as his own the older artist’s words: “How is it possible to dissociate oneself from others, in the name of what hoary indifference can one ignore the life they offer so fully?”
Ever alert, Toguo is a nomadic artist, voracious and impatient. While drawing from the deepest wells of his own culture, his art also echoes the harrowing events of our contemporary world, turning their particularities into a universal semaphore. Whatever form it takes, his work employs a limpid visual language, devoid of excess and available to all. At the same time, the artist uses all kinds of primary materials to shape a body of work that evokes myth, story and legend as well as actuality, that combines the real world with a theatrical imagination – a dialectic between art and life.
Toguo is one of those artists convinced that art can in fact change life. Not by hiding away in an ivory tower and inventing magical methods, but by striding the globe, meeting others, taking their preoccupations to heart and making art of it all. From Sarajevo to Nigeria, from Tahrir to Maidan Squares, from south to north, east to west, Toguo never stops wandering the world. One day in Korea, the next in Brazil, another in Paris where he settled almost twenty years ago, and then to Bandjoun in Cameroun, his birthplace, where he has established Bandjoun Station, a combination art centre and agricultural project. Everywhere he goes he sets up shop, transforms a locale into a temporary studio and gets to work, adapting to everything. Having chosen, for example, to carve large wooden stamps with their bureaucratic commands, he will complete the work on the spot, chainsaw in hand, adapting the piece to fit local officialese. He’ll then create a series of monoprints from the stamps.
Barthélémy Toguo has no equal in compounding the local and the global. He knows too well how much one is in the other and vice-versa, how the two form the osmosis of life and how it is the responsibility of us all to preserve the equilibrium of the two for our own survival. And for the survival of the artist.
Art critic and curator, Paris
Translated from the French by Susan Mann, Montreal