By Nii B. Andrews.
It is surprising that up until this year, no CAA practitioner had ever held a solo exhibition at the Paris’ Quai Branly Museum…..yes, you are allowed an eye roll, please.
The Cameroonian born Artist, Barthélémy Toguo, has broken that lead ceiling with an exhibition which began when the museum reopened in May; it will run until Dec 5 2021.
Titled CRAVING FOR HUMANITY, THE WORLD OF BARTHÉLÉMY TOGUO; it comprises fifty pieces by the artist.
Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau, Director of the Fondation Dapper is the curator.
Toguo has consistently sought to prioritize social awareness through his work; he draws our attention forcefully to current upheavals – the abuse of power, war, immigration, the climate crisis, famine.
He utilises a variety of techniques and genres that include, painting, sculpture, photography, installation and performance. The exhibition juxtaposes some of his contemporary creations with classical traditional pieces from the African canon.
This leads to interesting conjunctions and narratives that enable us to ask searching questions about our humanity.
Sometimes Toguo wields his watercolor laden paint brush delicately but deliberately – just like a scalpel blade, to lay bare the workings of today’s world and he offers a scathing critique of a system that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe while referencing African cultures and traditions for possible solutions.
The installations, often on a monumental scale, also ask important questions concerning the future of our planet.
The piece, VAINCAIRE LE VIRUS! (Beat the virus) (2016) comprises six-and-a-half feet tall vases depicting bats, red hands, and patterns relating to the transmission of the Ebola and HIV viruses was executed five years ago when Toguo was nominated for the prestigious Prix Marcel Duchamp.
He conceived the piece after carrying out research with scientists at the Institut Pasteur in Paris to discover and work out ideas on how to convey the viruses visually; he then had the vases produced in Jingdezhen, China, which is renowned for ceramics.
Is this prescience/ foreknowledge or what?
“In 2016, I talked about the problem of viruses and how we should encourage scientists to find the viruses that are threatening the world—it was a universal message but nobody listened to me,” Toguo told Artnet News. “Then in 2020 came the worldwide problem of Covid-19 that mobilized the world of science and medicine.”
Toguo opines, “For me, an artist is a visionary who has the capacity to look into the future, see societal problems and inform people through his production.”
One part of the current exhibition is devoted to works that depict the suffering of the human body a recurrent theme in Toguo’s art going back decades. Paintings depicting bleeding torsos are placed close to Nkisi pieces from the traditional Kongo canon of power figures.
The reference here is bleeding from cuts and piercings including that achieved with nails.
His career to date has been stellar but in earlier years he lamented, “All my artistic production was in western museums like Tate Modern, the Centre Pompidou and MoMA.”
Therefore, in 2013, he created Bandjoun Station in Cameroon, encompassing an art center, artists’ residency and coffee plantation.
In 2011, he was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature in France. Toguo’s works are included in public collections worldwide, including Tate Modern, England; Centre Pompidou, France; Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, France; Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM); Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; and MoMA, New York.
Can you produce the titles of the 2 pieces by Toguo shown immediately above? They are part of a series of photographs produced after a performance by the artist.