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Barthélémy Toguo

by Osei Bonsu

Barthélémy Toguo

par Osei Bonsu

What decolonial approaches can be used to rethink our historical inheritance? How can we create a new archive for the stories of those whose cultures became museum objects? How can we challenge the Eurocentric idea of a single modernity to embrace a shared heritage of global modernisms?

Transformed into sources of constant capital built upon the labour of millions of captured and enslaved bodies, the French colonies are the nexus of multiple narratives and versions of modernity. These stories are not a mere chapter in the history of humanity, they are the forces that challenge the existing organization of the world along a North/South axis.

As Aimé Césaire pointed out in Discourse on Colonialism (1950), even progressive ideologies were ultimately contaminated by the discourses of racial hierarchy. A decolonial approach acknowledges the connections and circulations that, despite the present desire to impose new borders, is leading to unforeseen ideas, images and rituals.

In this moment of restitution, reparation and reinterpretation, artists are creating diverse and hybrid forms engendered by encounters between France and the international world. Their extensive research into histories of modernity allows us to unearth hidden and suppressed narratives. These artists are reimagining the world into forms that hold their own promise of alternative futures. Futures that invite us to dream, to break with cultural conformism and to imagine another world. Futures of potentialities both real and imagined, tangible and intangible, local and planetary.

[…]

“I was born in April 1967, in M’Balmayo, Cameroon. I studied at the École Nationale SupĂ©rieure des Beaux Arts in Abidjan, CĂŽte d’Ivoire, at the École SupĂ©rieure d’Arts in Grenoble, France and at the Kunstakademie in DĂŒsseldorf, Germany. Aware of the double dilemma of being on the one hand unable to protect Africa’s classical and contemporary artistic heritage, and yet keen to undertake an ambitious cultural project, I decided to use most of the money I have earned through my work as an artist to set up “Bandjoun Station” … a non-profit-making project of entirely personal inspiration in terms of concept, construction, production and implementation.” B.T

[…]

Toguo’s Transit works developed out of a series of performances which the artist began in 1996. These performances take place between disparate locations, underscoring globalization as a question of connection and disconnection. Transits are rites of passage, which take place in sites of passage; in airports or railway stations, on board planes and trains. Toguo’s Transit performances disturb given systems of order to reveal invisible mechanisms of control, discrimination, ageism and racism.
In Transit 2, the artist was arrested at Orly airport due to his suspicious appearance; the packets of sweets attached to his belt caused the police to immediately associate him with arms and terrorism. In Transit 6, on the Thalys Train between Cologne and Paris, Toguo wore a street cleaner’s uniform and was repeatedly asked to leave the train as all the seats around him in the crowded train eventually emptied. O.B.

[…]

« At the end of a residency at the Drawing Center in New York in September 2001, I brought in some unused postcards that I had bought in DĂŒsseldorf.
The crowds of Soho, on Broadway and Canal Street, enticed me to make little sketches, anonymous portraits of different people. When I got back to my studio in Paris I stuck different stamps from my collection on these cards which in turn gave me the idea of travelling across the world and asking people to write something about themselves on a postcard.
In 2005 violent demonstrations broke out in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis: young French people, whose parents and grandparents were immigrants, demanded to be heard; cars and public buildings were set on fire, the contagion was swift, and several other cities flared up. I decided to visit these places and to hear what these young people had to say. […] Head above Water acknowledges the artist’s responsibility towards society by giving ordinary people the opportunity for their voices to be heard. Â» B.T.

[…]

In Urban Requiem (2015) Toguo presented an arrangement of ladders weighed down with wooden portrait busts. Carved into their bases are slogans such as ‘Migrant’ drawn from recent protests and national movements, allowing each sculpture to function as a stamp. Toguo first conceived of the idea in the 1990s, after noticing that his passport was filled with stamps from various customs agents around the world. These markings mimic the language of authority, border control, and the flow of human bodies and capital that is inseparable from colonial and imperial histories. Toguo says, “My formal proposals, my ethical approach, my aesthetic vocabulary converge in the long run to go to the Other, the Others, with empathy.” O.B.

[…]

Located in the 18th arrondissement, at the foot of the Montmartre hill, ChĂąteau Rouge is the most African station in Paris. In 2017, Toguo created a fresco for the station titled ‘CĂ©lĂ©brations’, depicting faces and human bodies extending into exuberant blue plants in a process of rebirth. Taking its name from an earlier work, Toguo ‘CĂ©lĂ©bration’ is one of ‘life with all its feelings: beauty stands alongside ugliness, pleasure amidst war, sexuality with violence, joy and death.‘ Having lived in the district from 1998 to 2002, Toguo sees the station as a place that represents a meeting of cultures, with the local market carrying the produce, scents and customs of its multicultural inhabitants. O.B

Osei Bonsu, 2019

Quelles approches dĂ©coloniales peuvent s’utiliser pour repenser notre hĂ©ritage historique ? Comment pouvons-nous crĂ©er une nouvelle archive qui puisse abriter les rĂ©cits de celles et ceux dont les cultures sont devenues des piĂšces de musĂ©e ? Comment faire pour dĂ©fier le principe eurocentrĂ© d’une modernitĂ© unique afin d’adopter l’hĂ©ritage partagĂ© des modernismes mondiaux ?

TransformĂ©es en sources de capital constant bĂąti sur le travail de millions de corps capturĂ©s et rĂ©duits en esclavage, les colonies françaises se situent au carrefour de nombreuses histoires et versions de la modernitĂ©. Ces rĂ©cits ne constituent pas un simple chapitre de l’histoire de l’humanitĂ©. Ils reprĂ©sentent les forces qui dĂ©fient l’organisation existante du monde selon un axe Nord/Sud.

Comme AimĂ© CĂ©saire l’a si bien soulignĂ© dans le Discours sur le colonialisme (1950), les discours relatifs Ă  la hiĂ©rarchie raciale ont mĂȘme fini par contaminer les idĂ©ologies progressistes. Cette approche dĂ©coloniale reconnaĂźt les connexions et les circulations qui, en dĂ©pit du prĂ©sent dĂ©sir d’imposer de nouvelles frontiĂšres, mĂšnent vers des idĂ©es, images et rituels inattendus.

Dans cet instant de restitution, de réparation et de réinterprétation, les artistes créent des formes diverses et hybrides engendrées par les rencontres entre la France et le monde entier. Leurs recherches approfondies et rigoureuses sur les histoires de la modernité exhument des récits cachés et effacés.

Ces artistes remodĂšlent le monde en des formes qui tiennent leur propre promesse d’avenirs alternatifs. Des futurs qui nous invitent Ă  rĂȘver, Ă  rompre avec le conformisme culturel et Ă  imaginer un monde diffĂ©rent. Des futurs pleins de possibilitĂ©s Ă  la fois rĂ©elles et imaginĂ©es, tangibles et intangibles, locales et planĂ©taires. 

[…]

« Je suis nĂ© en avril 1967 Ă  M’Balmayo au Cameroun. J’ai Ă©tudiĂ© Ă  l’École nationale supĂ©rieure des beaux-arts d’Abidjan en CĂŽte d’Ivoire, Ă  l’École supĂ©rieure d’arts de Grenoble en France et Ă  la Kunstakademie de DĂŒsseldorf en Allemagne. Conscient du double dilemme impliquant d’un cĂŽtĂ© mon incapacitĂ© Ă  protĂ©ger l’hĂ©ritage artistique classique et contemporain d’Afrique, et de l’autre mon dĂ©sir d’entreprendre un projet culturel ambitieux, j’ai dĂ©cidĂ© de dĂ©penser la plus grande partie de l’argent que j’avais gagnĂ© grĂące Ă  mes Ɠuvres d’art pour Ă©laborer “Bandjoun Station”, une structure Ă  but non lucratif d’inspiration entiĂšrement personnelle en termes de concept, de construction, de production et de mise en Ɠuvre. Â» B.T.

[…]

Les Transits de BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo ont Ă©mergĂ© d’une sĂ©rie de performances qu’il a commencĂ©es en 1996. Celles-ci se dĂ©roulent Ă  divers endroits, ce qui met en Ă©vidence la mondialisation comme Ă©tant une question de connexion et de dĂ©connexion. Les transits constituent des rites de passage qui ont lieu dans des sites de passage : les aĂ©roports et les gares, l’intĂ©rieur des avions et des trains. Ces crĂ©ations perturbent les systĂšmes d’ordre en place pour rĂ©vĂ©ler les mĂ©canismes invisibles du contrĂŽle, de la discrimination, de l’ñgisme et du racisme. 
Transit 2 fait Ă©cho Ă  l’arrestation subie par l’artiste Ă  l’aĂ©roport d’Orly en raison de son apparence louche. Les paquets de bonbons fixĂ©s Ă  sa ceinture l’ont instantanĂ©ment assimilĂ© aux armes et au terrorisme aux yeux de la police. Sur Transit 6, dans le Thalys reliant Cologne Ă  Paris, BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo portait un uniforme de balayeur de rue et a reçu Ă  maintes reprises l’ordre de sortir du train bondĂ© tandis que tous les siĂšges autour de lui ont fini par se vider. O.B.

[…]

« Ă€ l’issue d’un sĂ©jour au Drawing Center Ă  New York en septembre 2001, j’ai ramenĂ© quelques cartes postales non utilisĂ©es que j’avais achetĂ©es Ă  DĂŒsseldorf.
Les foules de SoHo, sur Broadway et Canal Street, m’ont incitĂ© Ă  rĂ©aliser des mini croquis, des portraits anonymes de personnes diverses. De retour Ă  mon studio parisien, j’ai collĂ© diffĂ©rents timbres de ma collection sur ces cartes, lesquelles m’ont donnĂ© l’idĂ©e de voyager Ă  travers le monde et de demander Ă  des gens d’écrire un message Ă  propos d’eux-mĂȘmes sur une carte postale.
En 2005, de violentes manifestations ont Ă©clatĂ© dans la banlieue parisienne de Saint-Denis : de jeunes Français, issus de parents et grands-parents immigrĂ©s, ont exigĂ© de se faire entendre. On a mis le feu aux voitures et aux bĂątiments publics. Le phĂ©nomĂšne s’est rapidement propagĂ© et d’autres villes se sont embrasĂ©es. J’ai dĂ©cidĂ© de visiter ces lieux et d’écouter ce que ces jeunes avaient Ă  dire. […] Head above Water reconnaĂźt la responsabilitĂ© de l’artiste vis-Ă -vis de la sociĂ©tĂ© en donnant Ă  des gens ordinaires l’occasion de faire entendre leurs voix.  Â» B.T.

[…]

Urban Requiem (2015) prĂ©sente un agencement d’échelles lestĂ©es de bustes en bois. Le dessous de leur base est gravĂ© de slogans tels que « Migrant Â», inspirĂ©s des Ă©meutes et mouvements nationaux rĂ©cents. Chaque sculpture fait ainsi office de tampon. BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo a imaginĂ© cette idĂ©e pour la premiĂšre fois dans les annĂ©es 1990 aprĂšs avoir remarquĂ© que son passeport fourmillait de cachets dĂ©posĂ©s par de nombreux agents de douanes du monde entier. Ces marques imitent le langage de l’autoritĂ©, du contrĂŽle des frontiĂšres et du flux des corps humains et du capital, indissociable des histoires coloniales et impĂ©riales. « Mes propositions formelles, mon approche Ă©thique et mon vocabulaire esthĂ©tique convergent Ă  long terme pour aller vers l’autre, les autres, avec empathie Â», affirme l’artiste camerounais. O.B.

[…]

SituĂ©e dans le 18e arrondissement de Paris, au pied de Montmartre, ChĂąteau Rouge est la station de mĂ©tro la plus africaine de la capitale française. En 2017, BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo y a crĂ©Ă© une fresque baptisĂ©e CĂ©lĂ©brations, laquelle illustre des visages et des corps humains qui s’étendent telles des plantes bleues exubĂ©rantes Ă  la faveur d’un processus de renaissance. Cette Ɠuvre, qui a empruntĂ© son nom Ă  une crĂ©ation prĂ©cĂ©dente, illustre « la vie et son Ă©ventail d’émotions : la beautĂ© se tient aux cĂŽtĂ©s de la laideur, le plaisir se mĂȘle Ă  la guerre, la sexualitĂ© cĂŽtoie la violence et la joie flirte avec la mort. Â» AprĂšs avoir vĂ©cu dans ce quartier de 1998 Ă  2002, l’artiste voit la station comme un lieu qui rĂ©unit plusieurs cultures, dont le marchĂ© local transporte les produits, les parfums et les coutumes de ses habitants aux origines multiples. O.B.

Osei Bonsu, 2019

Traduit de l’anglais par ADT International

BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo, Migrant We Are All In Exil, 2019, Wood, ink, 25 x 36 x 37 cm, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. and Bandjoun Station.

BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo, Migrant We Are All In Exil, 2019, Wood, ink, 25 x 36 x 37 cm, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. and Bandjoun Station.

Barthélémy Toguo
Barthélémy Toguo

BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo was born in Mbalmayo in Cameroon in 1967. Between 1989 and 1993 he studied art, first at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Abidjan then in Grenoble, and finally at the Kunstakademie in DĂŒsseldorf where notable encounters included Tony Cragg, Jannis Kounellis and Konrad Klapheck. Although he stayed in Europe and became a French citizen, BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo remained profoundly attached to Cameroon, and he regularly returns to the country. That is where he created Bandjoun Station, a foundation inaugurated in 2013 with the aim of hosting artists and academics from around the world in residential workshops, to develop propositions in harmony with the local population. This is how he talks about it: “My idea with Bandjoun Station was to combine classic African art and global contemporary art, to exhibit these works in the same space, without ghettoization or a hierarchy of values. [
]That way Bandjoun Station will become a crossroads, a point of contact between classic and contemporary art.” This “laboratory without borders” exhibits a permanent collection of contemporary works gathered by the artist thanks to exchanges with his peers and collectors. He also develops agricultural projects there, in a spirit of healthy and sustainable development.

Since the end of the 1990s, his works have been noticed by many critics and curators who have invited him to participate in major events: Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1999 for Migrateurs (ARC, Paris), Jean-Hubert Martin in 2000 for Partage d’éxotismes (Biennale de Lyon), Pierre Restany in 2001 for Political Ecology (White Box, New York), and Okwui Enwezor in 2015 for the Venice Biennal, All the World’s Future. In 2016, BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo was one of four artists nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp and for this occasion he presented the installation Vaincre le virus! at the Centre Pompidou.

The works of BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo are exhibited in many collections including those of the MusĂ©e National d’Art Moderne (Paris), the BibliothĂšque Nationale de France (Paris), the Museum of Modern Art (New-York), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Miami), the Perez Art Museum (Miami), the Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la creation (Paris), the Collection AgnĂšs b (Paris), and Bandjoun Station (Bandjoun). A recent commission was placed with the artist for four over-doors at the Rodin Museum (Paris).

https://www.barthelemytoguo.com/

Barthélémy Toguo est né à Mbalmayo au Cameroun en 1967. Il vit et travaille entre Bandjoun (Cameroun) et Paris.
Entre 1989 et 1993 il poursuit des Ă©tudes d’arts plastiques d’abord Ă  l’école des Beaux-Arts d’Abidjan puis Ă  celle Grenoble et enfin Ă  la Kunstakademie de DĂŒsseldorf oĂč il rencontre notamment Tony Cragg, Jannis Kounellis et Konrad Klapheck. S’il s’installe en Europe, devenant citoyen français, BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo reste profondĂ©ment enracinĂ© au Cameroun, oĂč il retourne trĂšs rĂ©guliĂšrement. Il y a crĂ©Ă© Bandjoun Station, une fondation inaugurĂ©e en 2013 destinĂ©e Ă  accueillir en rĂ©sidence, dans des logements-ateliers, des artistes et des chercheurs du monde entier pour dĂ©velopper des propositions en adĂ©quation avec la communautĂ© locale. Il en parle en ces termes : « Mon idĂ©e avec Bandjoun Station Ă©tait de marier l’art classique africain et l’art contemporain mondial, d’exposer ces Ɠuvres dans un mĂȘme espace, sans ghettoĂŻsation ou hiĂ©rarchie de valeurs. [
] C’est ainsi que Bandjoun Station deviendra un carrefour, un vĂ©ritable lieu de rencontre entre l’art classique et l’art contemporain »1. Ce « laboratoire sans frontiĂšre Â» prĂ©sente en permanence une collection d’Ɠuvres contemporaines rĂ©unies par l’artiste grĂące Ă  des Ă©changes avec des confrĂšres et des collectionneurs. Il y dĂ©veloppe Ă©galement des projets d’agriculture dans un esprit de dĂ©veloppement durable et sain.

VĂ©ritable globe-trotteur, BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo a acquis une renommĂ©e internationale. En effet, dĂšs la fin des annĂ©es 1990, ses Ɠuvres sont remarquĂ©es par plusieurs critiques et conservateurs qui l’invitent dans de grandes manifestations : Hans Ulrich Obrist en 1999 pour Migrateurs (ARC, Paris), Jean-Hubert Martin en 2000 pour Partage d’exotismes (Biennale de Lyon), Pierre Restany en 2001 pour Political Ecology (White Box, New York) et Okwui Enwezor en 2015 pour la Biennale de Venise, All the World’s Future. En 2016, BarthĂ©lĂ©my Toguo fait partie des quatre artistes nommĂ©s pour le prix Marcel Duchamp et, Ă  cette occasion, il prĂ©sente l’installation Vaincre le virus ! au Centre Pompidou d’octobre 2016 Ă  fĂ©vrier 2017. RĂ©alisĂ©e en collaboration avec les chercheurs de l’Institut Pasteur à partir de l’observation de cellules-souches infectĂ©es des virus du Sida et d’Ebola cette installation relie l’art et la science. Elle est composĂ©e de dessins au mur, de vases monumentaux en cĂ©ramique et de modĂ©lisation 3D des cellules infectĂ©es.

Ses Ɠuvres sont prĂ©sentes dans de nombreuses collections dont celles du MusĂ©e National d’Art Moderne (Paris), de la BibliothĂšque Nationale de France (Paris), du MAC/VAL (Paris), de la Tate Modern (Londres), du Museum of Modern Art (New-York), du Museum of Contemporary Art (Miami), du PĂ©rez Art Museum (Miami), de la Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la crĂ©ation (Paris), de la Collection AgnĂšs b. (Paris). Une commande rĂ©cente et pĂ©renne a Ă©tĂ© passĂ©e Ă  l’artiste pour quatre dessus-de-porte au MusĂ©e Rodin (Paris).

https://www.barthelemytoguo.com/

Osei Bonsu
Osei Bonsu

Osei Bonsu is a British-Ghanaian curator and writer based in London and Paris. He is currently a curator od International Art at Tate Modern, where he is responsible for organising exhibitions, developing the museum’s collection and broadening the representation of artistes from Africa and African diaspora. As a leading curator of contemporary art, he has advised museums, art fairs and private collections internationally and mentored emerging artists through his digital platform, Creative Africa Network. Bonsu has worked as a contributing editor for Frieze magazine and has contributed to a number of exhibition catalogues and arts publications including ArtReview, Numero Art and Vogue.
Through his writing, Bonsu focuses on the relationship between art and issues of migration, race and identity in contemporary society. He has lectured widely on these subjects at various institutions including the University of Cambridge, Courtauld Institute of Art, and Royal College of Art among others. Bonsu holds a Masters in History of Art from University College London, and a BA in Curatorial Studies from Central Saint Martins. He 2020 he was named as one of Apollo Magazine’s “40 under 40” leading African voices.

Osei Bonsu est un commissaire d’exposition et Ă©crivain britannico-ghanĂ©en rĂ©sidant Ă  Londres et Ă  Paris. Il intervient actuellement dans le domaine de l’art international Ă  la Tate Modern oĂč il organise des expositions, dĂ©veloppe la collection du musĂ©e et Ă©largit la reprĂ©sentation des artistes d’Afrique et de sa diaspora. En tant que leader dans son domaine, il a conseillĂ© les musĂ©es, les salons d’art et les collectionneurs privĂ©s Ă  l’international et a servi de mentor aux talents Ă©mergents par le biais de sa plateforme numĂ©rique Creative Africa Network. Il a travaillĂ© comme rĂ©dacteur pour la revue Frieze et a apportĂ© sa contribution Ă  plusieurs catalogues d’exposition et publications artistiques comme ArtReview, NumĂ©ro Art et Vogue. Ses Ă©crits mettent en avant la relation entre l’art et les questions migratoires, raciales et identitaires dans la sociĂ©tĂ© contemporaine. Il a dispensĂ© de nombreux cours sur ces sujets dans diffĂ©rentes institutions, parmi lesquelles l’universitĂ© de Cambridge, le Courtauld Institute of Art et le Royal College of Art. Osei Bonsu dĂ©tient un master en histoire de l’art de l’University College London et une licence d’études en commissariat d’exposition de la Central Saint Martins. En 2020, il a Ă©tĂ© nommĂ© l’une des 40 voix africaines les plus influentes de moins de 40 ans par Apollo Magazine.

For almost 20 years, I have developed a practice of painting that has gradually opened up to very diverse fields, from performance to monumental sculpture, from painting on silk to installation. Using various bases and developing reuse, assemblages and formal confrontations, I wish to show how the modern project resists in the body and materiality of its own representations. As the result of an intense activity as an iconographer, my work is based on an open practice of the form, quite the opposite of a nostalgic or referential re-reading, enabling the free exercise of the most unexpected visual combinations. The idea is for me to materialise images, literally making them concrete. Started in 1998, mainly through the practice of painting, my work gradually has become more characteristic, more specifically in recent years, with a large variety of means in play.

Karina Bisch, Karina Bisch