"The Best Art In The World"
Barthélémy Toguo: Urban Requiem
February 21 through July 21, 2022
By PETRA MASON, May 2022
With Urban Requiem on view at SCAD in Savannah, Georgia (until July 21st) and the Dakar Biennale opening May 21st French-Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo can’t seem to sit still.
Having met just once in person at Art Basel Miami Beach Petra Mason caught up with the artist (long-distance and via translator) to discuss his discipline cross-platform practice that includes painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, performance, and installation. Poetically addressing hard-hitting enduring global issues, the artist’s recent works are informed by political and social movements and humanitarian tragedies, including ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Toguo’s upcoming exhibition focuses on Rosa Parks, her memory and her commitment to the American civil rights movement and will be shown during the Dakar Biennale from May 19 to June 21, 2022 in the Senegalese Capital of Dakar.
Petra Mason: What advice would you give to young artists living and working on the continent of Africa?
Barthélémy Toguo: Being an artist in general implies being in a state of availability to observe the world. Reflection, working on a regular basis, traveling, sharing, being able to engage with others around the world sharpen one’s curiosity and the desire to progress and explore the fields of possibility and perseverance. The responsibility of every artist is to pursue his or her own path but with others, because the price of having a calling is the freedom to create despite one’s nationality or where one happens to be located in the world.
How have recent events like the “Black Lives Matter” movement impacted the contemporary art world?
First of all, the seriousness of the events in terms of violence, injustice, deprivation, and destruction of the social contract – this movement, which started almost ten years ago now, has had no choice but to continue because the causes it is defending are unfortunately and still prevalent. Artists have expressed themselves in different ways, both emotionally and rationally, in the face of abjection, with an aesthetic translation across all media. This has been going on for too long.
Do you think that the visual arts world is more inclusive than other creative careers?
I think that creative careers are equivalent in terms of inclusion. However, the means of expression are different. Creators in the fields of music, visual arts, dance, theater, literature, cinema, each in their own field, have means that are not always closed off from each other…
Does traditional African art influence your work? If so, how?
Not particularly, but I think that knowing where I come from is important because it brings out undeniable things that are in me, that live in me, and that express my Africanness without trying to claim it.
As an established artist, how do you support future leaders and structures in the art world on the African continent?
I have created Bandjoun Station, a project of artists’ residences and mentorship, where I have also added an agricultural component to achieve food self-sufficiency.
I encourage politicians to invest in education and also challenge them to build cultural policies to stabilize the future of young people and adults, and emphasize the need to share, work, and live together.
Tell us about your French-Cameroonian roots and how you negotiate being from and living in both places.
It all requires having respect for both cultures. I adapt in both places and find my balance.
Your SCAD exhibition is historic on many levels. What do you think is the most significant link between your work and the American South?
It is the lynching of black people in the southern U.S. I created (the artwork ) ‘Strange Fruit’ to talk about this real history.
Another project I am working on that speaks to this is an upcoming one on Rosa Parks, her memory and her commitment to civil rights. This project will be shown during the Dakar Biennial from May 19 to June 21, 2022 in Dakar, Senegal. WM
Cultural historian and publisher. Beefcake 100% Rare, All Natural is her first Universe title, Bettie Page Queen of Curves and Bunny Yeager's Darkroom are her Rizzoli titles. Mason edited Fall 2015 Skira/Rizzoli's Imperfect Utopia.