Art & Culture / Art

Barthélémy Toguo: the nomadic artist balancing the weight of the world on the tip of his paint brush

"I explore themes that exist in our everyday lives. Some we choose to explore more than others. The world seems to be flooding- there is crisis everywhere. something tragic is always happening."- Barthélémy Toguo

The nomadic artist has spent years cultivating his craft. City to city, embracing identities and cultures and leaving remnants of himself behind; with every continent explored, iterations of those anthropological studies fortify his works further to cast bold socio political statements that resonate instantaneously. Toguo, who’s origin is rooted in the gulf of Guinea, M’Balmayo, Cameroon, spends his down time between Paris, France and Badjoun, Cameroon where he founded, Badjoun Station, a non-profit, creative hub, home to temporary exhibitions and  providing workshops and residencies for emerging and local artists. Shortlisted for the 2016, Prix Marcel Duchamp, numerous Biennales and the most rent of theTate Modern’s acquired works, Purification (2012), which is displayed at present. 

Like many who have come before Barthélémy and those to follow, he identifies by his craft before any other entity; nor race, ethnicity, nor gender. As an artist, what sets him apart, however, is not that his heritage informs his work- though, of course that has shaped the individual in which he is and certainly has aided in forging his narrative lens- Toguo, is informed by observation, those observations are intensified by his experiences. “it is a part of me. In the way that I speak, by what I eat. I am an artist before I am Cameroonian. I do what I do because I am who I am.” explains Barthélémy. There is a magnetism that intrinsically resides within us all, that peaks where world affairs tug at our lived experiences. Often, unconsciously the bias exists, but he insisted he did not want his heritage to be at the fore of what he did, which is often assumed of African artists. With a tender affinity to universal matters his work contextualises global injustice, for example, the global migrant crises. There lies ‘Human Nature’.

Curated by Chris Spring, the exhibit is an exploration of the how our essences amplify societal rulings. Our biases- our pleasures, certainly our ideologies all manifest in the outcomes of legislature on our interpersonal relationships and broader matters. Toguo’s famed watercolour technique aid in reaffirming that fluidity that largely goes amiss when decoding society’s ills. At times the works may appear streams of consciousness, but that is a result of the artists’ free-thought and sporadic nature. Never situated in one place, constantly informed by people and places, inspiration may come strike during discussions, or, in a hotel room on a trip to Cuba.

The key thing to gage from the work is not the medium in a sense; it’s evolution derives from the artists social responsibility to those experiencing his works- a text from 1967, that the artist had read encouraged this narrative view. With injustice and civil unrest looming the air, Barthélémy Toguo wants us to, “accept that as it is. I want us to accept life as it is; and that is evident in my work. I explore themes that exist in our everyday lives. Some we choose to explore more than others. The world seems to be flooding- there is crisis everywhere. something tragic is always happening.” The entire exhibition was created over a span of four days, and quite frankly that shows that Toguo’s mind is machine; a never ending vessel of critical thought and creativity.

Human Nature is on public view at the HdM Gallery, Conduit Street, Mayfair until the 23rd August, 2019. 

18 June 2019