Barthélémy Toguo | Special Interview
Barthélémy Toguo is a multidisciplinary Cameroonian artist who has been named UNESCO Artist for Peace in October 2021. He uses drawing, watercolor, painting, sculpture, photography, installation and performance to question our humanity. Through his creations at the crossroads of cultures, he explores the dysfunctions of the world in order to better denounce it and questions the status of foreigners, migrants, immigrants and the difficulty for them to build an identity.
1. You were recently appointed UNESCO Artist for Peace by UNESCO Director-General Ms Audrey Azoulay. What does this nomination mean to you?
My nomination as Artist for Peace by Ms Audrey Azoulay, the Director General of UNESCO, gave me great joy and confirmed my choices as a citizen and artist.
This recognition allows me to join a well-established community of peace actors, whose diversity of actions already arouses my curiosity in terms of sharing experiences, of transmissions on the ground.
It is a mission that is carried out within a precise framework, which consists in bringing the fight for the human cause back to the forefront.
2. You are a multidisciplinary artist: you draw, paint, watercolour, but also sculpt and photograph. What do you try to convey in your various artworks?
Culture is a weapon for peace. [It allows us to] "reach out" to oppressed or hindered populations in all corners of the world, such as during apartheid, civil wars, the Arab Spring, the Rwandan genocide, or the Congo.
The series "Head Above Water", is an example of an artistic work in perpetual expansion. The mapping of this series is a symptom of the ills that plague the world of the 21st century, "Head Above Water" is a series that is ongoing.
[It is] a challenge to be met with a common agenda to be transmitted where the values of freedom, knowledge, education, the fight against obscurantism, the desire for humanity, the respect of norms will lead to peace and emancipation.
3. In your work, you address topics such as identity or migration, can you tell us more?
I am an artist who witnesses the world that surrounds me and in which I live, because I travel a lot. So I see and restore the memory of forgotten people, of nature, which I celebrate in my creations.
4. How can African artistic talent be promoted further?
I hope that politicians, collectors, artists and officials from all sides will rethink cultural and social policies.
There is a flagrant imbalance between artists from the continent (diasporic and Afro-descendants), which is explained by the increase in the number of artists and the absence of a cultural policy and an adapted corporate sponsorship, galleries, collectors, museums and sales houses to accompany this production.
Today, most of the support is in the West, the works are in museums, in private collections on the other side, illegitimately and at a high price! We must guard against mediocre investment and political resignation in the field of art, which is confiscated.
5. Can you tell us about your cultural project in Cameroon "Bandjoun Station"? What is the ambition of this project?
After noticing that there were not enough museums in Africa, and that classical African art was exclusively presented in Western museums, I created a place that mixes arts, gatherings, workshops, and artists' residences, as well as organic farming.
Bandjoun Station is indeed a very personal project, located on the high plains in the West of Cameroon called "La Prairie". This centre celebrates art and culture in all its forms. A residency to welcome guests from all over the world, artists, choreographers, film makers, ethnologists, historians, researchers, curators... These guests, in residence, often carry out their projects with the inhabitants of the region, and in connection with their environment.
Bandjoun Station [also] encourages the population of the Plain to develop healthy agriculture for local consumption: a self-sufficiency in food, but also an important coffee plantation.
6. What message(s) of peace would you like to convey to all those who will read this interview?
Peace in the 21st Century is the respect of common norms and individual liberties, without the hold and doctrine of hate. I am proud to be associated with the values of UNESCO: equality, fraternity, peace, which I commit myself to continue to assert and transmit through my artistic practices, and my public actions in Bandjoun, Cameroon and throughout the world. I am aware of my responsibility, as a visual artist, to defend and promote the values advocated by the community of peacemakers.
To live together is to form a bond that determines the uniqueness of man's social existence through culture, whose main expression is in the arts and sciences.