Barthélémy Toguo
- œuvres - works projets - projects publications biographie - biography textes - texts liens - links contact actualités - at present -


Barthélémy Toguo’s drawing, Interview by Philippe Piguet
Art absolument, n° 11, Winter 2005

Drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, video: Barthélémy Toguo is a polymorphic artist. He knows no limits. His multicoloured, multicultural and multinational work based on the concept of transit originates in an open and altruistic reflexion on the fate of man and the way of the world. At the heart of his reflexion, drawing: a priviledged mode of expression connected to a source deep inside, in turn receiver and transmitter.

Philippe Piguet: Drawing seems a primeval urge in you, one could even say consubstantial. Have you always drawn?

Barthélémy Toguo: Always. As a very young boy I already drew. I could not help it. I made sketches of everything I saw: the bicycle race going through the town, the markets, the missionaries and explorers I discovered in my schoolbooks, in fact, every thing within hand-reach or eye-sight.

Philippe Piguet: When you first really started your artistic activity, you made a series of drawings called Das Bett. Can you tell more about it?

Barthélémy Toguo: Das Bett is the product of a particular situation at a specific moment of my training years, when I was a student in residence in Germany. I found myself very far from my family, in a small room at the university of Düsseldorf. I began to think of Africa and ponder on my life abroad ; in this series of drawings are projected all kinds of wandering phantasms of the sort one has in the solitude of a room. These drawings totally spring from sheer intimacy.

Philippe Piguet: You spent almost two years developing it. How did you live through this exercise ?

Barthélémy Toguo: It was for me a kind of repeated performance in which I was at the same time the actor and the spectator, the trace of which remained in the drawing. It was not only the diary retracing my existence, I put in it all that made up my world. As a matter of fact, three cumulative moments are present in Das Bett: my past, what I was living at the time and what I was thinking.

Philippe Piguet: Das Bett was a series of small, format A4 drawings; you have been drawing afterwards on bigger formats, indulging finally in very large dimensions. What did this supplement of space bring to you?

Barthélémy Toguo: When I work with a small format, I develop a very intimate idea in close relationship with the dimension of the paper; when I work on a wider surface, I let myself loose. Narration comes more readily with small formats because greater concentration is necessary. With larger formats, I feel freeer, everything can happen in all directions and there is always a certain excitement.

Philippe Piguet: You like to use those large drawings in your installations. How do you make the two mediums articulate with each other?

Barthélémy Toguo: I always keep in mind the visual dimension in my installations, so, it depends, sometimes I integrate drawings or I realize a wall drawing so that the space devoted to the installation might attain unity and coherence through the way every constituting element is disposed.

Philippe Piguet: Your drawings hovewer are undeniably less political than the installations where they are placed. They seem contrapuntal to this sort of commitment which is the backbone of your installations.

Barthélémy Toguo: I always try to play on several registers in my work: assertions, human feelings and aesthetics. Another very important path is the celebration of the human body in its beauty, with its pains, its desires, and this more than any other mode calls forth drawing. As my work is multifarious and I like to show it as such, the drawings come rather as complements than as counterpoints to the installations in order to form a whole, a coherent though composite ensemble.

Philippe Piguet: In your work the drawing seems to be justified by the concept of transit which is the cornerstone of your reflexion on the world. Doesn’t the fact that you draw save you in the end from nomadism ?

Barthélémy Toguo: The reason why drawing is so recurrent in my work is that I am unable to get rid of it: I am permanently engrossed with it, bound hand and foot, and if I escape for a foray into video, sculpture, photography, etc., it immediately catches me up and I always come back to it. I must say that drawing is an easily manageable medium. You carry it with you, and you can draw in any situation.

Philippe Piguet: Do you mean that drawing as a medium is more essential than all others?

Barthélémy Toguo: It is the foundation stone from which there is no escape either to express an idea or to elaborate a project. That’s why I regret that it is no longer taught in art schools. The training in mine included observation drawing, I thus learned how to look thoroughly at the world around me: Cardinal Richelieu’s nose, Agrippa’s eyes or Venus’s small of the back. I find it still useful to-day when I want to stress a hand here, a head there, or an expression, etc.

Philippe Piguet: Are there personalities in the history of art that you have found particularly striking?

Barthélémy Toguo: I remember having examined drawings by Titian or Goya, but now only vaguely recall what I saw. I only remember that they gave me the desire to draw. In fact, I feel very autonomous, even a complete autodidact.

Philippe Piguet: While looking at your drawings, one cannot help thinking that their iconography is constituted by your earliest cultural roots. I in some way have the feeling that for you drawing is Africa.

Barthélémy Toguo: That’s indeed what most people see in them. Probably becasue they refer to their general knowledge of African art, traditional sculptures particularly, such as a Fang mask or statue. But when I represent a figure with needles on the body, my aim is to show the pain of the flesh, the suffering of the human being. Nothing to do with a votive offering or a ritual. The gourd beside a body, an earthen pot or a stool comes naturally to me. Such objects are part of my daily life, and the figures seen in my drawings are just familiar to me...

Philippe Piguet: The difference however being that they are half-anthropomorphic half-zoomorphic and come from a world that does not belong to your daily life.

Barthélémy Toguo: A lot of things come out of my past, what I could see or hear about, but it is more a question of environment than of culture because my drawing is fundamentally autobiographical.

Philippe Pïguet: I would finally like you to tell me about this Institute of Visual Arts that you have decided to create in the Cameroons, in your family’s town of Bandjoun. What is it exactly?

Barthélémy Toguo: If health and education represent in Africa two priorities politically speaking, the current leaders have no cultural project whatsoever. So this idea of creating an art centre open to all forms of expression came to me, in order to invite artists in residence and give them the opportunity to conceive and develop artistic projects. I want to do something agaisnt the systematic westward export of African artists. The Institute of Visual Arts will be a place where all forms of contemporary creation will mingle and live.

top / haut