Barthélémy Toguo

Barthélémy Toguo
Barthélémy Toguo, Redemption 2012

In a globalised world where, for some at least, travel and movement is easy, Barthélémy Toguo exposes the absurdities of borders and boundaries and explores the effect travel and transition have on an individual’s sense of identity, freedom and human relationships and emotions. The West was happy to take raw materials from the African continent and developing countries but when it comes to the movement of people today, many controls remain in place. Despite the serious content, Toguo provokes and disarms us using black humour, theatre and fantasy.

Employing sculpture, installation, performance, photography and film, drawings and watercolours, Toguo’s versatility is astonishing. The artist has held a fascination for wood since his childhood in Cameroon when he witnessed large logs being traded at the marketplace. Rather than referencing an African tradition, he sculpts with a chainsaw allowing him to work quickly with unexpected results. In contrast to the solidity of wood, Toguo’s watercolours have a subtlety and lyricism as the paint oozes, seeps and dissolves onto the paper. This technical poetry belies the often violent imagery as human and animal limbs and body parts float in space, connected by a flow of liquid which ultimately and very simply express ‘life’. His new site-specific large watercolour for the Whitworth, Purification, is based on an interpretation of the sufferings experienced by various populations through deportations and genocides of the last century.

Towering above visitors to Manchester Art Gallery stand two monumental wooden chairs, each 5m high, representing the meeting between North and South. Carved onto the large border control stamps are the words Liberty, Republic of Love, Giving Person, Peace, No War, Hospitality – these are the dreams of those migrating with their bags and belongings to a promised land – ironic in face of the reality they will encounter. Nearby sit three wooden suitcases, a replica of Toguo’s 1996 performance Transit 1, which dumbfounded Parisian airport customs officials who were used to gleefully searching his luggage.

Redemption 2012 is inspired by Bob Marley’s final concert in Pittsburgh in September 1980 in which he sang Redemption Song whilst ill with terminal cancer. Toguo says ‘My installation is a call to freedom and salvation of people ... man must redeem himself, purify himself from all blame to recreate a fraternal alliance. A new generosity must be born in our contemporary society in order to prevent the suffering of oppressed people in exile such as the Roma. Man must banish evil, celebrate generosity and therefore find redemption.’1

1 Barthélémy Toguo in an email to Natasha Howes 25 April 2012.


Born in 1967 in Cameroon. Lives and works between Cameroon, France and USA.

Trained at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the Ecole Supérieure d’Art, Grenoble, France and the Kunstakademie, DÜsseldorf, Germany.

Recent solo shows include: A World Child Looking at the Landscape, Nosbaum & Reding Art Contemporain, Luxembourg, 2012; The Well Water and Shower Life, La Verrière by Hermès, Brussels, Belgium, 2011; International Print Biennale, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, UK, 2011; The Lost Dogs’ Orchestra, Galerie Lelong, Paris, France, 2010.

Recent group shows include: La Triennale: Intense Proximité, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France, 2012; 11th Havana Biennial in Cuba, 2012; A terrible beauty is born, Biennale de Lyon, France; 18th Sydney Biennale, Laughing in a Foreign Language, Hayward Gallery, London, 2008.

In 2011, he was made Knight in the Order of Arts and Literature, France.

His work is part of major international art collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Moma , Museum of Modern Art New York, USA; Museum of Contemporary Art of Miami, USA and Kunstsammlungen der Stadt, Düsseldorf, Germany.


Martin Barlow, curator of the exhibition Moving Into Space at the National Football Museum talks about the exhibition.

Barthélémy Toguo, Lucy Azubuike and Nnenna Okore, three of the exhibited artists, talk about their work and their interest in using materials which reflect the lifestyle and experience of the people of West Africa.

Twitter (#wefaceforward)

Creative Tourist


Nine countries show off their talent as five city venues link up for a summer celebration. Helen Nugent in the Guardian

Street life, dazzling dress, social commentary and a riot of sensuous colour interweave in a rich assembly of West African art, writes Charles Gore in the Times Higher Education