Barthelmy Toguo

Exhibition catalogue
The Insiders, a selection of works (1989 to 2009) from the Jean Pigozzi collection of African art
Fondation Louis Vuitton & Dilecta, Paris, 2017

Barthélémy Toguo was born in 1967 at Bandjoun in Cameroon, where he still lives when not in Paris. He very early began to draw everyday scenes inspired by the bustling life of the markets, nding himself fascinated by the dealings in cocoa, coffee, wood... After going to art school in Abidjan in Ivory Coast, he attended the École des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble, and afterwards the Kunst- akademie, Düsseldorf. During this time, he copied from Classical models, sculpted in wood, familiarized himself with multimedia, developed a conceptual approach of his own and discovered what he calls “German realism.”

Moving freely between drawing, sculpture and video, installation and performance, he draws on his own expe- rience, his travels and encounters, his work displaying a uidity of form and a multiplicity of cultural in uences. Once described as a “transcultural producer,”1 he brings heterogeneous materials into contact, introduces one tradition into another, and observes the new languages and identities that emerge. This engagement with the cultural and the social is also re ected in the Bandjoun Station art center that he set up in Cameroon in 2013.

Drawing, especially in watercolor on paper, has been a constant in his work. From the late 1990s to the present he has used it to express his thoughts and feelings, featur- ing it in his books, ceramics, installations and scenery for performance. For him,“Drawing is ... an intimate artistic discipline, sincere and fair, through which no lying or cheating is possible. It is also a child’s rst language. It’s a very rich discipline, as it can be carried out with only a pencil and a small or big piece of paper, in painting or watercolor. It is infinitely adaptable.”2 Watercolor would seem to be for Toguo a favored medium for the representation of the body and of sexuality.

The “Baptism” series of 1999–2000, 24 of whose drawings are presented here, is the first of Toguo’s watercolor series. Created in reaction to a crucial personal experience – when, still single at 33, he was pushed by his family into seeing a healer – it affords fragmentary visions of a mystical ceremony of entangled bodies and ecstatic hallucinations, of raw and joyous sexuality. Between phys- iological description and phantasmagoria, these hybrid, fragmented bodies echo the tradition of the écorché or f layed anatomical figure. “In these drawings,” he says,“there is physical suffering, ecstasy, delirium, the absurd and the imaginary.”3 Oscillating between the violence of the gures and gestures and the delicacy of watercolor, they play on deep reds and washes of translucent pink. Charged with a sense of the intimately personal, of the body caught in the ux of desire, they recall in the nature of their expressive power the works of Annette Messager or Louise Bourgeois. 

The series celebrates the emancipatory power of desire as it enables us to escape others’ expectations, to reject the demands of institutions and the con nes of prescribed roles, and in that same movement describes the violence of the body’s throes when constrained and denied.

Paying tribute to “the human body in all its splendor in sketching bodies amputated, incomplete, gestures left in suspense for fear of rendering their irrefutable beauty,”4 this series prefigures the blue and green watercolor drawings of the “Dream Catchers” (2002–2003) and “Strange Fruit” (2016) series, whose aggressively corporeal complexity verges on the explosive.

1. Peter Doroshenko, “Producteur transculturel,” in Barthélémy Toguo. The Sick Opera, exh. cat., Paris: Palais de Tokyo, 2004, p. 17.
2. Barthélémy Toguo, cited in Jérôme Sans, “Toguo digère le monde, entretien avec Barthélémy Toguo,” in ibid., p. 7.
3. Barthélémy Toguo, speaking on 9 January 2016.
4. Jérôme Sans, “Toguo digère le monde,” p. 7.