Barthélémy Toguo



Not on display

Barthélémy Toguo born 1967
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Unconfirmed: 1130 × 10000 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Africa Acquisitions Committee 2014


Purification 2012 is a long banner-shape watercolour on paper, measuring ten metres in length and just over one metre in height. The surface of the paper is covered with loose drawings of human forms, rendered in a limited palette of red, orange, green and grey. The heads and torsos are generally outlined clearly with a line of paint, inside which the marks become more blurred and watery, the result of applying watercolour to wet paper. The various floating forms, often upside down with flailing arms, are interwoven with sentences, handwritten in pencil, transcribed from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The work was specially made for a large-scale exhibition titled We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today, which took place in Manchester in 2012 across several venues, and was displayed at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

In 2007 Toguo, who was born in Cameroon, completed a series of smaller-scale watercolours titled Purification. These exemplify the themes of freedom, human rights and healing that have long preoccupied the artist. His drawings tend to be more fantastical and gestural than his installations, performances and photographs, which often reflect on the absurdities of borders in a politically overt manner. However, this does not mean they are less confrontational, as the artist has explained:

Purification was born from my response to sufferings endured by various groups of people around the world (genocides, slaughters, deportations, discriminations) during the 20th century … I have unrolled my vision in a nightmare frieze: human beings are abused, tortured, amputated, beaten to death … They cry and are soaked in blood, they are overwhelmed by violence unleashed by their peers … Man must regenerate his own culture so that he can restrain and move beyond this pulsion [sic]. He must operate a purge over himself and purify [himself] from his crimes and horrors.
(Artist’s statement, correspondence with Tate curator Kerryn Greenberg, May 2013.)

When this drawing was presented at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, the gallery’s curators wrote in the accompanying exhibition material, ‘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’.

Appropriately for an artist who frequently addresses issues of freedom, movement and the state of humanity in his work and lives between Paris, Bandjoun (Cameroon) and New York, Purification was made in a hotel room in Cuba during the Havana Biennale which took place in May–June 2012. It can be exhibited pinned directly to the wall (as it was at the Whitworth Art Gallery) or framed.

Further reading
Koyo Kouoh, Christine Eyene and Lubiana Himid, We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today, exhibition catalogue, Manchester City Art Galleries 2012, pp.96–7.
Lórand Hegyi, Blanca Victoria Lopez Rodriguez and Brian Keith Jackson, Barthelemy Toguo: Talking to the Moon, Cinisello Balsamo, Milan 2013.
Christine Takengny, Anne Kerner and Ralph Melcher, Barthélémy Toguo: In the Head, Paris 2013.

Kerryn Greenberg
August 2013

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