Barthélémy Toguo trained in Paris but works in Cameroon - and has a foundation there. He works and shows a lot in China too, hence why this gallery, which specialises in Chinese art, has put on this exhibition.
It’s quite a sight, with works on paper on the walls, and large porcelain pots strewing the floor. These imposing works - as a series they’re called Fragile Bodies - were made in China and decorated by local artists.
Source: HdM Gallery
Are the heads African or Chinese? Or both? Things don’t get clearer when you look on the surrounding walls; the porcelain is contextualised by a series of extremely gloomy watercolours depicting scenes of torture and death; these were created by Toguo in the gallery the week before the show. Finally, there’s a large watercolour on paper on the opposite wall, on which Toguo has written pro-environmental messages, flanked by birds and skulls in a lovely shade of blue.
I found myself cynically wondering how much Toguo was pandering to collectors’ tastes: the spectacular porcelains for billionaires, the watercolours for the entry level. “Toguo’s vessels acknowledge the ongoing connections between Africa and China and the supreme achievements of China within the arts,” the show notes trill. They don’t seem to reflect on the rather darker colonial aspirations of the Asian superpower. Or, just as likely, I missed these allusions.
Then again, all this very sellable work funds the cultural centre in Cameroon - Bandjoun Centre, which looks very cool.
Barthélémy Toguo: Human Nature is at HdM Gallery (London). June 13- August 23 2019