Barthélémy Toguo @ Parrish Art Musem, New York

Barthélémy Toguo´s multi-disciplinary work—painting, performance, installation, photography and video—addresses issues of migration, colonialism, race, and the relationship between the global north and south. For his first solo exhibition in an American museum, Toguo will create a comprehensive body of work that expands his gaze to issues specific to America and to the Hamptons. He will create the work to be shown at the Parrish during a residency at The Watermill Center from June 15-29, in a unique new collaboration between the Parrish and Watermill who invited him as their 2018 Inga Maren Otto Fellow.

In Road to Exile, Toguo explores the desire of young Africans to escape. The journey is full of obstacles and not everyone arrives at their destination. The sculpture, a boat heavily laden with bags made from African fabrics and placed on a precarious surface made of glass bottles, will be installed in one of the largest galleries at the Parrish, surrounded by works selected by the artist from the collection that evoke travel, exile, and immigration, connecting these themes to America, and in particular to Long Island. The installation was first shown at the National Museum of Immigration in Paris in 2008.

Head Above Water is an ongoing community art project, in which Toguo asks people living in challenging socio-political situations to write something about their lives, dreams, and hopes on a postcard addressed to him. After locales including Cuba, Mexico, Tunisia, Hiroshima, and Johannesburg, Parrish and Watermill education and curatorial staff met with nearly 100 students and other residents from the East End of Long Island throughout the month of May. Participants were asked to write their answers to the question, “Where do I fit in, in American society?” on postcards provided by Toguo that were printed with his original artwork of a horse head. Launched in 2004, the project aims to bring people’s voices into Museum spaces. Toguo states, “Head Above Water acknowledges the artist’s responsibility towards society by giving ordinary people the opportunity for their voices to be heard.”

Toguo often inserts himself into his work, as in the nearly life-size staged photographs in the series, Stupid African President (2005-2008), a commentary on African leadership or the lack thereof. The Parrish will install three photos from the series, entitled Speech, Afrika Oil?, and Forest Destruction.

Inspired by African street cafés, Mobile Cafeteria is a participatory installation. Visitors are invited to play board games, watch soccer games, and taste Bandjoun coffee while learning about Bandjoun Station, a contemporary cultural and agricultural center in Cameroon established by Toguo. Posters, flyers, and photographs tell the story about this visionary center, which includes a museum, artist residency, school, and organic farm. Mobile Cafeteria is at once a playful and educational space for people to reflect on the economic, social, and cultural relationships between the global north and south, its imbalances and possible transformations. It exemplifies the artist’s vision to combine art and agriculture as an effective tool for Africans to achieve self-sufficiency and self-determination—setting the rules themselves for both farming products and the art market.
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