Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion

09.01.2011

DEBATES 2011 - Investing in culture - Interview of Barthélémy Toguo

Why did you decide to start a project or to invest in a cultural project?

I made the sad observation that the African classical sculpture is absent on the African continent, as the contemporary art, even though it is known outside of Africa and purchased by major western museums.

So I had the desire to create BANDJOUN STATION to exchange with the international and Africans artists and to preserve their creation on the continent. But BANDJOUN STATION is primarily a working and expression, where it is possible to meet with fellow artists from all over the world… Some of them will have the opportunity to stay in residence at the BANDJOUN STATION house and join the execution of works in situ, monumental pieces that require large place for their development and shaping.

BANDJOUN STATION is located in western Cameroon, near the town of Bafoussam. In this region, colonization had less negative effects on cultural practices than in Yaoundé and Douala where economic activity is concentrated due to the near coastal and port. In this hinterland, the cultural traditions of Bamiléké are still present, in the dances, the rituals, the carving masks. Many chiefdoms (BAFOUSSAM, BAFANG, BANDJA, BANDJOUN, BAHAM, BANGWA, FOTO…) have kept their power.

BANDJOUN STATION is also a place that welcomes those traditions: people are encouraged to take over this space, to organize parties related to their culture, after the funerals, for births, weddings. This also contributes to social cohesion.

Before BANDJOUN STATION, there was no place in the region to produce and exhibit culture, no galleries, no recording studios. This will allow preserving the traditional songs of local cultures.

The edifice was built by artists of Bandjoun. Composed of two building of over 20 meters high, it is one of the highest buildings in the region. The structure is topped by an 11m high pinion and covered with a double pyramid, which respects the secular rules of traditional local architecture with its tapered roof…. The facade is decorated with mosaics with emblems from my graphic world.

I hope BANDJOUN STATION can be an example for the African Diaspora. I think we have to contribute to the development of Africa in a way or another, each one of us can provide her or his expertise in agriculture, education, health, sports…

As for me, it is the achievement of a teenage dream: after studying at l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, at the Ecole Supérieure d'Arts in Grenoble, and at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, I wanted to come back to Africa and help to preserve heritage and development of major cultural projects. This is particularly important because it is not a priority for governments.

In relation to what you have explained and to understand your decision “to invest” a cultural project, what are the criteria that influenced your choice?

I wanted this project to contribute to tourism and economic development in the region, and to create a pole of jobs for the people.

Around BANDJOUN STATION, which has become a touristic site in Cameroon, hotels and cafés have grown, taxis work better, life and activities develop.

To overcome and transcend this ambitious artistic and cultural project, I have also decided to work in cooperation with the local community on artistic and agricultural projects. This component of environmental integration and social experimentation is meant to be an example for local youth, to create dynamic links between the collective of artists associated with the project and their hosts and to show that we need to also believe in agriculture to achieve our food self-sufficiency.

Finally, it is also a strong political act, our collective will fertilize a coffee nursery, a critical act that enhances the artistic act and denounces what Leopold Sedar Senhor called “the deterioration of the terms of trade”, in reference to prices at export imposed by West that penalize and impoverish permanently our farmers in the South.

How did you take the decision to invest?

This is a nonprofit project, motivated by my desire to get involved in Africa, to share my experience of arts and creativity. In Africa, there only can be individual projects – this project has not received for its construction any public or private aid. There is no political will for the development of culture as the funding goes to economic emergency. So Africans have to take control, this is what made me invest in BANDJOUN STATION.

What are the results?

The first result is a building with a strong architectural gesture on the main road that runs through the West of the country. It is a pride for the people of Bandjoun. Today we have a lot of white tourists and there are postcards of Bandjoun sold in Yaounde. In addition, the Bandjoun city becomes a centre of creation and cultural exchange: more than 5000 individuals a year attend to the free presentation of the cultural project, in which local people have been sometimes associated with guest artists.

At the end of their stay resident artists show their works to people, students and pupils invited to participate in their workshops. It is the educational dimension of the project. In 2011, Orlan and Pierre Ardouvin came with their students from The Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Arts of Cergy Pontoise. They spent ten days at Banjoudn Station and worked with local artists.

The cultural dimension of the project becomes real. I hope this initiative will result in new artists’ residence in Africa, as Malraux did in France with House of Culture. African artist need a place to work and exhibit. But these places are severely lacking.

 

On the same subjet

Who is Barthélémy Toguo ?

 

Credits: Forum d'Avignon