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A glorious African affair: Soly Cisse and Barthélémy Toguo

Last month Knighted artist Barthélémy Toguo exhibited alongside Senegalese painter Soly Cisse at Galerie MAM in Toguo’s home country of Cameroon. The exhibition was a feast of painted works by the pair of African contemporaries.

Galerie MAM, Cameroon. Photographer: Alain Ngann. Courtesy of Galerie Mam.
Galerie MAM, Cameroon. Photographer: Alain Ngann. Courtesy of Galerie Mam.

Growing up in a time when Senegalese people worked to clean up and repair the city’s neighbourhoods after riots and political unrest – Cisse utilised art as social activism as did many of the disenfranchised youth of Dakar. Entrenched in these tensions, Cisse’s paintings demonstrate the thick, inescapable materiality of paint and its ability to move, create and allude to mess and chaos within the confines of a canvas. Sharing a mutual medium with Toguo in this exhibition, Cisse showcases abstract expressionism’s high regard of movement, emotion and texture. Alongside the vibrant abstracts of Cisse, the exhibition focused on the paintings of Barthélémy Toguo’s oeuvre. A multidisciplinary artist, exploring notions of displacement and trade –Toguo’s painterly practice deals with ideas around the regulated flow of people, merchandise and resources between the West and the developing countries. Not unlike the abstract forms of Cisse, Toguo’s depicts human-like figures morphed into creatures and animal shapes. The bleeding and blending of his ink-like watercolour medium exemplify the shifting lines and blurred borders of trade, travel, migration and identity with the reiterating titles of ‘Walking in Circles’; ‘The Visitor’; ‘Osmosis’; ‘Rooted Hands’ and ‘Natural Transfusion’.

Born in Cameroon, Toguo lives and works between Paris, Bandjoun, Cameroon and New York. The painter was trained at Ecole Supreme d’Art in Grenoble, France and Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf Germany, later being Knighted by the Order of Arts and Literature in France. Soly Cisse was born in Dakar, Senegal and paints autobiographical narratives and feelings surrounding a youth spent in Senegal. Contributing to a range of group shows including Africa Remix as well as various solo shows around the world – Cisse proves himself as a vibrant player in contemporary African art. Having founded Bandjoun Station – a centre for artistic exchange between local and international artists in the way of residencies, gallery space and library, Toguo’s work is housed in collections all around the world including Centre Pompidou in Paris, Museum of Modern Art in New York Studio Museum in Harlem and more in Lyon and Germany.

Galerie MAM, Cameroon. Photographer: Alain Ngann. Courtesy of Galerie Mam.
Galerie MAM, Cameroon. Photographer: Alain Ngann. Courtesy of Galerie Mam.

The pair first collaborated in 2010, as an off-section of Dak’art, at the 10th Dakar Biennale. Having only encountered one another exhibiting overseas, the two artists set out to work together in a showcase on the African continent. Exhibiting performance pieces, installations and engaging with local artists and craftsmen – the two artists created space for dialogue and interaction with contemporary African art in Africa. With an oeuvre extending across mediums including drawing, installation, performance, video and collage Barthélémy Toguo and Cisse showed their collaboration once again in Cisse/Toguo at Galerie MAM – standing amongst a strong collective of Contemporary artists from the continent – a painterly pair and a gloriously African affair.

Pamela Bentley

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