Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

The period of independence, some sixty years ago, favoured the creation of the first schools of fine arts on the continent (Dakar, Senegal), the first individual and collective exhibitions, festivals and other events.

Daniel Onguene, Stephanie à la gare ancienne SOTUC (Stephanie at the old SOTUC station), 2023. Acrylic on canvas, 118 x 110cm. Courtesy of the artist and OOA Gallery.

The euphoria of this freedom, at times achieved at great cost, the nationalist movements, the return to origins and roots, all this enthusiastic discourse found itself transposed into the works that we could admire from Dakar to Yaoundé via Brazzaville! Africa was beautiful, it could finally add its voice to the concert of nations. Its identity became a source of pride and everything had to reflect this faith in a better tomorrow.

A generation later, many of the cries of joy have died down, quarrels have broken out, African unity has been shattered and the march towards development is raising questions in all sections of the population. The rural exodus causes much havoc, multiplied tenfold by a general climate of laxity and fatalism. The countryside, struck by all kinds of human and natural calamities, is being emptied in favour of cities that have not been designed to absorb such a large population.

Problems arise at all levels of life for city dwellers. Accelerated urbanisation no longer obeys the slightest rule; the networks, whether electrical or sanitation, are suffocating under the weight of anarchy and lack of maintenance.

Finally, the few industries that existed, poorly sized, true “white elephants” as the artist calls them, have collapsed, plagued by “structural adjustments”, full-blown liberalisation policies that have been rolled out, to the opening of borders to production coming from everywhere, and China in particular, (as certain of the works allude to) and the domestic sector that somehow has tried to survive.

It is this Africa of today that this very disenchanted African youth, like many of his fellow artists from the same generation, seeks to represent. Alexis Daniel Onguene Tassi, who, barely twenty-eight years old today, has made a sensational entry into the artistic creation of our continent.

Admittedly, he holds a master’s degree in visual arts and art history, with a focus on painting, obtained just four years ago at the Institute of Fine Arts of the University of Douala in Nkongsamba, however Daniel Onguene shows a surprising and precocious mastery of his technique.

When he was only twenty years old, the artist was noticed and awarded, thanks to a competition open to art schools on the African continent, by the Jack Bell Gallery in London, known for scrutinising the most talented and promising artists of contemporary African art. Daniel Onguene continued his journey, exhibiting several times in the best galleries in Cameroon, including Galerie MAM, in 2017, under the curatorship of Simon Njami.

The presentation at OOA Gallery in June 2021 was his first two men show on the European continent.

Onguene has since gone on to participate in other great events under the OOA banner, including 1-54 Art Fair London in 2021 and ART X Lagos Art Fair in 2021 & 2022. After exhibiting two artworks during the OOA GALLERY London Group Show “Africa Rises in Fall” in October 2022, Daniel Onguene is back in Barcelona now where he will have his first solo show from June 3 till July 2, 2023.  

The artist, more and more seasoned and a master of his technique, returns to the same theme of Adventure between the ruins, which, in his own words, questions “the causes of the emergence of the informal sector in Africa”.

Against the gray backgrounds of a chaotic world, almost already buried in the past, he illustrates the daily life of these anonymous “heroes”, precisely painted in a very figurative way, who, whatever happens, strive to survive through the tiring practice of a multitude of “odd jobs” and leaves one to wonder how they manage to feed themselves or even their family.

There is great empathy in him, which implies affection and respect, and Onguene’s characters remain dignified when they are not dynamic and combative, with bright and acid colours, despite the harshness of times.

The titles of the works and the anecdotes to which they refer are very significant, especially with this young man who looks at us, carrying a tray on which there is food for sale and these terrible words My future on my head!

But one of the most recent works stands out. Entitled The Dreamer, it is on a more colourful background than the others and shows a young man, well formed, upright, who holds his spear in a vertical position, like a weapon, conquering his sovereign. He does not seem defeated by the other heroes of the artist. He talks about the techniques being developed to produce biogas and his glasses are more reminiscent of a virtual reality headset!

A message of inspiration and hope, a message of faith in a future whose technicality is not always ruled out. It is a vision of a world that can be within reach and move from virtuality to reality.

This only makes us want to follow another talented and endearing artist.

Sylvain Sankalé is an art writer from Dakar, Senegal.

The exhibition will be on view from the 3rd of June until the 2nd of July, 2023. For more information, please visit OOA Gallery.

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