From July 16th to August 16th in its Parisian space and online, Afikaris gallery sheds light on the recent dynamism and liveliness of the Cameroonian art scene that has been noticeable in the past five years. Through the gaze of Boris Anje (Anjel), Moustapha Baidi Oumarou, Salifou Lindou and Jean David Nkot, the gallery underlines the richness and diversity of this scene.
With the exhibition “We paint humans, a focus on the Cameroonian contemporary art scene”, Afikaris sheds light on this revival of the Cameroonian art scene, whilst underlining its richness and diversity, through the gaze of Boris Anje (Anjel), Moustapha Baidi Oumarou, Salifou Lindou, and Jean David Nkot. Despite very different aesthetics, all opt to use the human figure at the heart of their work. If Jean David Nkot aims to depict the human condition, Salifou Lindou reveals his characters’ demons, showcasing their strengths as weaknesses. Moustapha Baidi Oumarou, influenced by Salifou Lindou, emphasizes the human nature within all of us. Anjel’s characters are, for their part, the face of his generation, carrying its calls and indignations.
Whilst the scene has seen recent progressive development, the will to spread and exhibit the current artistic creation in Cameroonian cities began in the 1990s, with the birth of Doual’art in 1991 and the Cercle Kapsiki in 1998. Doul’Art created a true dialogue between the arts and the city, providing artists with new opportunities of exchanges, meetings and learning. Experiencing Doul’Art first-hand, Jean David Nkot considers it “a real pillar for contemporary art in Cameroon.” For him, “passing by Doual’art is a way to be credible. It’s a real ramp for young artists who stand out.” Jean David Nkot is a key example of the prominent role Doual’Art plays in the dynamism of this new Cameroonian art scene. His moving canvases are aesthetically original and provide a unique but recognisable identity. It is unsurprising therefore, that these works have been displayed in Paris, London, Cape Town, Marrakech, and New York. If Cameroonian artists Hervé Youmbi and Jean Jacques Kanté influenced Jean David Nkot in terms of aesthetics, colours and composition, the treatment of his subjects and violence imposed on the human form is more akin to Francis Bacon, Philippe Pasqua, Jenny Saville or Marlène Dumas. Thus, fed with international influences, Jean David Nkot, is the painter of the ‘human condition’. Through his monumental canvases, he highlights persons which society tends to ignore. In his most recent works, he focuses on the working class. Hairdressers, electricians and tradesmen represent a few of the individuals depicted. By showcasing the faces of the anonymous, he brings justice to those that history books forget. Beyond these ultra-realistic figures, Knot delves deeper to paint the boundary between the body and its surrounding territory. This can be presented in the background or directly applied on top of his characters like in his series The Shadows of Space, where a map illustrates the fight of the body against its territory. Rather than solely illustrate the story of migration, Jean David Nkot accentuates the human condition throughout. In this regard, he uses the concept of the ‘grey zone’, developed by Primo Levi in his book The Drowned and the Saved (1986). If for Levi, this grey zone was above all a dominant relationship, Jean David Nkot considers it as being in between the point of departure and arrival. Under his brushes, the central character is between departure and arrival, in the middle of the grey zone, the symbol of dreams recurring through his travels.
Ink, acrylic and post on canvas
When organisations and institutions participated in giving visibility to artists, local initiatives from artists groups also contributed by creating a dialogue between the arts and the city. For example, the Cercle Kapsiki aims to introduce the arts in Douala through the organization of exhibitions, projects and residencies. These events invite artists from around the world to transform the public space, hand in hand with Douala inhabitants. The multidisciplinary artist Salifou Lindou is a founder artist of the Cercle Kapsiki, alongside Hervé Yamguen and Hervé Youmbi. Lindou gravitated from the installations and mixed collages on canvas used initially in his career to focus on the pastel technique. Deviating from the preconceived ideas of works on paper, his characters, in shades of ochre and black, arise in human scale. Through his work, he underlines the fragility and vulnerability of human beings, despite their intelligence and ability to transform their environment. “In my work, I aim to represent all sides of human beings: their strengths as well as their weaknesses, their beauty as well as their ugliness, their narcissism as well as their humility and generosity. Finally, human beings are treasures of information.” Thus, Salifou Lindou, embarks to investigate the flawed perfection of human beings as his main subject of study. In tune with the world, he chooses the topics he encounters within his environment. Topical issues are often seen throughout his work: from the exile of migrant families to political debates. Nevertheless, should Salifou Lindou expose a situation, it is far from judgemental. He instead introduces a distance that is available to his subjects, created through his detail and focus on body aesthetics.
Douala Art Fair, created by Diane Audrey Ngako in 2018, represents a new opportunity for artists “to exhibit their work and to enjoy a national or even international visibility”, a phrase readily applicable for Moustapha Baidi Oumarou. The colourful and delicate artworks of this young painter have been exhibited in numerous countries since he first participated in the fair in 2019. Through his canvases, he wants to emphasize the good side in each of us. Due to his bright palette of colours, his flowery patterns and even the title of his works, such as Instant de joie (Moment of Joy), the artist proposes the depiction of humans as optimistic. Naturally, his delicate and subtle outlines immerse in a lush nature: a moment of sharing, conviviality, or even introspection. He explains: “My work is focused on the human. I aim to paint the joyful aspects of life. My characters represent the “flower man.” They embody moments of humanity, moments of joy and pictures of love. In my canvases, I want to put forward this side of humanity which we all hold inside us. I aim to draw and paint the world surrounding me with my most beautiful and powerful palette of colours.” Despite an extremely simplified décor: a monochrome background, a few twigs and sometimes a variety of flowers, his work is not disconnected from the news and the society in which he knows. Whilst remaining faithful to his style, the coronavirus health crisis or child soldiers can be seen in some of his canvases. The fashionable outfit donned by his characters present his work in an urban generation influenced by international trends.
Moustapha Baidi Oumarou, Innocence, 2020
Ink and acrylic on canvas
This interest in fashion and aesthetics is also evident in Boris Anje’s work. In his canvases inspired by the Congolese dandies, he puts this trend into perspective, challenging consumerism and raising societal issues. In Be human, the message “Don’t be racist” is showcased. Anjel refers to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which saw vast international visibility following the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A devoted artist, Anjel’s work is influenced by societal issues and often presents a critiquing stance. The logos decorating his canvases highlight the risk of cultural uniformity due to the alienation of a standardized way of life. His message echoes British pop art initiated by Richard Hamilton in the late 50s who already challenged consumption society. In Anjel’s work, humans are pressured between social injunctions and problems, with the only escape being through an affirmation of their identity.
Thus, the Cameroonian art scene stands out due to its dynamism and its placement of humans at the heart of its aesthetic. This focus provides the artist with the apparatus to convey necessary hope whilst providing a platform to denounce and criticise society’s underlying flaws. Anjel, Moustapha Baidi Oumarou, Salifou Lindou, and Jean David Nkot embody this generation of artists whose works, due to the strength of their messages and unique styles, are able to strike resonance on a global scale.
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