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Barthélémy Toguo 'Road to Exile.' Photo courtesy of Parrish Art Museum.

Barthélémy Toguo's Exhibition Explores the Push & Pull of the Global Migration Crisis

The Cameroonian artist specifically dives into the desire of young Africans wanting to seek a better life in 'The Beauty of Our Voice' at the Parrish Art Museum.

In the last year, stories about the global migration crisis have been at the forefront of our news feeds and especially in the work of Cameroonian artist, Barthélémy Toguo.

In his exhibition, showing at the Parrish Art Museum until October 14, Toguo addresses the migrant and refugee crisis; specifically, the desire of young Africans to escape in hopes of a better life. The centerpiece of Toguo's exhibition, Road to Exile, is a life sized boat filled to the brim with bags representing the material things people who migrate bring along with them on their journey. Toguo notes that the bed of glass bottles, which surround the boat, simultaneously show the danger and the fragility of the migrants' journey.


"The water is an element that can transport people from one point to another but at the same time it can kill," says Toguo in an email to OkayAfrica. "It is a trial of difficulties and the cause of many misfortunes, [like] in the Mediterranean Sea, for example."

Barthélémy Toguo. Photo courtesy of Parrish Art Museum.

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Barthélémy Toguo's 'Road to Exile.' Photo courtesy of Parrish Art Museum.

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Mapped along the walls of the museum are postcards from Toguo's interdisciplinary project titled Head Above Water. The postcards serve as a map of Kosovo, Lagos, Johannesburg, Cuba, Tunisia, Hiroshima, Auschwitz and Birkenau, Mexico, Rwanda, London, Cairo and most recently, The Hamptons, through the eyes of everyday citizens. The premise of the project involves Toguo asking people living in challenging socio-political situations to write something about their lives, dreams, and hopes on a postcard addressed to him.

"I chose the title, Head Above Water, for this project to show the seriousness of the situation in which many of the people I talked to find themselves [in]; they often suffer so much that they are fed up and are close to suicide—hence barely holding their head above water," Toguo says.

"The project has evolved, and essentially, it gives voice to everyone to talk about their experiences and their lives. It's a generous project."

In The Hamptons, Toguo received postcards from many groups, including Native Americans hailing from Southampton's Shinnecock Reservation. By exploring questions about belonging in the United States and who is allowed to call this country a home, Toguo learned that members of the Shinnecock Nation are considered foreigners in Southampton.

"They do not own the land in the Hamptons, and they live in difficult social conditions, with very low monthly incomes," Toguo adds.

Barthélémy Toguo's 'Head Above Water.' Photo courtesy of Parrish Art Museum.

Barthélémy Toguo's 'Head Above Water.' Photo courtesy of Parrish Art Museum.

In one postcard a person writes "The American society is broken. Many of us are separate, not together. It is the rich, the poor and somewhere in between. I am somewhere in between, but I am lost too."

Other pieces in Toguo's exhibition speak to questions of police brutality, political corruption in African countries, sustainability, capitalism, trade and community. The exhibition is an amalgamation of Toguo's understanding of his role as an artist, which is to chronicle injustice as a way to remedy it.

Corinne Erni, senior curator of ArtsReach and special projects at The Parrish Museum of Art considers Toguo's work as "an invitation to a conversation rather than a message."

"I see it as strong, exuberant artwork with a commanding presence that draws us into the complex and unjust world that we all inhabit and contribute to," she says.

"It's through Barthélémy's aesthetics and mastery of the various artforms that he, as an artist, is able to lure us beyond the surface and into his world where he awaits as the multi-faceted African and global citizen who cares deeply about his people and his continent. He shows us hard truths—racism, post-colonial oppression, forced migration and exile, and the unfair trade conditions that for centuries have impoverished the global South. We want to see more, because the work is so beautiful and celebrates our—though hugely flawed—humanity which allows us get a little bit closer to the "other."

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South Africans are Reacting to the Constitutional Court's Ruling on Spanking

Not everyone is happy that spanking is now unconstitutional.

Yesterday, South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled that the spanking of children is now unconstitutional. The ruling upheld a previous ruling by the High Court back in 2017, that criminalized spanking after a father beat his 13-year-old son "in a manner that exceeded the bounds of reasonable chastisement". Parents or guardians can no longer use the common law defense of "reasonable chastisement" should they be charged with assault for spanking their children. While many South Africans as well as children's rights activists and organizations have welcomed the ruling, others have rubbished it entirely.

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AKA is Taking His Orchestra Show to Durban

AKA will be performing in Durban with The KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

It seems AKA's Orchestra on The Square, which took place in Pretoria in March this year, was the first in a series of shows.

Supa Mega is taking the show to Durban on the 2nd November at the ICC Arena in Durban. The artist will be assisted by The KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, which is widely regarded as one of Africa's premier orchestras. A number of surprise guests will join Supa Mega on the night.

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Here's What the South African Government has Promised to Do About Gender-based Violence

They have pledged 1.1 billion Rand towards the fight against gender-based violence.

Over the past two weeks, South Africans took to the streets to protest against the rise in gender-based violence and violence towards children. These protests were in response to the horrific rape and murder of several young women, one after the other. Students at various universities across the country organized marches and vigils in while others marched to the parliament buildings in Cape Town and more recently at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the protesters outside the parliament buildings and promised that the government would respond swiftly to the rising war on women. Yesterday, Ramaphosa called for a joint sitting of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces to discuss the way forward, News24 reports.

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Cover of Isha Sesay's 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'

'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'—an Excerpt From Isha Sesay's Book About Remembering the Chibok Girls

Read an exclusive excerpt from the Sierra Leonean reporter's new book, which offers firsthand accounts of what happened to the girls while in Boko Haram captivity in an attempt to make the world remember.

Below is an excerpt from the seventh chapter in Sierra-Leonean journalist and author Isha Sesay's new book, "Beneath the Tamarind Tree," the "first definitive account" of what took place on the ground following the abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in 2014.

Continue on to read more, and revisit our interview with the reporter about why it's important for the world to remember the girls' stories, here.

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"We should burn these girls!"

"No, let's take them with us!"

"Why not leave them here?"

The men were still arguing, dozens of them trading verbal blows while Saa and the other horrified girls looked on. None of the men seemed particularly troubled by the fact that the lives of almost three hundred schoolgirls hung in the balance. Amid all the yelling, the girls had been divided into groups. Each batch would burn in a different room in the school buildings that were aflame just a few feet away. Tensions were escalating when a slim man with outsize eyes suddenly appeared. Saa had never seen him before. Like many of the insurgents, he too looked young and was just as scruffy. But when he spoke, tempers seemed to cool for a moment.

"Ah! What are you trying to do?"

"We wanted to burn them!"

"Why not take them with us, since we have an empty vehicle?"

His suggestion triggered a fresh round of quarreling. The same positions were expressed, and the newcomer continued to calmly repeat his idea of taking the girls with them, till he finally got his way. The girls later discovered his name was Mallam Abba. He was a commander.

"Follow us!" the men shouted.

None of it made any sense to Saa. Why? To where? As the insurgents shuffled her out of the compound, she felt as if her whole life were on fire. All Saa could see was the ominous orange glow of flames consuming every one of her school buildings. With every step, the fears within her grew. She struggled to make sense of the competing thoughts throbbing in her head. This isn't supposed to be happening. The insurgents had asked about the boys and the brick-making machine; they'd systematically emptied the school store, carrying bag after bag of foodstuffs and loading all of it into the huge waiting truck. With everything now packed away, Saa had thought the insurgents would simply let the girls go home. After all, that's what had happened during their previous attacks on schools—they'd always let the schoolgirls go, after handing out a warning to abandon their education and strict instructions to get married. Saa had simply expected the same thing to happen once more, not this.

She scanned the crowd of faces surrounding her; the creased brows and startled expressions of the others made it clear that everyone was equally confused. Whatever the turmoil they were feeling, they kept it to themselves. No one said a word. Saa fell into a sort of orderly scrum with the men corralling and motioning her forward with their guns, each weapon held high and pointed straight at the girls.

Saa and Blessing moved in unison, along with the hundreds of others, snaking along in the dark through the open compound gate, past the small guard post usually occupied by Mr. Jida, which now sat empty. Yelling came from nearby Chibok town. Saa could smell burning, then heard the sound of gunshots and people running. It was bedlam.

Just beyond the compound walls sat a crowd of bushes. As she and the men moved out into the open, Saa felt their thorns spring forward, eager to pull at her clothing and scratch and pierce her body. Careful not to yell out in pain, she tried to keep her clothes beyond the reach of the grasping thicket with no time to pause and examine what might be broken skin.

Saa retreated into herself and turned to the faith that had anchored her entire life. Lord, am I going to die tonight, or will I survive? Desperate to live, unspoken prayers filled her mind and she pleaded, repeatedly, God save me.

She was still praying as they walked down the dirt path away from the flaming school. The shabby-looking men with their wild eyes gave no explanation or directions. They simply motioned with their heads and the sweep of their rifles, making it clear to keep moving. As the reality began to sink in, Saa felt her chest tightening. Her heart was going to beat its way out of her body. But she couldn't allow herself to cry or make any sound. Any kind of display would make her a target, and who knew what these men might do?

The insurgents walked alongside, behind, and in front of her; they were everywhere. Every time Saa looked around, their menacing forms filled her view. Initially, all the girls were steered away from the main road and onto a rambling path overgrown with bushes; the detour was likely made in an attempt to avoid detection.

Parents lining up for reunion with daughters (c) Adam Dobby


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This excerpt was published with permission from the author. 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree' is available now.

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