popular
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.

1

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

1

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."

popular

Today Marks the 58th Anniversary of the Assassination of the DRC's Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba was the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo following its independence.

Today the DRC celebrates Heroes Day and honors its first democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba came into power after what was then the Republic of the Congo received its independence from its colonizer, Belgium. Whilst speculation and conspiracy still surrounds his assassination in 1961 till this day, it has long been alleged that he was murdered by the US working together with Belgium.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

Prominent Zimbabwean Activist Sheds Light on Current Crisis

Doug Coltart, a vocal activist and human rights lawyer based in Harare, speaks to Okayafrica about what's currently happening in Zimbabwe.

A few days ago, the Zimbabwean government issued a directive to major cellular network providers Econet and TelOne to disable the internet and all access to social media. The directive was an attempt to prevent any information from spreading outside the country's borders with regards to the nationwide protests which have led to the deaths of at least five people and the injury of at least twenty-five others.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
The front page of The New York Times on January 16, 2019

Kenyans Are Furious at the New York Times for Posting Photos of Terrorist Victims

After the the deadly attack on Tuesday, many are accusing the American newspaper of having a double standard on which dead bodies they allow into the paper

Is the New York Times guilty of a double standard when it comes to publishing images of dead bodies?

Kenyans, and others fed up with the coverage, took to social media in the hundreds to denounce a Times article that included an image of victims of Tuesday's Nairobi terrorist attack, bloodied from bullets, and lying hunched over their laptops, dead.

It has cause enough debate online to where the Times' incoming East Africa Bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura felt the need to explain their photo policy, which is to show the dead only if their faces cannot be seen in the image. The photo in question fits the policy as the faces are facing away from the camera. She would later apologize before posting the official policy to her Twitter account. The photo remains up.

The Times' official response, as those tend to do online, has only created more anger. But unlike many unruly Twitter mobs, those responding to the official statement have a rather coherent message—"you wouldn't do this with photos of the American dead."

Some of the responses to the Times' official statement.

In a response to the controversy from the Poynter Institute, a typically astute observer of journalistic practice in the United States, they run through the typical American journalism school approach to publishing photos that might shock or offend. They write:

Should the Times have run the photo?
There is no easy answer.
The first question any news organization must ask when deciding to publish violent images is: WHY show it?
In other words, what is the news value? Does the public need to see such an image to fully grasp what happened? Does the public need to see such a photo to confirm or disprove the official account of the events?
An argument could be made that a writer's words could accurately describe the scene without being as disturbing as the image. In addition, when it comes to an act of terrorism, might publishing such a photo actually advance the cause of the terrorists, showing the damage they caused, thus fueling dread and panic?
Also this: The photo on the Times website came without warning. As a reader, you didn't know you were going to see a photo of dead people until you actually saw it.
Those are arguments to not run such a photo or, at least, warn readers of its graphic content.

While it's a fine analysis of when to show a violent image, it misses the central issue at play for those aggrieved by the Times' posting—that the American news-gaze values certain lives differently. Black, brown, foreign, poor—American journalism organizations, including the New York Times, cannot escape a base ethnocentrism in their coverage. It's so embedded into how these institutions operate, and the gap in understanding is so wide, that to much of the world, the Times' official response is laughably wrong at first glance.

"We take the same approach wherever in the world something like this happens--balancing the need for sensitivity and respect with our mission of showing the reality of these events"

And while there are examples from the Times that complicate this feeling, like these images of the dead in the terrorist attack in Nice, France, it doesn't discount the wider and correct feeling that the white victims of American mass shootings are treated differently than their African counterparts. And while there are complicated and systematic reasons for this which will always make discussing it difficult, to simply deny that different standards exist, does not increase the Times' credibility with Kenyans or the newspaper's growing online audience which will only become more vocal about how they're portrayed.

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.