In his installation ‘Strange Fruit’, Toguo addresses recent upsurges of racialized violence. The title of the work is taken from a song first recorded by jazz musician Billie Holiday in 1939. The lyrics, describing black bodies in the aftermath of a lynching, are a protest against racism, drawing attention to it as a corruption of nature that culminates in death. The tree installation thus becomes an allegory for racism. Toguo presents this social stain as complex but conquerable; it has the capacity to grow and produce ‘strange fruit’, but it can also be cut down. Like the song, the installation and the paintings in this exhibition combine imagery of viscera and vegetation. The recurrent depictions of tendrils reaching deep into bodies read as both vital and violent.
When asked about the violence and terrorist attacks, Toguo responded, ‘How could I not be sensitive to the many situations of distress that our world meets today?’ Toguo’s art is not just one of activism however, it is also infused with a critical eye and a sense of wonder.
About the Artist
Barthélémy Toguo was born in 1967 in Cameroon and lives between Paris and Bandjoun. He trained at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; the École Supérieure d’Art in Grenoble, France; and the Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, Germany. He founded Bandjoun Station, a center for artistic exchange between local and international artists featuring residencies, an exhibition space, a library, and plantations in Bandjoun, Cameroon.
In 2011, Toguo was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature in France. He was shortlisted for the Prix Marcel Duchamp in 2016. His work is in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Musée d’Art Contemporain, Lyon; Fondation Louis Vuitton; and the Kunstsammlung der Stadt Düsseldorf, among others.
He has presented solo shows at institutions including the Parrish Art Museum, New York; Uppsala Art Museum, Sweden; Musée d’Art Contemporain de Sainte Etienne, France; La Verrière by Hermès, Brussels, Belgium; and Fundaçao Gulbenkian, Lisbon. Notable group shows include Paris7th Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, Japan (2018); Homo Planta at Fondation Blachère (2018); The Red Hour, the 13th Dakar Biennale (2018); Art/Afrique, le Nouvel Atelier at Fondation Louis Vuitton (2017); All The World’s Futures at the Venice Biennale (2015); Body Language at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2013); La Triennale: Intense Proximity, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); the 11th Havana Biennial (2012); A terrible beauty is born, 11th Biennale de Lyon, France; the 18th Sydney Biennale (2011); and Laughing in a Foreign Language, Hayward Gallery, London (2008).
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