Students researched how artists from the African continent reflect on challenging issues and incorporate gender, health, environment, immigration, and well-being in general into their art. The students submitted a long essay incorporating the artist’s background, country of origin, the theme highlighted by the artwork, and how that connects to class themes, while the shorter reflections below provide a glimpse of the artist and their art from the lens of human rights and development.
Speaking to issues of resource extraction and export dependency, Toguo poses inside a white oil drum with “Afrika Oil?” painted in red block letters across the front. Only his head and neck are visible above the rim, as if drowning in dependency; his mouth is closed around an empty plastic water bottle, grasping for buoyancy, or for a sip of water that isn’t there. The bold text on the oil drum seems to ask “will Africa always be defined by the finite source of oil?”
According to Toguo “[The] question mark is precisely an inquiry about the wealth of Africa, about where this oil wealth is going…[and] leaves room for the imagination, for all the questions that the viewer might ask.” Toguo’s work is a perfect example of artistic activism, addressing issues of resource dependency and allocation in Africa.
Barthélémy Toguo was born in Cameroon in 1967, and currently splits his time living between Bandjoun, Cameroon and Paris, France. Toguo has used a variety of mediums in his artwork over the course of his career, including film, photography, and watercolor paints, and often appears as subjects in his own pieces. His photographic works are often described as a combination of performance art and portrait photography, which are useful to reflect on a variety of social and political issues, including race, war, immigration, and the environment.
Cameroon is an oil rich country and also considered one of the most mineral rich countries in West Africa. Most of the oil and gas exploration in Cameroon is done offshore in the Gulf of Guinea by multinational corporations (MNCs) which has a negative effect on the marine life and water quality. While many may consider the foreign involvement in Cameroon to be beneficial for the economy, the opposite effects continue to occur.