Parrish Puts Barthélémy Toguo On ‘Platform’

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Cameroon artist Barthelemy Toguo, second from left, shows off a symbolic boat he built as part of his artist residency during a tour of his works-in-progress for the Parrish Art Musem at the Water Mill Center. Michael Heller Photo

Nearly 100 young Hamptons residents know Barthélémy Toguo, and the question he recently asked them to consider: “Where do I fit in, in American society?”

Their answers hang as 96 framed postcards, addressed to him, along the Parrish Art Museum’s spine — alongside postcards from circa-2005 Lagos and Mexico in 2008 — contributing to an ongoing, worldwide community art project “Head Above Water.” Created to provide an international platform for everyday people by bringing their voices into museum spaces.

Now, the Parrish is giving Toguo his own platform.

On view starting Saturday, August 5, “Barthélémy Toguo: The Beauty of Our Voice” will explore issues of migration, mobility, colonialism, race and the relationship between the global north and south in a body of multi-disciplinary work — from watercolor paintings, sculpture and installation to photography, performance and the aforementioned community project.

The first solo exhibition in an American museum from Toguo follows a tour-de-force at international biennials, including Venice, Havana, and Sydney, as well as this year’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in Japan.

“Barthélémy Toguo is very much an artist of his time who moves between cultures and identities, and as such absorbs the ailments of our world to create strong and uncompromising work that ultimately points toward our common humanity,” explained Corinne Erni, senior curator of ArtsReach and Special Projects, in a press release. “As an African living in Paris who has recently spent more time in the United States, he has created work for the Parrish that reflects interconnected histories. I am thankful for our new partnership with The Watermill Center, which allowed Barthélémy to immerse himself into the Hamptons to create his work.”

Featuring work created during Toguo’s residency at The Watermill Center in June — where he was invited as the Inga Maren Otto Fellow — the centerpiece of the show is “Road to Exile,” an installation that addresses the migrant and refugee crisis, specifically the desire of young Africans to escape in hopes of a better life.

That life-size boat that Toguo built at Watermill is heavily laden with bags made from African fabrics, placed on the precarious surface of glass bottles — evoking the danger of a journey that not all survive.

Installed in one of the largest galleries at the Parrish, “Road to Exile” will be surrounded by drawings, etchings and paintings from the Parrish collection that depict boats in various settings and eras that largely celebrate sea travel, exploration and commerce — revealing the stark contrast and ambiguous history of seafaring, according to the press release.

The artist will also transform an entire gallery into “Mobile Cafeteria,” a participatory installation inspired by African street cafés. Later in the reception, Toguo will serve Bandjoun coffee, which will be available for sale in the museum store.

“At once playful and educational, ‘Mobile Cafeteria’ is a space for visitors to reflect on the economic, social and cultural relationships between the global north and south, as well as its imbalances and possible transformations,” the release said. “Toguo built furniture for the space, where visitors are invited to play African board games and watch recorded African soccer games while learning about Bandjoun Station, a center for culture, art, education and agriculture founded by the artist in his native Cameroon.”

“Mobile Cafeteria” also serves as a gallery for Toguo’s artwork that explores the socio-political issues in Africa and America, as well as their historical correlation. Three nearly life-size staged photographs from his 2005/2008 series “Stupid African President,” featuring the artist posing as African politicians, will be on view.

“Toguo’s new series of pencil drawings on canvas, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ depicts African Americans killed recently in the United States by members of police forces,” the release said. “Two wooden guns suspended by metal chains are aimed at portraits of Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Tyre King, Trayvon Martin, Keith Scott, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, and Christian Taylor. ‘Mobile Cafeteria’ will also feature large-scale and several smaller paintings that Toguo created at Watermill. Painted predominantly in olive green watercolor ink, the paintings depict human-like forms morphing into animal shapes or abstract creatures, erasing the separation between humans and nature.”

The opening reception on August 4 will feature Toguo and performance artist Nèfta Poetry from Guadalupe in a performance that starts in the museum’s Lichtenstein Theater and moves through the galleries to “Road to Exile.” The exhibit will remain on view through October 14 at the Water Mill museum, located at 279 Montauk Highway. For more information, call (631) 283-2118 or visit parrishart.org.

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