Magazine article Artforum International

Barthelemy Toguo: ROBERT MILLER GALLERY

Magazine article Artforum International

Barthelemy Toguo: ROBERT MILLER GALLERY

Article excerpt

Born in Cameroon in 1967 and now living in Paris, Barthelemy Toguo deploys various strategies to address the subject of cultural hybridity. Humor, parody, deliberate overdetermination, semantic dexterity, and medium-specific virtuosity are prominent among them, as was evidenced in this recent exhibition of work made over the past ten years. The mainstay of the show was a large installation to the rear of the gallery, which one entered through a curtain of white mosquito netting. Inside, the same material was draped, veil-like, onto a series of wooden cots stacked with clothes, evoking an African hospital ward of the kind set up by Catholic missionaries. The floor was tiled with banana-shipping boxes, with a monumental heap of stuffed-to-bursting blue-and-red-checked nylon shopping bags in one corner and an array of similarly full thrift-store suitcases in another. The installation thus brought into play several of the systemic feedback loops bound up in the asymmetrical power relations of globalization. A concrete example was proffered by the work's title--"The AIDS issue cannot be solved thanks to the distribution of condoms" Benedict XVI, 2009--which paraphrases a statement the pope made on his way to Cameroon last year. It was hard to miss the medical and moral ramifications of this statement in the mosquito netting "protecting" lifeless figures (the clothing) from malaria-carrying insects but not from a virus that requires less permeable protection.

Several paintings and drawings also in this space took up directly related themes; among them was a group of airy sketches on paper in ink and acrylic portraying nuns and saints along with graphic depictions of their sexual fantasies. In other works within the installation, the connections were more tangential--for example, in a series of poster-scale, ink-jet prints of photographs taken around Paris, from "The Path of Life," 2005. In the four corners of these prints, Toguo placed black playing-card clubs. These clubs also featured in works outside the installation, adorning a group of large watercolors depicting the body under duress: skin penetrated by nails, a cacophony of decapitated heads spewing ribbons of colored vomit, a woman's outline pissing onto outstretched tongues. …

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