Exploring the work of five Cameroonian photographers never exhibited in Japan, YaPhoto@Arakawa Africa is a three-day event at OGU MAG, Tokyo.
Ahead of the exhibition, which opens on 10 August 2017, Art Radar previews the lens-based practices of some of these emerging artists.
This exhibition and event is the brainchild of no less than four cultural organisations, whose work spans both visual culture, research-based initiatives and lens-based practices. Conceived as a pre event of Arakawa Africa, an annual art project which strives to bridge the gap between “the African presence in Tokyo’s Arakawa ward with cultures from the continent”, YaPhoto@Arakawa Africa is a collaboration between OGU MAG, YaPhoto – Yaounde Photo Network and Making Histories Visible, University of Central Lancashire.
The three-day event runs from 10 to 12 August 2017, and includes a photographic exhibition, video art screenings and a talk from Christine Eyene, Co-founder of Ya Photo. The exhibition will feature the work of five Cameroonian photographers: Romuald Dikoume, Blaise Djilo, Max Mbakop, Steve Mvondo and Yvon Ngassam.
Founded in September 2016 and co-founded by curators Christine Eyene and Landry Mbassi, Ya Photo is an independent photography platform made up of a website, frequent workshops and an event programme that focuses on photographic and video practice from both Cameroonian and international artists. Eyene explains how the exhibition:
sets out to present a selection of contemporary Cameroonian photography and give a glimpse of local practices from within the vast territory that is the African continent. It is also the first group exhibition showcasing Cameroon’s new generation in an international context.
The platform aims to nurture, support and promote the work of an emerging generation of local photographers, whilst adding to the cultural landscape of Cameroon and creating encounters between image-makers and audiences. For example, Max Mbakop‘s work-in-progress series documents the emergence of roller-skating and BMX across the large metropolis of Douala, commenting on changing urban cultures across the city. His work considers different groups and the social bonding and interaction that certain extreme sports allow. At the same time, Romuald Dikoume’s work in progress draws from more historic sources, and is a visual experiment involving protagonists performing scenes of pre-colonial times.
The platform often collaborates with Christine Eyene’s research as part of Making Histories Visible, which focuses on the curation and collection of black visual art and artists of the black diaspora, as well as collaborating with museums to “explore hidden social histories through creative visual practice”.
Alongside the photography exhibition is “Digital Africa (Tokyo)”, an open-call which invites artists from Africa and the Diaspora to submit video pieces on a range of subjects, including translating visual cultures and collective and personal narratives which go beyond the language barrier, and which will be screened during the event. A similar project took place in London last May, and this new iteration hopes to share African video art with a Japanese audience.
Of her relationship with Japan, Christine Eyen explains:
Japan is a country I have always wanted to visit since my teens when I encountered Japanese Avant-Garde during a cultural season held at the Pompidou Centre, Paris in the mid 1980s. But it took an unsolicited curators grand awarded in support of my curatorial research for me to actually come to Japan for the first time in 2013. Since then, I have been coming every year and have been exploring the art scene and attending biennials and triennials (Yokohama, Dojima, Aichi).
Here, Art Radar previews the work of three of the five Cameroonian artists who will be on display.
1. Blaise Djilo
Originally from Yaounde, Blaise Djilo now lives and works in Garoua. A self-taught photographer, he currently captures everyday life in Cameroon’s Northern region. His series Feou Kake (2016) presents unusual characters taking part in a traditional harvest celebration in Tupuri, which takes place every year at the end of the rainy season:
Through individual portraits, group pictures of dancers and musicians, and dynamic low-angle shots, the photographs capture both the ceremonial tone and playfulness of the event. They also show male figures embodying a masculinity while, in some instances, assuming a female persona.
As well as this series, Djilo has also worked on a second portfolio entitled Against the Current, which considers a Muslim educational facility supporting young girls and women’s education.
2. Steve Mvondo
Steve Mvondo’s Crown of Beauty (2016) is a powerful series of African women wearing headwraps, a celebration of African culture through studio portraiture. The headwrap serves as an important signifier within black female politics of representation, and Mvondo’s work exquisitely highlights his interest in capturing complex and contemplative narratives, whilst serving as a tribute to African culture and beauty.
Born in 1988 in Yaounde, Mvondo is a self-taught photographer, becoming interested in photography in 2012. Now based in Douala, he is the artistic director at Akiba Studio, an audiovisual content production company, and was a laureate of the Wiki Loves Monuments 2013 competition in Cameroon.
3. Yvon Ngassam
Having just finished exhibiting at the 2nd Changjiang International Photography and Video Biennale (China), Yvon Ngassam‘s work invites visitors to the Western Cameroonian town of Bandjoun, which his photography explores through varied landscapes, depictions of cultural heritage and thoughtful portraits.
This work extends his 2015 photographic series Quiet, which inserts the viewer in the post-coital domestic space between a man and a woman. As YaPhoto writes,
In these images Yvon Ngassam reveals moments of silence and concerns for an unknown tomorrow, as well as the presence of the other, complicity and tenderness.
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