The Cameroonian artist is the winner of the inaugural Henrike Grohs Art Award.

Conceived by the Goethe-Institut and the Grohs family, the prize of EUR20.000 in memory of Henrike Grohs is awarded to artists living and practicing in Africa.

Em’kal Eyongakpa, juta, other study materials, ok-ko study at studio Efforbi II. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

Em’kal Eyongakpa, juta, other study materials, ok-ko study at studio Efforbi II. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

The inaugural Henrike Grohs Art Award for African artists

The inaugural Henrike Grohs Art Award was awarded to Cameroonian artist Em’kal Eyongakpa on 13 March 2018, presented jointly by the Goethe-Institut and the Grohs Family.

Henrike Grohs, the former Head of the Goethe-Institut in Côte d’Ivoire, and 17 other people lost their lives on 13 March 2016 in a terror attack in Grand-Bassam. The Henrike Grohs Art Award was established to continue the lifetime work of Henrike Grohs, who committed her productive life to artists in Africa, and was co-founder of the project Next – Intercultural Projects at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. As the Secretary-General of the Goethe-Institut Johannes Ebert is quoted as saying,

Henrike Grohs embodied the principles and values of international cultural exchange, as understood by the Goethe-Institut, to the highest degree. Through art and culture the Goethe-Institut strives to build bridges between people and to contribute to contemporary African culture becoming more visible in global discourse. This is what the Henrike Grohs Art Award stands for. It is a clear sign against violence and fanaticism.

Em’kal Eyongakpa playing ''so batu #18'' mix at Mbi-Eshobi surround lounge. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

Em’kal Eyongakpa playing ”so batu #18” mix at Mbi-Eshobi surround lounge. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

The prize will be awarded biennially from 2018 forward, to artists and artist collectives based in Africa and working in the field of visual arts. With artistic quality being the most important element in judging the candidates for the award, collaborative partnership, imparting knowledge to other artists and social engagement also are decisive aspects taken into consideration by the jury. The latter is composed of renowned creative artists and art experts from five different African countries, including Dakar-based Koyo Kouoh, Artistic Director of RAW Material Company, the artist and representative of the Grohs family Laurence Bonvin from Berlin, Harare-based Raphael Chikukwa, Chief Curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, and Paris-based curator Simon Njami.

Georgina Maxim at her studio. Photo: Cynthia R Matonhodze.

Georgina Maxim at her studio. Photo: Cynthia R Matonhodze.

A prize for art without borders

The members of the jury are reported as saying about Henrike Grohs’s and others’ deaths caused by terrorism, as well as the new award:

[…] Many more, too many more, have fallen simply because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time; simply because a handful of fundamentalists started a war of terror. We are facing troublesome times and it is our duty to refuse to surrender to fatalism. […] The Henrike Grohs Art Award is established as an answer to all those who think that we cannot live together in a world where sharing would be the main aim. […] The message is clear: we shall not surrender. We shall, as Henrike did, stand for what we believe in, without any compromise. […]

The award is dedicated to artists practicing in Africa. Yet the message that is sent is a universal address, a call for reflection and action. Art is probably the one field where no translation is needed. It is that universal language which transforms the ‘chaotic world of sensations’ that we all share, into forms of representations and relations. The Henrike Grohs Art Award aims at strengthening artists and encouraging them in their quest for a world of togetherness and dialogue. Art knows neither borders nor religion. It is the very expression of that flame that keeps us going, from North to South and East to West. It is the best expression of our unbreakable faith in our humanity.

Makouvia Kokou. Alier, Beaux-arts de Paris, mise en expace de Eviono, 2018. Photo: Peter Houston.

Makouvia Kokou Ferdinand. Alier, Beaux-arts de Paris, mise en expace de Eviono, 2018. Photo: Peter Houston.

Alongside the winner Em’kal Eyongakpa, the inaugural Henrike Grohs Art Award shortlisted artists Georgina Maxim (Zimbabwe) and Makouvia Kokou Ferdinand (Togo).

Georgina Maxim (b. 1980) combimes weaving, stitching and found textiles to create hybrid objects that escape definition. The dresses she uses undergo a process of deconstruction and re-construction, and are imbued with a new life that shines as a tribute to and a reflection upon the original owner of the garment.

Makouvia Kokou Ferdinand works with performance and sculpture, playing with notions of borders and mixing memories, materials and cultural references, while drawing on traditional Mina culture. He thus provides a new, often moving perspective on society, sometimes charged with an ironic outlook.

Em’kal Eyongakpa recording audio in Sharjah, 2017. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

Em’kal Eyongakpa recording audio in Sharjah, 2017. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

The Winner: Em’kal Eyongakpa 

Em’kal Eyongakpa was born in 1981 in Mamfe, Cameroon, holds degrees in Plant biology and Ecology from the University of Yaoundé and was a resident at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. In a video presentation about himself and his practice, the artist calls himself a “medium and community organiser”. As an intermedia artist, he approaches the experienced, the unknown and collective histories through a ritual use of repetition and transformation. Recently he has drawn from indigenous knowledge systems and aesthetics, ethnobotany, applied mycology as well as technology.

Em’kal Eyongakpa. Sound grown batch #5 blue oysters at studio Efforbi II. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

Em’kal Eyongakpa. Sound grown batch #5 blue oysters at studio Efforbi II. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

Eyongakpa is also known for self-organised community research projects and autonomous art hubs like KHaL!SHRINE in Yaoundé (2007-2012) and the recently launched sound art and music platform ɛfúkúyú.

Eyongakpa recently exhibited at the Jakarta Biennale (2017), the 13th Sharjah Biennial (2017), La Biennale de Montréal (2016), the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo (2016), the 9th and 10th Bamako Encounters (2011, 2015), the 10th Biennale de l’art africain contemporain, Dak’art (2012) and at several international art spaces and museums worldwide.

Em’kal Eyongakpa. Study materials, ok-ko at studio Efforbi II. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

Em’kal Eyongakpa. Study materials, ok-ko at studio Efforbi II. Image courtesy Studio Eyongakpa.

The jury unanimously selected Eyongakpa as the 2018 awardee for “his poetic, subtle and subjective approach”, continuing:

His work expresses universal concerns of humanity. The multidisciplinary stance of his practice that includes knowledge derived from science, ethnobotany, magical realism, experimentation and utopia, aptly responds to the core values of the Henrike Grohs Art Award.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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