Bandjoun Station, a long-term artistic, agricultural and political project, was initiated in 2005 in Bandjoun, Cameroon, by the contemporary artist Barthélémy Toguo. His mission? To develop education and access to art; promote organic farming and food self-sufficiency; exhibit traditional African and contemporary art “without a hierarchy of values”; and link age-old traditions with contemporary challenges. Bandjoun Station brings together artist residencies, exhibition spaces, a library and farmland amidst unique and joyful architecture, built by local artisans and communicating its creative energy through dazzling mosaics. Located 300km from Douala or Yaoundé, Bandjoun Station is the self-fulfilling utopia of a world-renowned artist driven by his sense of duty as an African and its diaspora who “must contribute towards building and developing the African continent.
Defending art as a means of development, the founding artist writes: “(…) We Africans do not have the ‘luxury’ of surrender, of whining and waiting, in spite of the enormous number of obstacles encountered by Africa and her diaspora. It is vital we OURSELVES find solutions in all spheres (agriculture, healthcare, business, culture, politics, education, sport …).”
The Station welcomes many artists in residence, but also poets, musicians, and dancers, amongst which Jean David Knot (2016), Ruth Belinga (2018), Samuel Gelas & Beliza Troupe (2019)… It has nearly ten exhibitions to its credit, which ‘Women power’, including in 2018 shone a spotlight on 60 female artists, journalists, activists, and entrepreneurs, ‘Behind the Portal’ (2017), ‘Dialogue(s)’ (2016)… The latest show to date, ‘Retours à l’Afrique’ (November 2019 – June 2020), brought together more than 30 artists including Leila Alaoui, Kader Attia, William Kentridge (exhibition curator: Androula Michael assisted by Emmanuelle Raingeval and programming by Gabrielle Badjeck and Salifou Lindou).
The role of agricultural activity in the project is expanding and emerging as a counter-power to the stranglehold of multinationals on local resources. The Bandjoun Station land is used for growing coffee, a commodity usually inaccessible to local populations due to the exorbitant prices imposed by Western countries; Bandjoun Station fixes the price of its home-produced coffee. The land is also dedicated to growing organic red beans and corn – two staple legumes in the Cameroonian diet. This agricultural produce is promoted outside Africa during events and exhibitions (remember ‘Mobile Cafeteria’ at the Fiac, at 1.54 …), which enables the artist to address persistent inequalities in North-South relations, environmental issues, and promote an alternative farming and food model. Bringing art and agriculture together is an “effective action for achieving food self-sufficiency“, believes Toguo (speaking to Jeune Afrique).
Bandjoun Station exemplifies the success of a project where cultures tame each other, influence each other, and together shape a different kind of possible future.
Alice Audouin and Marie Leprêtre
Credit : Bandjoun Station, courtesy of Barthélémy Toguo
Find all the articles from Impact Art News n°22 – September 2020