Archive: Issue No. 90, February 2005

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The Akwa Palace Hotel, Douala


Lionel Manga in a jacket made from a discarded banner


Herve Youmbi in Espace Doual'art


Strolling through Bonendale


The Gallery Mam


Saturday, January 1

New Years Resolution 1: Will not look back at last year's diary to see what resolutions I made (if any) that have not been kept. Too dispiriting. Do remember though that I decided to go back to the gym after several lapsed years and I have managed to keep that up. Am now a dedicated stretch class member ("zip your crotch to your navel, present your nipples to the ceiling ...") three times a week.

O.K. then, for this year: Work hard, don't stress too much, have fun making art. And get more organised.

More resolutions: Learn the software on my laptop! Clean up the desktop! Trash old files!

Monday, January 3

Am leaving for Douala, Cameroon on Friday. Work on my presentation, which will be on the New Crossroads Memorial Street Boards project. The conference is entitled Ars & Urbis and will look at how public art projects can (hopefully) impact positively on the life of the community. N'gone Fall will be there and Iolanda Pensa from Italy. Hot French critic Nicholas Bourriard was supposed to come, but I think he's cancelled.

Nice and quiet in the studio with everyone away. Indulge by playing old Bob Dylan tapes at full volume. Finish a column for Contemporary magazine in London on what's happening in Cape Town in February. It's mostly about the Month of Photography. There'll be exhibitions in most of the Cape Town galleries.

Tuesday, January 4

Gary van Wyk and Lisa Brittan of the Axis Gallery in New York are here. Meet them for lunch today at the new Deer Park Caf´┐Ż owned Roger and Karen van Wyk. Perfect venue for lunch - Roger and Karen have opened up the whole of the lower side of the restaurant to the park below to it with glass windows and doors, so airy, and the food is super fresh and tasty.

It's good to see Gary and Lisa and new baby Alexander, a mini-Gary. We talk about a new show they're planning for February at Axis of works on paper. They want to buy an Editions for ArtThrob portfolio - I will wrap it up for them to take back on the plane before I go to Douala.

Wednesday, January 5

Here for three weeks from London, Lisa Brice comes over for a studio visit. Show her the new work (still in really early stages) for my show at the Goodman in March, which I have decided to call 'Hotels and Better Lives'. As usual, Lisa's input is really useful.

Mark Hipper's new show 'Cast offs' opens tonight at Joao's. Wilma Cruise makes the opening speech, and tells how Mark, who has never worked in clay before, started experimenting and building these new body shapes during a workshop she was running at Rhodes University. Life-sized, fragile, humorous, the vessels are an interesting progression from Hipper's wooden body masks of a few years back.

Thursday, January 6

I want to start doing this column as a blog, so that it will be more up to date all the time. Get an email today from Nathaniel Stern giving advice on all the best programmes. Will experiment with these when I get back from Douala.

Friday, January 7

Well, it's off to Douala this morning. The Cameroon High Commission in Pretoria was closed over the holidays, so I don't have a visa. Hope this is not going to be a problem. Marilyn Douala Bell who is organising the conference has said she will arrange things on that side.

It's a long trip - with a 23 hour stopover in Nairobi, on the east coast of Africa. Seems a little crazy to make this long zig zag, when Cape Town and Douala are both on the west coast but that's travelling in Africa.

Kenya Airways puts us up for the night at the Nairobi Safari Club. I love staying in hotels - each room becomes a new living space to explore. The first thing I always do is lean out of the window to check my view, then I read all the hotel literature to find out exactly what the hotel offers - sauna, all night room service, whatever. The mini bar is examined - but this one has a paper seal on it which I decide not to break.

Go downstairs and start walking to explore my new - if very temporary - neighbourhood. It's like trying on the possibility of a different life. Now that I am making some work around hotels, all this stuff is even more fun.

Saturday, January 8

Am travelling with urban planner Nigel Tapela, and it's very interesting walking round Nairobi with him and listening to his observations about why this street has been renovated while that one is allowed to remain a pot-holey mess. Buy a kikoi and some jasmine seeds in the market, and lounge around the hotel pool.

Reach Douala about midnight. Uh oh. When there is no visa in my passport I am summoned to a little room. I explain - or try to - that arrangements were made in Douala, and after a very long wait someone finds a photostat of my passport. But I am informed I must pay US$100 in cash. Don't have it. Credit cards not accepted. Stalemate. After another ninety minutes, an official picks up the photostat, turns it over and Marilyn Douala Bell's cell phone number is discovered on the back. She dashes to the airport and rescues us.

Sunday, January 9

We are staying at the Akwa Palace. Our part of the hotel was built in the forties, and I love my room with its white cupboards, tiled floor and vertical wooden louvres to allow air through.

A free day. Discover there is a parallel group meeting to ours - and this one includes Bongi Dhlomo, Olu Oguibe and Stanley Hermans under the chairmanship of Dominique Maliquais. This group is considering the question of what kind of art institution is appropriate in a contemporary African situation.

I like Douala a lot. A ride out to the village of Bonendale, where a group of artists are establishing a community, takes us through extremely poor areas, across the broad Wouri river, through an urban sprawl of bars, furniture shops, factories and finally to the village, a settlement of comfortable old houses and lush vegetation near the river. Here, artist Goddy Leye has set up The Art Bakery, as a residence and experimental programme.

Tuesday, January 11

Second day of the conference. For those who might be interested, I'll attach the full programme as a word document for download. This morning's panel is on 'Aesthetics and urban violence', and Philippe Mouillon of Grenoble shows images of projects he has directed with groups of invited artists in various parts of the world, including Johannesburg, where he highlighted the multicultural character of the city by cladding fifty taxis with black and white photographs of people living in the city.

In the afternoon, Aguida Zanol of Belo Horizonte in Brazil organises an impromptu fashion show with high style clothes made from waste materials - a project to which she is totally dedicated, and which now supplies employment for a large group. The whole week, she intrigues us with her own clothes, jewellery and accessories, made from paper, cement bags, banners and other discarded materials.

Tonight there is an opening at Doual'art, the gallery directed by Marilyn and her partner, Didier Schaub. Marilyn is a princess, her grandfather was king of Douala, and the gallery is part of her family property, a high ceilinged white space. Herve Youmbi, the Douala artist who I met at the Boustashy workshop in El Max, Alexandria last September, is showing the piece he didn't get to show there. In a white washbasin, one can gaze down through the water at a video collage of the people of El Max.

Every suburb in Douala has a Street of Joy - one street where the action and the music go on all night. The restaurant of choice tonight is Chez Kaly, originally improvised in a narrow space between two buildings, where I make my acquaintance with the local speciality - manioc, served as an accompaniment to great plates of chicken and grilled fish to be eaten with the fingers. Steamed, and served in long twists of bound leaves, manioc is a slightly gluey roll of fermented flour made from the cassava root. Not bad, but one is enough.

Wednesday, January 12

Today at the conference we hear from William Wells about the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, from Beatrice Simonet about a vast warehouse of cultural activity in Marseille called La Friche. In a panel on architecture, Danielle Kotto shows slides on the adaptation and overlaying of the French colonial architecture of Douala to new city needs.

The evening brings a new art event. In one of the poorest areas of Douala, New Bell, La Bourse aux Odeurs - the Stock Market of Smells - is an interactive art project put on by Hervi Youmbi and Herve Yamguen of the Cercle Kapiski to coincide with the conference.

One enters a pristine white veiled area on the teeming street, and is invited to unscrew a series of jars set out on a table and filled with unrecognisable materials, sniffing deeply enough to identify the smell. Then to pick a favourite, and enter that number on a blackboard in an adjoining space. The smells, aromatic, pungent, delicate, are not always that easy to place, but the experience of inhaling them all becomes a metaphor for learning to know Douala.

Friday, January 14

There is a second good art gallery in town, apart from Espace Doul'art, and that is the Gallery Mam, attached to the Senegalese Embassy. A white tiled exterior, high walls inside with clerestory windows. A piece by Johannesburg's Sam Nhlengethwa is one of the works on show.

Back to Bonendale, the artists colony, this afternoon for studio visits. When the sun goes down, we sit on the grass outside the Art Bakery, and to the music of the crickets, watch videos by Goddy Leye and students of the Bakery projected on to a large screen. One is about the correct preparation of manioc, from start to finish, and this one provokes a most heated and prolonged discussion about length of fermentation, the sacrilege of binding the leaves with plastic string during the steaming process, etc.

Saturday, January 15

Last morning of the conference. It's been a good conference, with interesting and diverse presentations. I'm sure everyone will take back some new ideas. And the value of all conferences is, of course, new contacts made and long after hours conversations.

Just time this afternoon for a quick dash to the amazing Douala market, a huge sprawl selling everything. Aguida is with us, and stops at every stall to bargain at length, but I do manage to buy a white embroidered tablecloth, and a cool Cameroon football shirt in brilliant green, red and yellow - a birthday present for Josh Hawks of Freshly Ground.

Friday, January 21

The week has passed in a blur. Picked up some germ on the plane -recycled through the stale air conditioning no doubt - and have been laid low ever since. When you think that the only place for fresh air ever to enter a plane is through the front entrance, it's pretty revolting.

From Monday though, I must pick myself up and start working hard for my Goodman exhibition in March - only weeks away. Look at the blog site Nathaniel Stern recommended and a weak feeling of being technically challenged comes over me. Next month, then.