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Cameroonian sculptor transforming wastes into arts

In Yaoundé, Cameroon, a painter and sculptor Joseph Francis Sumegne presents his exhibition “La citadelle des anciens” (“The citadel of the elders”). Half-man, half-animal sculpture made from objects of all kinds. The result is an impressive display of creations from another world.

“The artist uses what I’d call banal materials to sublimate them. And when you look at them, you’re really amazed by the details; and it also contributes to preserving the environment,” asserts a visitor to the exhibition.

A work that protects the environment, since the raw material comes from garbage dumps. Waste that the artist sees in a different light.

“It’s not the rubbish, nor the salvaged material, it’s the utensils of creation” declares Joseph Francis Sumegne.

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The heart of his work is the “9 Notables”, a collection of giant mannequins that began in 1988. Arranged here in the image of a conclave of dignitaries from the traditional Bamilékés societies of West Cameroon, they challenge modern society.

“It’s to draw attention to the rupture between the two societies. To enable Man to assess which of the two societies is favorable to his happiness, the old one and the new one that manages us today,” explained the artist.

It’s the sculptor’s life’s work. And to get to the cradle of his work, you have to go to Yaoundé’s 6th arrondissement. SUMEGNE defines himself as a sculptor of “Jala’a”, a philosophy that deals with surpassing oneself. His work (the 9 notables) began at a workshop similar to a rubbish dump, which he calls the mediatory.

“It’s here that the 9 Notables were born, because at the time I was working on an experiment with motor oil cans, and this experiment lead me into a direction of research that resulted in what today we call the Notables,” revealed the visual artist.

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This self-taught artist’s work has already been shown at the Dak’art biennial in Senegal, in the Netherlands and in Osaka, Japan.

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