Hervé Youmbi and Hervé Yamguen
Cameroonian artists Hervé Youmbi and Hervé Yamguen explore the question of the urban environment through writing, photography or visual arts. The two artists, recipients of the Institut français residency programme at the Cité internationale des arts, in Paris, and members of the Cercle Kapsiki, have imagined Les Fables du Calao (The Hornbill’s Tales), a visual and sound journey produced by the Collectif Mu and the Institut des Cultures d’Islam, in partnership with the villa Belleville and the Cité Internationale des Arts. Presented as part of the Africa2020 Season, this course is also the winner of the City of Paris' "Embellish Paris" call for projects.
You are in Paris until April, through the Institut français residency programme at the Cité internationale des arts. How have you taken this opportunity on board?
We have decided to live in Africa, but it is important for us to come to Paris from time to time. It is the opportunity to get a breath of fresh air, to visit exhibitions, go to the theatre, listen to poetry… The residency is right in the city, surrounded by museums and galleries. All that expands our outlook. When we go back to Cameroon, we are charged up, full of energy to move forward with our work.
What have you decided to work on during this residency?
Our project is a sound circuit called Les Fables du Calao. It involves inviting those visiting the sound and visual circuit to go on a journey based on the notion of here and elsewhere, and above all invite them to celebrate diversity. We are in residency at the Cité internationale des arts, but the work is being carrying out in the environment of the Goutte d’Or where we collect sound elements for producing the tales’ content, and at the Villa Belleville where we produce hornbills in resin and fiberglass, which provide a visual and signage element to Les Fables du Calao. We should point out that this work is also being carried out with the technical collaboration of the MU art collective and the other members of the Cercle Kapsiki: Blaise Bang, Salifou Lindou and Jules Wokam. The main axis of our work has always rested on instilling solidarity in populations in their sphere of life, on the interior/exterior relationship and the way artistic creations are experienced in space.
What do “hornbills” represent for you?
Hornbills are birds found below the equator, and particularly in Africa. They represent the idea of going on a journey for us. And as they are an endangered species of bird, they also allow us to celebrate the breadth of diversity. Through the hornbill’s song and feathers, it symbolises speaking, flight, taking a journey and freedom. For the Senufo (Ed: a people from West Africa located in southern Mali, Côte-d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso), the hornbill is the bird that transports the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Another story of making a journey!
Why did you choose the Barbès-Château Rouge quarter? What does this Parisian quarter represent for you?
As the MU garage – which we are working with – is based at Goutte d’Or, it seemed logical to us to choose this quarter as an installation space, but it is not the only reason. It really made sense for us, an artist collective based in Africa, to undertake work like this in Paris in a cosmopolitan environment with an extensive African community as a bonus. In fact if one place in Paris had to be chosen for this kind of project, it would be the Goutte d’Or. It’s a cosmopolitan quarter, in which you meet people from various countries and regions.
How do Les Fables du Calao fit into the Zone Franche exhibition?
As part of the 2020 Africa Season, three structures partnered together to support the Zone Franche (Free Zone) project (Ed: Exhibition and Headquarters of the 2020 Africa Season): the Institut des Cultures d’Islam, the Moroccan artist collective Think Tanger and the contemporary art centre bases in Douala, doual'art. The question of borders, movement of goods and people, are at the heart of this exhibition… Through celebrating journeying and diversity, Les Fables du Calao fit into this exhibition through a visual and sound installation. The sound journey that will be deployed in the Goutte d’Or quarter will be an extension of the exhibition from the interior towards the exterior. An additional expression of the notion of flexibility of borders.
How is your work organised?
After having collected sounds in Cameroon, then here in Paris, we are going to identify the areas in the Goutte d’Or where the listening stations will be. The public can identify them thanks to a blue, red or yellow fiberglass hornbill.
Then, once the places have been chosen, we’ll produce elements through listening: interviews with emblematic people in the quarter, sounds recorded in the street, voices of sellers calling out what they’re selling… We’ll be setting up thirteen hornbills in the Goutte d’Or.
Les Fables du Calao outline a circuit in the Goutte d’Or. What do you like about “wandering”?
With the Cercle Kapsiki, we have always wanted the public to be confronted with our works. We get involved regularly with the living space in our artistic approach. We are from an area in Africa where we tend to believe that art is for people who are “interesting” and “important”. The public not having access to certain works is a problem for us, sometimes you need to get away from muted places, “white cubes” to get into the urban space and bring creations to the general public.
Making a sound circuit, means bringing people to experience places they know inside out, that they usually move through or that they discover for the first time. By positioning a hornbill under the metro rail between the La Chapelle and Barbès metro stations to enable them to access sounds can transport them elsewhere. The aim of the project, is going on a journey, the relationship between here and elsewhere. It’s an invitation to celebrate diversity. We are going to deck out the listening stations with sounds we have collected in Cameroon and Paris. These sound elements will enable spectators to discover the world in which they are again, but also to project themselves elsewhere.
The subtitle of the 2020 Africa Season is “An invitation to understand and look at the world from an African point of view”: how do Les Fables du calao fit into this project?
With this project, we are giving the opportunity to go on a journey using the senses, sounds that lull us, stories that occupy us and motivate us. This is our vision of Africans in the experience of the world. With this sound circuit, we give the public our view of the world.
Do you have other projects you’ll be working on after the residency, or in the future together or with the Cercle Kapsiki?
For now we’re looking at publishing a work that will bring together productions by the Cercle Kapsiki. It’s a publication that can render visible all the actions we have undertaken as a collective over the past twenty-three years.
Hervé Youmbi et Hervé Yamguen are recipients of the Institut français residency programme at the Cité internationale des arts.
The circuit Les Fables du calao will presented in April 2021 as part of the Africa2020 Season.
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