In Yaoundé, Cameroon, a brilliant painter and sculptor by the name of Joseph Francis Sumegne has captivated art enthusiasts with his extraordinary exhibition, La Citadelle des Anciens or The Citadel of the Elders. Through a fusion of man and animal forms, crafted from an array of ordinary materials, Sumegne has created a mesmerizing display that seems to transcend our reality and transport us to an otherworldly realm.
The exhibition’s attendees are left in awe as they witness the artist’s ability to elevate seemingly mundane materials into exquisite masterpieces. Mesmerised by the intricate details of his sculptures, onlookers find themselves marvelling at the astonishing metamorphosis of discarded waste into breath-taking works of art. Sumegne’s artistic method not only captivates his audience but also champions a noble cause – environmental preservation.
Intriguingly, the raw materials for his creations are sourced from local garbage dumps. However, Sumegne views these materials through a different lens, considering them not as refuse but as the very tools of his creative expression. He poetically declares, “It’s not the rubbish, nor the salvaged material, it’s the utensils of creation.”
At the heart of his collection lies the 9 Notables, a series of colossal figurines that date back to 1988. These impressive sculptures are arranged to depict a gathering of esteemed elders from the traditional Bamiléké societies of West Cameroon. The 9 Notables serve as a thought-provoking symbol, challenging contemporary society and urging introspection.
The artist explains that their purpose is to draw attention to the profound disconnect between two societies – the old and the new. By juxtaposing them, Sumegne encourages individuals to reflect on which societal values truly contribute to genuine happiness. His artistry seeks to prompt a soul-searching journey, questioning the impact of modernity on our well-being.
Sumegne’s artistic journey has been deeply intertwined with the philosophy of Jala’a, which revolves around the concept of self-transcendence. He considers himself a sculptor of this philosophy, constantly striving to surpass his own limitations and explore new realms of creativity. The genesis of his acclaimed work, the 9 Notables, can be traced back to a workshop that resembled a waste repository – a place he affectionately calls the mediatory.
In this humble setting, the artist embarked on an experiment using discarded motor oil cans. The serendipitous nature of this endeavour led him on a path of profound research and discovery, culminating in the birth of the extraordinary 9 Notables.
Sumegne’s unique talent and innovative creations have garnered international recognition. His work has graced prestigious events such as the Dak’art biennial in Senegal, as well as exhibitions in the Netherlands and Osaka, Japan. The world has become captivated by the magic he weaves with his hands, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.
To experience the magnificence of Sumegne’s life’s work, one must journey to the heart of Yaoundé’s 6th arrondissement. There, amid the cacophony of urban life, lies the treasure trove of his sculptures. Each piece is a testament to the artist’s boundless imagination and his profound commentary on the human condition.
Joseph Francis Sumegne, a self-taught virtuoso, stands as a living testament to the power of artistic expression and the potential hidden within everyday objects. His ability to elevate garbage into gold serves as an inspiration to both art enthusiasts and environmentalists alike.
As we stand before the awe-inspiring 9 Notables and witness the marvel of his creations, we cannot help but be moved to ponder the intricate tapestry of our existence and the evolving societies we inhabit.