As the capital’s much-awaited art fair returns for its next edition, a thought-provoking installation titled ‘Water Matters’ — by the Franco-Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo — will be on view on the grounds of upcoming India Art Fair, to be held in New Delhi from 1 – 4 February 2024. It is presented by the French Institute in India (French Embassy in India) — as part of the launch of its Villa Swagatam residency programme, which encourages exchanges between French artists and Indian craftspeople.
The installation is the fruit of an original collaboration between the veteran artist creative director Karishma Swali and the artisans of his embroidery school Chanakya School of Craft. It is unveiled by IFI, Basu Foundation and Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris New York.
Presented in a dedicated area at the heart of the fair, this installation will reflect a unique dialogue, combining contemporary artistic practice with a wealth of ancestral knowledge. A 5-metre-long embroidery representing a man receiving and offering water will be presented in front of a table with a hundred engraved bottles filled with water from all over the world. Two other embroideries representing different animals will frame this installation that reflects ecological and societal concerns.
Toguo was born in 1967 in Cameroon (Africa), and his work reflects his concerns about the development of his country, continent, and the Earth as a whole.
Recalls Barthélémy Toguo, “It all started with a childhood memory. I remembered getting up very early in the morning to fetch water from far away, to drink, to wash the plates at home, in Cameroon, before going to school. It was these ordeals that made me realise the importance of water in our lives.” He adds, “Water is a priceless and vital element: I feel very concerned about this resource, which should be a right for everyone, but which is cruelly lacking and endangering the living world, both human and animal. Realising the current problem of the lack of drinking water in many parts of Africa and the rest of the world, I decided to focus my project with the Chanakya Craft School in Mumbai on this issue.”
The artist also expresses his fondness for the shape of fish and says that he wanted to see them in embroidery. “My work is full of different animals that inspire me. I’d also like to see crocodiles and peacocks. Everything in the exhibition space at the fair will be blue. With the sea in mind, I’ll be drawing blue lines on the walls with pastels. I marvel at the fluidity of water, which for me represents a gentle, non-violent world,” says Toguo.
He is part of Villa Swagatam — an intercultural exchange programme launched by IFI in March 2023 — which promotes cultural and environmental sustainability and aims to create a community of French and Indian creators keen to strengthen artistic exchanges between the two countries.
Barthélémy Toguo’s invitation to collaborate with one of the country’s most eminent embroidery workshops comes within this framework: the artist will be visiting the country ahead of the fair to meet craftspeople and discover new production practices and techniques.
As a partner of the India Art Fair, the IFI’s aim with this ‘carte blanche’ is to showcase the potential for creative exchange between India and France and encourage future collaborations.