1 June 2014
Private viewings by appointment: 4 June through 20 July 2014
Patrick Wokmeni is a political artist through cultural experience. First, his photographs address his society which is a by-product of European colonialism. Secondly, Wokmeni has developed (if not created) his own style of photography through a practice of research, process and visual commentary. In addition, Wokmeni is a witness and documentarian (of sorts) of the after affects of colonialism in Cameroon which is a reflection of colonialism period both in his homeland and by those who choose to migrate into Europe either by choice or through necessity.
Wokmeni's story into the world of art and photography has many romantic overtones. He left school at age fifteen to help support his family in Douala by working at a local hotel where he met French filmmaker Anne Chabert who was working on a project. Chabert hired the untrained Wokmeni as one of her videographers and also gave him a camera to take still images. Wokemeni fell in love with photography and begin to use his upbringing in New Bell (a district of Douala) as his subject matter for his photographs, particularly the nightlife of the area. From this point his interest in social issues which affected his friends and contemporaries became important in his process and personal growth as a photographer. This self-taught practice of Wokmeni's is not held down by academic theories of contemporary photography. He's not looking for the perfect photograph as much as the perfect moment which reflects a viewpoint relative to his own upbringing and explores the conditions of a society and the illusions created within it, addressing ideals of celebration while also exploring the rigorous and destructive methods post-colonialism still can have within a culture.
In a question and answer section from "Portrait of the Artist. Works and References" (HISK, 2013), Wokmeni was asked what his idea of success is. His eloquent and direct answer was "work". And "work" he has! Since being given a camera at age fifteen Wokmeni took photography seriously and it became part of his daily life, as well as, his career. He sought-out, learned from and worked with noted photographers Bruno Boudjelal, Bill Akwa Betote, Philippe Niorthe and Nicolas Eyidi. He taught himself the process of developing a style and submitting work for exhibitions. He began to research photographers such as Nan Goldin and the work of fellow Cameroonian conceptual artist Goddy Leye (1965-2011) who he felt had similar theories to his own. There is a lot more in between then and now in Wokmeni's practice but between then and now he has become recognized as one of the leading young photographers from the African continent along with the likes of Sammi Baloji, Ananias Leki Dago and Abraham Onoriode Oghobase. His work has been included in numerous international exhibitions at reportable exhibition spaces and events such as BOZAR, (Brussels), Savvy Contemporary, (Berlin), Dak'Art Biennale (2010) and the Marrakech Biennale (2014). In addition, he became a HISK Laureate in 2013. Unlike his contemporaries in the post-graduate program Wokmeni doesn't posses a graduate degree. His acceptance in the program was based on his "work" as a photographer.
Thoughts about Works in Presentation
Wokmeni’s photographs are linked directly to his homeland of post-colonial Cameroon. They deal with city life or the migratory routes faced by his friends and fellow Cameroonian's into mainland Europe giving a narrative to the social conditions within his community and a democratic voice in the treatment of his subjects. Selected photographs from two series are being shown for his presentation at Platform 102.
Three photographs selected from his 2009 series about Hip-Hop culture in Douala focus on different individuals in the movement. Stylistic influences are apparent in each photo where through their simplicity they offer a sense of rebellion. The individuals are present and the viewer has to confront them. This affords the viewer the possibility to understand the extent of their expressions and cultural significance serving as an extension of the Wokmeni's personal viewpoints. You can find thematic similarities to the early photography of Jamel Shabazz who documented early hip-hop culture in nineteen eighties New York City, the time of b-boys and girls. Whereas most of Shabazz's subjects are posed or posturing Wokemeni subjects are shown as they are in the moment. Rather then implicating or allowing an arranged stance he creates photos that are based on documentary truth. This style can also be seen in other series the artist has developed like "Les Belles de New-Bell"(currently on view at Festival Belluard Bollwerk International, Fribourg) which focuses on women in clubs and prostitutes in the New Bell district, and another which is a personal exploration of the artist sex life.
Two large format photographs from the series "Purgatory" (2013) first raise the question of who are the individuals in the photos? Aside for the fact that we are focused on the the subjects we are also witnessing an aspect of cultural upheaval and of being caught in the middle by barricades of trying to immigrate to mainland Europe as an artist. In this series Wokmeni studies friends transition from Cameroon to a detention center in Morocco. One of the subjects is a publish writer/poet and the other a painter. Both names of the subjects are kept anonymous and both photographs in the presentation are untitled. The photographs are not romanticised yet they are poetic in theory and composition. By using a style that combines narrations of transition through non-verbal techniques the viewer is allowed to experience individuals caught between cultural context and political systems.
Patrick Wokmeni's photographs demonstrate how images can give impact to both individual struggle and personal identity. Above all Wokmeni reveals the emotional values of his people which has shaped his technique of cultural activism through photography.