Accepted Paper:

Thinking about the different meanings of collecting: the case of the collections of images and objects of the Bamileke's community of Bandjoun, Cameroon  

Author:

Ivan Bargna (University of Milan-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

The purpose of this account is to inquire about the way different kinds of collections of images and objects can act to articulate and express social and interpersonal relationships, dissent and conflict. I will look into this topic by making reference to the research I’m carrying out in the chiefdom and little town of Bandjoun, West Cameroon. Here we can spot several practices of collecting animated by different interests, motivations and aims.

Paper long abstract:

Thinking about the different meanings of collecting.

The case of the collections of images and objects of the Bamileke's community of Bandjoun, Cameroon

The purpose of this account is to inquire about the way different kinds of collections of images and objects can act to articulate and express social and interpersonal relationships, dissent and conflict. I will look into this topic by making reference to the research I'm carrying out in the chiefdom and little town of Bandjoun, West Cameroon.

Here we can spot several practices of collecting animated by different interests, motivations and aims.

We can find the big sacred hut (nemo) which creates, by the means of the iconography of its sculpted posts, a collection of images supporting the cultural identity of the Bandjoun's chiefdom and its historical memory and, at the same time, working as a shop-window for the artists who try to shift the centre of the attention to themselves, as is clearly expressed by their signature and address, directly sculpted on the posts. So we can see, at least, two different kinds of collections, marked by conflict, but composed by the means of the same posts. What is interesting to remark is that this collection of images is not only a selected repeat of the stock of representations transmitted by the past (the "tradition"): it finds its model in the books too, in the catalogues of the western collections of African art. The "collection's paradigm" is used to offer a strategic political oriented inventory of the main elements of the "tradition" codified by the elite.

Another kind of collection is represented by the chiefdom's museum (recently renewed by an Italian ONG, the Centro di Orientamento Educativo of Milano) which, by the means of the possession of ritual objects and their exhibition, inside and outside of the museum, reasserts the centrality of the king (fo) in the social and political relationships of Bandjoun, and his symbolic "autonomy" from Cameroon's state administration. In this case the "collection" appears as a patrimonial strategy which reshapes the tradition in the international codified terms of the "heritage".

In the houses of the traditional dignitaries and nouveaux riches lastly, we can find some sets of objects and sculptures connected to the cults of the ancestors or, sometimes , a sort of cabinet de curiosité where, through heterogeneous things they display their "modernity" and they write their own autobiography. In a less spectacular way, also the humble furniture in the house of the ordinary people involves similar attitudes.

It is in this variegated context that a new cultural center now comes on the scene: we are speaking about "Bandjoun Station", a center created by Barthelemy Toguo, an artist of international renown, based in Paris and born in Cameroon. This center will be devoted to the production, collection and exhibition of contemporary art. How will this artistic milieu, this "station" where travellers from all around the world will arrive, affects all the other collections existing in Bandjoun? And how will Bandjoun Station be affected by them?

Panel W099
Collection itineraries