Artist-run Art Spaces in Cameroon

​The emergence of artist-run [art] spaces is unfortunately poorly documented in Cameroon. 

Basically, such spaces owe their relevance to the urgency of the projects they incubate; innovative projects which are usually ignored by traditional galleries, thus pushing the artist to circumvent existing art structures and consequently creating a place dedicated to art which changes depending on necessity, but usually makes provision for incubation, cooperation, residencies and galleries.

A monograph by the Institute for Applied Aesthetics defines artist-run spaces as structures which “…fit all kinds of models. They are testing grounds and springboards to the commercial art world, intimate gatherings in apartments, and places for reading groups and shared meals. They are little pockets of activity that serve particular audiences at particular times, filling gaps and holes for all that the art-world fails to provide. Sometimes they are meant to be temporary, and other times they can grow to become professionalized institutions that a later generation of artists define themselves against.”

Given that creative economy is not a priority for the Cameroonian government, cultural policies and the status of the artist are undefined, creating a situation in which several artists end up learning art informally. This inadequate cultural policy, coupled with the rigidity, and at times out-dated approach, of conventional art spaces has pushed some Cameroonian artists to create spaces or gatherings where art is produced and displayed.

Yaoundé and Douala have relatively well documented art spaces, compared to the other regions of Cameroon, but not much is available on artist-run art spaces.

ArtBakery is an art centre based in Bonendale a few kilometers from Douala and founded by Goddy Leye. It is one of the most enduring art spaces in Cameroon and was founded in 2002after the artist Goddy Leye moved back to Cameroon from the Netherlands.The centre offers trainings for emerging artists (Master Class), journalists (Art Daily) and residency programs for young artists (Portfolio). ArtBakery is specifically designed to technically support the production of multimedia artworks, video and digital art.)

Another artist-run space is KHaL!SHRINE, which  is an alternative hub located on the foot of mount Eloundem inYaoundé, where the ideals of KHaL!LAND can be experienced in the physical.  KHaL!SHRINE  explores visual art, but focuses on lens-based media, sound and multidisciplinary experimentation. In addition to their art/wine/coffee/tobacco quarterly; 180 Minutes @ KHaL!SHRINE, theyorganize  alternative art events, workshops, informal art residencies and community outreach projects.KHaL!SHRINE is an independent non-profit making project founded in 2007 by multimedia artist Em’kal Eyongakpa.   

Constructed around two separate buildings: a museum/ art center on three storeys and living space on four levels, the Bandjoun Station echoes a century’s old local architectural tradition. It was founded in 2008 by Barthélémy Toguo, who spends most of his time between Paris and Bandjoun. In addition, this centre engages in both environmental issues and social experimentation in order to set an example for the local youth.

While most art spaces focus on incubation, cooperation, residencies and galleries, OSMOSE adopts a different approach to art, with a focus on art education. Officially founded in 2007, it is a cultural association which emphasizes on research, publishing, residencies, visual art and experimental art.

OTHNI – Laboratoire de Théâtre de Yaoundéalso stands out in that it is a very experimental artist-run space in Yaounde dedicated to research residencies, theatre and other performances. It was founded by Martin Ambarra.

An important factor which accounts for the success and relevance of these artist-run spaces is the fact that they do not limit their activities to their art spaces, but engage the public directly and the  public has easy access to their activities because these centres usually form part of a wider cultural network. For example, KHaL!SHRINE’s quarterly ‘180 Minutes’ event usually pulls about 60 people from various parts of Cameroon (and abroad), and the Banjoun Station recently organized a multi-disciplinary event called ‘Stories Tellers’, which celebrates international and national artists.

It is worth noting, however, that other art spaces, which are not artist-run are as well focused onartistic creations in public urban spaces. So far as such institutions are concerned, doual’art stands out for two reasons: firstly, because it is one of the oldest art spaces in Cameroonand secondly by virtue of its praxis as a centre for contemporary art and a research laboratory.doual'art is a non-profit cultural organization and art centre (founded in 1991, in Douala,by Marilyn Douala Bell and Didier Schaub) which invites visual artists, architects, and designers to act throughout the city, creating art which can instigate social change. Its exhibition space has presented works by Pascale Marthine Tayou, Goddy Leye, and Alioum Moussa, among others.

In 2007, doual’art launched SUD (Salon Urbain de Douala), a festival of art in public space, which takes place every three years and attracts national and international attention. The first edition of SUD was organized in 2007 and later editions took place in 2010 and 2013. In 2011, doual’art celebrated its 20th anniversary. This milestone eventserves as a testimony to its relevance and resilience in highlighting the interaction between art in public spaces and the city.Apart from visibility and documentation problems, many artist-run spaces face funding issues and are usually forced to fold up as time goes by. The more resilient spaces either secure multiple funding sources, or are funded by personal effort. Despite the fact that these art centres are usually sidelined, they play an important role in the artistic development of Cameroon because they provide space for artists, which is perhaps the most important thing an artist needs.