Christian Etongo The sorcerer of the performance art
Christian Etongo is a prolific artist who solely devoted himself to the practice of performance art of which he is the standard bearer in Cameroon. The basis of his work is the mystical rite, and a voodoo-like doll representing his signature. At the age of 43 and full of ambitions, he makes his way abroad.
With about thirty creations to his credit, available in exploratory series, Christian Etongo chooses to perform in the street, which becomes a performance space in a country that has too few. This allows him to create strong links with the public. However, this experience is not without consequences. For example, on the occasion of the International Festival of Visual Arts in Yaoundé (Rencontres internationales des arts visuels de Yaoundé(Ravy)) in April 2014, the artist presented Urban Jungle in the Essos neighbourhood where he was mistaken for a thief who had been stoned. He was then seized by passers-by who believed him dead before the police intervened and questioned him.
It was in 1998 that his career as a performer really began. After 17 years and having faced many difficulties, he was now matured. Since 2011, his work is based on the mystical ritual. On stage, Etongo breaks the boundary between the visible and the invisible world: He explores Beti rites amongst which we can namethe tsô, which is a ceremonial of atonement of sins and purification, and the essani, which is a funeral dance.
There are three elements that account for his signature: a doll named Simba, a flyswhip through which he overcomes the ritual transgressions and a red chasuble. It is worth noting that the colour of this third element represents life and not death. He explained: "These elements enable me to put myself in a good mental and spiritual condition."
For him, performance is also the art of going beyond the boundaries. He therefore knows himself no limits:for instance, he could kill a chicken on stage and eat its liver raw, sprinkle pig blood on him, crawl on all fours on broken bottles... However, he refused to pose extreme gestures without real justification, and indulges his instinct to improvise. It often happens that prompted by the prevailing atmosphere, he goes further than expected and planned in his programme, even though his canvas of creation is thoughtful and well defined.
Initially a multidisciplinary artist, Christian Etongo found in performance the outcome of all the disciplines he practised: dance, theatre, painting, installation, literature, etc. Hisworks are strongly influenced by an eventful and moving personal history: an uncle afflicted with madness; an illegal immigration at the age of 21 which ended in repatriation. All this lead to his misery and despair,his doubts and existential questions.
"There is a lot of introspection in what he does, but also a violent social satire. He performs actions that challenge conformism in postures, sometimes frozen, sometimes ceremonial" added Serge Olivier Fokoua, the Ravy promoter."His perspective of this discipline is truly that of a pioneer. He is an artist who, over time, has built a special (visual) identity through a salient and well contextualised and substantiated mindset" added Landry Mbassi, a visual artist.
Today, Etongo enjoys a well deserved recognition. As a matter of fact, the Nigerian visual artist, Odun Orimolade is preparing a PhD thesis on his works. The artist believes he has achieved the first part of his objectives. What is left is the second part which is to feature into galleries and major institutions.Meanwhile he aims at reopening Kulturotek, his cultural space closed in August 2014 and continuing his work as a trainer, which has already born fruit with artists like Raoul Zobel alias Snake and JoëlKouemo.