The New Patrons concept
Liberté BAKA is an artistic and socio-environmental project carried out at the request of a Baka Community in the Dja Biosphere Reserve in eastern Cameroon. The fundamental historical changes the Pygmy community is facing, led them to commission an ambitious project in the framework of the international New Patrons program. After a six-year development process, the Baka's project will be inaugurated on March 26, 2022.
The project foresees three major changes in the community's environment: a museum built on 80 m2 with about thirty objects, a botanical and ecological circuit that extends for almost 24 km in the middle of the forest, and a stage where the famous polyphonic songs of the community will be performed.
The New Patrons program was first initiated in Cameroon by its German director Alexander Koch and then implemented by the Baka community of Bifolone (in the department of Haut-Nyong) under the mediation of Professor Germain Loumpet (Cameroon).
The New Patrons action supports members of civil society (groups of inhabitants, members of associations, workers, researchers, etc.) to take responsibility for a commission to a contemporary artist. A mediator, an expert in the cultural scene, assists the citizens (the commissioners) in drawing up the artistic and technical specifications of the request and proposes the most appropriate artist to respond to it. The principles of the New Patrons program are linked to societal issues (rural desertification, revitalization of social links, search for the identity of a community or a territory, etc.). Since its creation in 1991, more than 500 works have been initiated and produced in Europe, North and South America, and Africa. Artists with the most varied practices and international scope have been involved.
With the New Patrons scheme, the artistic commission, traditionally reserved for institutions, is changing. It encourages the renewal of the contract between artists and civil society and federates, in a given territory, a system of public and private partners for the production of works. In order to respond to the needs formulated by the commissioners and to nourish their creation, the artist enters into contact with the territory, its public, its issues, etc. This long-term immersion in the field is part of the creative process. And as the researcher Emmanuel Négrier reminds us, "the New Patrons manifest a utopia, which consists of making society assume a relationship of artistic responsibility that results from an ascending movement of commissioning, as opposed to a descending relationship of receiving an offer".
The "Liberté Baka’’ project
This project was set up in 2015 by and within the Baka Community of Bifolone in the Dja Biosphere Reserve in eastern Cameroon. It was chosen and set up following a series of reflections and consultations with various communities and intelligences in different parts of Cameroon.
Background & historical elements (By Germain Loumpet)
The Baka community, originally a nomadic hunter-gatherer people, has for the past fifty years been engaged in a heavy and tedious conversion to a sedentary lifestyle governed by new norms. This change is not without major problems, such as those generated by a sometimes irresponsible cultural tourism. This phase of cultural transition implies an upheaval of the technical system, the superstructure of the formal universe and the value system. The Baka pygmies no longer live as their ancestors did two or three generations ago, but they do not share the lifestyle and access to resources of the neighboring non-pygmy populations: a singularity that merits an analysis of new paradigms of society-environment interactions. The village of Bifolone, in this case, offers a privileged situation of in vivo experimentation for the New Patrons in the observation of the modes of symbolic expression operated by a community when it is inevitably confronted with a cultural mutation.
The commission: Description of the project
The entire Baka community of Bifolone has expressed the wish to see symbolic works created that both modify the perception and prejudices towards them and mark their transition to new aspirations. It is a question of setting up modern creations to prefigure this transition to semi-sedentary life through heritage places such as the in situ conservatory of plants and the space of ancient or recent manufacturing techniques, and in this case adapted to the new way of life, and finally through the scenic space for all the performances. The Baka communities are indeed renowned for their knowledge of their ecosystem: trees and plants are part of the daily culture and each individual is in possession of an exceptional knowledge that he or she can use to make a living.
Because of the particular need and desire of the Baka community to creatively embrace the modern changes that their traditional culture cannot escape, unlike other New Patrons projects, a creative process was mastered in which not a single artist responded to the commission, but a collective of local and regional forces joined together to conceive and produce the project.
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