Paul-Henri Souvenir ASSAKO ASSAKO

Christian LAPIE
height: 150 - 450 cm, width: 1000 cm
Ngaoundéré – Cameroun
the artist


The image of this installation consumed by fire reflects the movement of a socio-cultural context in which religion exerts power of great social influence, a factor of political overbidding, ideological propaganda, manipulation and cultural tension.


The city of Ngaoundéré, capital of the Adamaoua region, has been islamized since the 19th century. The destruction of the public installations of French artist Christian Lapie in 2002 reminds us of the danger of a conservative and self-referential religious stagnation. Instead, we postulate that religion places human development at the heart of its concerns, that religion that promotes encounters, hospitality and inculturation as values inherent to the flourishing of ethnic and social pluralism in Cameroon.


Paul-Henri Souvenir ASSAKO ASSAKO
Paul-Henri Souvenir ASSAKO ASSAKO

The image is a photograph showing details of the public installations of the French artist Christian Lapie in 2001 in the city of Ngaoundéré, capital of the Adamawa Region in Cameroon. The work is a piece of five modules composed of 9 figures, ranging between 150 and 450cm each and laid in a semicircle radius of 1000 cm. The pieces are made of wood and placed vertically in upright position and the upper end is a head shape that gives each piece the appearance of a human silhouette. The art pieces are arranged in spaces, as the gathering of people dressed in local traditional attires called “boubou” (a long, loose-fitting garment worn by both sexes in parts of Africa) aligned in an arc forming a circle.


The detailed structure in the work is closely linked to the title "Djaoulérou" which means "traditional space, place of meeting and reception". The artist echoes customs in a context where the relationship between traditional practices and Islam remains ambiguous. Islam provides an opportunity for certain members of local society to acquire privileged positions under a religious label. The role of religion in the political game has proved to be important, that post-colonial politicians laboured to maintain control of the religious sphere in every region. Religion presents governance and control challenges for political actors. Maud Lasseur (2005, 95), in this same line, holds that: ‘During the colonial period and under the regime of President Ahidjo (1960–1982), Christian missions were thus contained to the south of Cameroon so as not to hinder the Muslim aristocracy of the Far North or thwart the unifying political project of the first Cameroonian president’. 


The monumental character of the work, the rhythm and movement suggested by forms treated with little attention to details, the variations in volume and the different dimensions of each silhouette make the installation look both impressive and expressive. Each single group of statues displayed at the same time in different places in the city, shows the "mysterious objects" by a foreign artist presents unfamiliar trait with regard to the city’s socio-cultural imagination. The work breaks taboos: an unusual appearance that creates artistic experience, tradition and beliefs which has become subject to manipulation and political propaganda within the society.


The destruction of the work reflects the fragility of a slavish society instrumentalized by religious argument for political purposes in the 2002 legislative elections in Cameroon. The fact that a French artist is carrying out an unusual and iconoclastic installation project in this city is seen as a provocation, especially for the Muslim cultural authority. This religious and political authority occupies a very influential social position as "guardian of the temple" (custodian of traditions) and is in a position to incite people to commit acts of such magnitude.  In addition to having set fire to the works and having proceeded to uninstall them, the Franco-Cameroonian alliance of Ngaoundéré was definitively closed down by the public authorities because of the social unrest provoked by the works. This cultural centre for Franco-Cameroonian cooperation had supported the artist's installation project.


The act of vandalism perpetrated on Christian Lapie’s work exposes Cameroon’s national society in search of landmarks. Art particularly sculptured art has played an important role in expressing belief systems. The cosmogonic universe and the world view of the populations that have succeeded one another in this territory have been revealed through artistic representation. The bold production and reproduction of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, geometric and imaginary forms is typical of these societies. As in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, art has helped what people see, think, imagine and believe (J.P. Notué, 2005). Because of the lack of critical understanding of their history and the changes they experienced, societies are confronted with major shocks that have an impact on their development. Among these shocks are ambiguities in the relationship to religion. The consequences of it are the religious and political manipulations which societies are sometimes subjected to. One historical reason for this is the attitude of missionaries who made no discernment in the positive values of the tradition and the absence of doctrine and deep convictions of these values (E. Mveng, 1985). 


The colonial religious legacy in Cameroon is one of the most important sources of the ethical foundation of the society of the 21st century. The generalization of the religious profession of faith/conversion seems to have fostered a latent form of "alienation" of the urban society. There is a superficial knowledge of both the principles of the modern culture and the traditional environment, two references whose slavish play of opposites serves political and power stakes. In Cameroon, the policy of conviviality between Islam, other religions and local cultural practices implemented by Sultan Njoya in Bamum land presents elements of inspiration for an interesting social emancipation. The policy of inculturation and multi-confessionalism has favoured the cultural openness of society and preserved, for example, the sustainability of the region’s remarkable creative industry. Art, belief systems and politics are all values of cultural expression fundamental to society.




  • Mveng Engelbert. 1985, Histoire du Cameroun, tom 2, Yaoundé, Ed. CEPER.
  • NOTUE Jean-Paul, TRIACA Bianca, 2005, Bandjoun, Trésors royaux du Cameroun, Milan, Ed. 5 continents.
  • Maud Lasseur. 2005, in «  www.cairn.info/revue-afrique-contemporaine-2005 ».
  • Assako Assako PH.S. 2011, l’art au cameroun du XXe au début du XXIe siècle : étude des expressions sculpturales en milieu urbain, thèse de Doctorat/Ph.D. en histoire de l’art, Université de Yaoundé 1.
  • www.christianlapie.net/oeuvres/16/djaoulerou
  • www.christianlapie.net/mobile/news/326/.%20http:#news
  • www.christianlapie.net



published February 2020