Pascale Marthine Tayou filmed in conversation, ‘Pascale Marthine Tayou: BOOMERANG’, Serpentine Galleries, 6 October 2015, online.
Executed in 2007, Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Poupées Pascale, Les Sauveteurs is part of the Cameroonian artist’s ongoing series of hand-blown crystal figures. Adorned in an assortment of found, stitched and crafted materials, the six, almost life-sized sculptures that make up the present work are imbued with a sense of mysticism and intrigue typical of the artist’s internationally acclaimed practice. Born in Yaoundè, Cameroon, in 1966, Tayou lives and works between Ghent, Belgium, and Douala, Cameroon. A self-described nomad, his multi-media practice explores themes of diaspora and displacement, whilst grappling with issues of wealth, power, race and the impact of colonialism on the contemporary moment. Fascinated by how human beings formulate identity through religion, culture and tradition, Tayou addresses and challenges the generative and performative nature of society and civilisation in his work. Through his diverse and eclectic aesthetic, the artist seeks to move beyond the confines of communities and borders, and instead towards what he has described as “something universal, something human” (Pascale Marthine Tayou filmed in conversation, ‘Pascale Marthine Tayou: BOOMERANG’, Serpentine Galleries, 6 October 2015, online).
Translating to Pascale’s Dolls, The Rescuers, the Poupées Pascale, Les Sauveteurs are highly charged with symbolic significance. Tayou’s practice is concerned with questions of social conformity, and he frequently uses masks and dolls in his work as emblems of the performative roles we are expected to play and adhere to in everyday life. Robed in elaborate garments, the present sculptures become poignant caricatures of humankind who wear their identities like costumes. Cloaked, masked and burdened by their material and symbolic possessions, the figures offer a compelling social commentary on contemporary existence in our globalised and postcolonial world. The term Les Sauveteurs, or The Rescuers, refers to the itinerant street hawkers ubiquitous to African towns and cities. The name has multiple connotations that blend practical, spiritual and emotional forms of ‘salvage’, and indeed Cameroonian street hawkers are said to ‘save’ people by providing on-the-spot services and to ‘salvage’ goods by recycling and upholstering them. With their glassy, transparent skin, Tayou’s sculptures pertinently surpass notions of race and nationality to present a homogenised and universal ideal. Freed from temporal and topographical specificity, his figures “not only mediate in this sense between cultures, or set man and nature in ambivalent relations to each other, but are produced in the knowledge that they are social, cultural, or political constructions” (Anon., ‘Pascale Marthine Tayou’, Richard Taittinger Gallery, 2019, online).
After initially training as a lawyer, Tayou began his career as an artist in the 1990s. He has since garnered broad international recognition, exhibiting at Documenta II in Kassel in 2002, and at the Venice Biennale in 2005 and 2009. With thought-provoking and interrogative works such as Poupées Pascale, Les Sauveteurs, he has secured his position as one of today’s leading contemporary artists.
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