Abdias Ngateu Cameroon, b. 1990

"YOU SLEEP, YOUR LIFE SLEEPS!”

Born 1990 in Douala – Cameroon
Works and lives in Douala – Cameroon

Fabulists of all times and places, have used animals to convey their message, especially when this message is intended to be critical of the world as they see it around them. They live in it and wish they could change it. Using this same medium with humor, amplified by the humor of the situations he stages, Abdias Ngateu tells us through his paintings of the difficulties of his country, Cameroon. But his critical eye for observation is certainly valid from one end of our continent to the other.

Beyond the animals that look so much like humans - unless it is the other way around - the artist has chosen the nagging question of urban travel to carry his allegory. The roads, barely devoted to traffic, are immediately shattered by the disorder and the lack of respect for accepted standards of use, but especially because of the deficiencies of the builders that allow various forms of corruption to involve the use of all kinds of means of transport.

The ingenuous and jaded eye sees this colorful folklore so "typical" of Africa, these improbable and overloaded vehicles, but which still run with kicks and wires. The user is forced to utilize this mode of transportation on a daily basis to make their necessary trips, transport their goods or luggage, face the vagaries and congestion of traffic to clock in on time at their factory or administrative job. This is not a reflection of their poor social and material conditions or the failure of development policies which characterize our countries.

The smile freezes at the corner of our lips because if the projected image is funny, the reality that it sublimates is also heavy and laden with threats to our daily lives. The artist plays on this contradiction with exceptional virtuosity and reading his work requires at least two levels of understanding, the immediate and noticeable smile and, behind it, the much more cringe-worthy comedy of unbearable situations.

One will not be surprised to learn that Abdias Ngateu, alongside his training in graphic and decorative arts which began at the age of 14, also studied sociology at the University of Douala, Cameroon. His colorful works are undeniably funny, but they are a distant witness of Cameroonian sociology and could be from any of our countries.

Satire sneaks into the brands and distinctive signs of the transported merchandise, inscriptions painted in contrasting colors on the patchwork bodies of the vehicles: "free wifi on board", "air-conditioned taxi" or more pathetic, "The life of the black man”. The interpretation of the physiognomy of animals, the species of fatalism, of constrained passivity when they are not smiling, we see in all “faces" and which masks the exhaustion, both of bodies and of souls. No detail escapes us and each one lights a sign, which should alert our attention and take us out of our comfort zone.

No one will be surprised to learn that the artist, in his early thirties, has already benefited from various forms of recognition for his talent, either in Cameroon itself, where he won the 2015 “Discovery” Award from the Goethe Institute of Douala, or abroad since he was selected to represent his country at SEGOU'ART 2016 in Mali. Ngateu was awarded the third prize "Pascale Marthine TAYOU" in the national contest "Young Hopes 2017", organized by the DOUAL'ART space. He also participated in the OFF of DAK'ART 2018, the prestigious Biennial of Contemporary African Art in Senegal. And in 2020, his work "Taxi Brousse" reached more than respectable bids at the ArtCurial auction.

A great career opens before him with the support of the Out of Africa Gallery, which has represented him since 2018, and with great prospects on all continents. And let's hope you keep in mind the motto written on one of his famous taxis:
"YOU SLEEP, YOUR LIFE SLEEPS!”

Sylvain Sankalé
Art Critic
Dakar, Senegal
June 2021