Em’kal Eyongakpa.

Em’kal Eyongakpa Wins Inaugural Henrike Grohs Art Award

Artist Em’kal Eyongakpa, a cofounder of the Cameroon-based artist-run space KHaL!LAND, is the first recipient of the $24,000 Henrike Grohs Art Award, a new biennial prize dedicated to artists who live and work in Africa. The honor was established by the Goethe-Institut and the Grohs family in recognition of the lifetime achievements of Henrike Grohs, the former head of the Goethe-Institut in Abidjan who was killed in a terrorist attack in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast, in 2016.

Eyongakpa established KHaL!LAND in 2007 in response to the lack of galleries and arts spaces in the city so that regional artists would have a space to exchange ideas and experiment in. He has recently exhibited his work in the 2017 Jakarta Biennale, the Thirteenth Sharjah Biennial, the Thirty-Second São Paulo Bienal, and the Tenth Biennial of African Contemporary Art, Dak’art, among other major exhibitions. The multimedia artist’s works often draw from his childhood and his grandparents, who practiced shamanism. “Basically what I do as a human being is born from my quest to question the obvious in a bit to attempt to understand the beautiful chaos I was born into as well as the unknown,” he told Okayafrica. “The art is a direct response to my observations and an attempt to transcribe what I feel.”

In a statement, the jury praised Eyongakpa’s “poetic, subtle, and subjective approach” to making art: “His work expresses universal concerns of humanity. The multidisciplinary stance of his practice that includes knowledge derived from science, ethnobotany, magical realism, experimentation, and utopia, aptly responds to the core values of the Henrike Grohs Art Award.”

The jury comprised Koyo Kouoh, the artistic director of the RAW Material Company in Dakar; Laurence Bonvin, an artist and representative of the Grohs family; Raphael Chikukwa, the chief curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe; and the Paris-based curator Simon Njami.