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Into Nature: out of Darkness is a biennial art route laid out in the ancient landscape of Drenthe showing works by eminent international artists. After the celebrated first edition of 2016 situated in the north of Drenthe, Into Nature returns in 2018. From 1 July to 16 September, visitors discover works by Adrián Villar Rojas, Heather & Ivan Morison, Olafur Eliasson and others set in the landscape of the southwest of the province.

This summer’s theme is ‘Into Nature: Out of Darkness’. Works of art set in various types of landscape, where humankind has been looking for its place in nature for thousands of years. The route starts on one of the darkest places in the Netherlands: the Holtingerveld. Another starting location is Frederiksoord, in the middle of the Koloniën van Weldadigheid (nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List). The Huis van Weldadigheid, the Sterrenbos and the former Tuinbouwschool – where nature has taken root since it was closed – have been made available as exhibition spaces especially for Into Nature.

The team of curators led by Hans den Hartog Jager has succeeded in attracting an international mix of twenty renowned artists. Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar recreated dozens of nests of the Hornero, a South-American songbird were placed in the Drenthe landscape. British artist duo Heather & Ivan Morison created an installation that can be booked as a place to stay the night for exhibition visitors. Iceland’s Olafur Eliasson made his mark in this upcoming edition with his radiant work of light art. HerInto Nature: Out of Darkness is an exciting art route that you simply cannot afford to miss. Hervé Youmbi created a dialogue between African funeral monuments, Aloalo, and a Neolithic Hunebed.

Hervé Youmbi talks to Ex_posure about this project.

The installation “Alo-alo” highlights the dialogue between two funerary monuments belonging to different eras: a Neolithic dolmen and a hybrid alo-alo of the 21st century. This work is a nod to megaliths from around the world and highlights the nature and function of these works inherited from megalithic art. It also questions the impact of Globalization on our various current modes of belief and their relation to nature.

In our age of global mobile phones, “Alo-alo” is unquestionably one of the most pronounced phrases in the world today, because it initiates so many telephone conversations. This same phrase or word is also the name of funerary monuments in Mahafaly territory in the south of the island of Madagascar in East Africa. Mahafaly tombs are distinguished by aloalo, carved wooden funerary posts about 1.5 meters high surmounted by figurative scenes. In fact, the practice of funeral poles is widespread in Africa, to name a few: Kigango in Tanzania, Vigango in Kenya, Bongo in Sudan, Tsogho in Gabon, Waaga Konso in Ethiopia, Mumuye in Nigeria, Toguna in Mali…

In African classical religion, life is closely linked to death. It is also commonly said that we move from life to another life; because death is not perceived as the end of life, but rather the beginning of another existence. In Africa, the rites of passage from one life to another are filled with a profusion of art objects and performance. Whether these artworks are gigantic, monumental or humble, they all gesture toward notions of eternity. The Sphinx has guarded over the eternal sleep of pharaohs in Giza since 2,500 BC. The aloalo of Madasgascar and other similar funerary monuments oversee the remains of yesterday and of more distant ancestors. In Gabon, protective figures were affixed atop the lids of reliquary containers for the bones of ancestors. In the province of Drenthe, in northern Holland, dolmens, known locally as hunebedden, have protected the remains of the deceased in their eternal sleep since 5,000 BC. Part of the conception of this project, “Alo-alo”, is to establish a conversation between different aesthetics of funerary arts through a dialogue between a hybrid “Alo-alo” and a Hunebed in the landscape of Holtingerveld, located in the province of Drenthe in Holland: two funerary monuments belonging to two different eras, the Neolithic and the 21st century. This work highlights the perennial nature of a mode of belief, bridging the eons, and simultaneously raises questions about the impact of globalization  on our  main modes of current belief and their relation to Nature.

“Alo-alo” takes the form of a  hybrid contemporary aloalo sculpture, carved and beaded in western Cameroon and airfreighted to the Netherlands. The sculpture is erected in the                   Holtingerveld reserve, near to the imposing Hunebed D54, which is situated on a beautiful stretch of flat terrain close to the road.

The classic Madagascan aloalo are funerary monuments consisting of carved posts, usually surmounted by a figure or figures that convey the profession and the status of the deceased, thus reflecting the daily life of the deceased. The presence of several aloalo honors the wealth and success of  the deceased. The most prestigious examples of aloalo have at their base a pedestal of piled stones, and the carved poles are enhanced with painted colors. Similarly, the aloalo hybrid sculpture that Youmbi created for the “Alo-alo” project consists of seven wooden posts carved and richly colored in Africa, standing on a base comprised of local rocks from the Neolithic Netherlands environment. The hybrid character of the sculptures derives from the artist’s integration of various funerary masks from Africa and elsewhere in the world. Rather than representing the daily life of the deceased, as in the Madagascan genre, Youmbi’s figurative elements create conversations between different funerary sculptural traditions. Hervé found inspiration in funerary masks from different regions of Africa (e.g. the Dogon, Kota-Mahongwe, Bamileke, Rigbo), and combined theses with global references to such megaliths as colossal Olmec heads (c. 900 BC, Central America) and the moai of Easter Island, made between  1250 and 1500 AD.

The sculptures are carved in Foumban, in western Cameroon, a center of traditional carving within Africa today, by specialized carvers, to the artist’s formal specifications also bridging the world of tradition and contemporary, conceptual art.

The forms are roughed out from massive blocks, and then carved from birch, which in its essence combines strength and lightness, and also provides a link to the birch forests of Europe. All the sculptures are sheathed in glass beads, by master bead workers. Conceived to be installed in nature, they are fully covered by a translucent silicone mastic that consolidates the beads and allows them to be weather resistant. This mastic also protects the wood of the sculptures from bad weather and mildew. This technique has already proved its worth, particularly on the works in Youmbi’s outdoor installation, “Celestial Masks,” installed in Münster (Germany) for Münster Skulptur Projekte throughout the summer of 2017.

During the Neolithic, generally carvings in wood related to life, whereas art related to death was made of stone likely, it is from this practice that the use of stone gravestones in Western burial culture   is derived. Unlike the   dead in the West, often left alone under gray headstones in dark cemeteries, and also visible in Christian cemeteries installed in Africa since the advent of colonization, African ancestors are often invited to live in brightly colored masks and danced in crowded ceremonies. Masks, like funerary posts, are carved in wood, which is considered in most African cultures  as having a life force or spirit, like humans, and is therefore a spiritual vehicle. In many African cultures, beads also have spiritual implications. Beads represent a magical transformation from one state to another (from sand to glass, from solid to liquid to a transformed solid), metaphorical of the transition from life to death to spiritual existence. Beads, like other “shiny” materials, such as brass, have apotropaic power, attracting good and expelling evil. Furthermore, the colors of the beads also carry symbolic value.

The dialogue intended by installation the hybrid “Alo-alo” alongside hunebed D54 combines affinities and contrasts. Among the affinities are the plan of the function of the two different monuments, and their relationship between the practice of belief and Nature. Among the contrasts are the verticality of the aloalo alongside the horizontality of the hunebed; the inorganic, gray Neolithic stone alongside the organic wood posts richly colored with shiny glass beads, both offset by the vibrant green environment. Dialogue is also expressed within the work by combining several diverse styles of masks; reference to megaliths from the four corners of the globe, past and present; as well as the glass beads and wood of the sculptures echoing the wood and jewels that have been uncovered in the hunebeds. The geometric figures engraved on the flat stones of the alleys between the Neolithic dolmens and the vessels found in the hunebeds are also referenced on some of the surfaces of the Alo-alo posts,

Youmbi has taken inspiration from the history of the connection between the celestial bodies and the orientation of hunebed. He has oriented the “Alo-alo” so that around 10AM each morning the sun will cast a shadow of the aloalo onto the stones of hunebed D54. This same sun has been tracing the same path since before either aloalo or hunebed existed, and will continue its rhythm.


Hervé Youmbi

(b.1973, Central African Republic; lives and works in Douala, Cameroon)

“Alo-alo.” 2018

Installation of 7 beaded wood totems near the D54 hunebed, Holtingerveld, Drent, Netherlands

wood, beads, glue, cotton thread, silicone mastic

Variable dimensions

Totem  A (303 x 50 x 50 cm)  Totem  B (260 x 40 x 40 cm)  Totem  C (260 x 40 x 40 cm),

Totem  D (220 x 35 x  35 cm), Totem E (220 x 35 x   35 cm), Totem F (200  x 30 x 30 cm), Totem G (180 x 30 x 30 cm)

Carved in the workshop of sculptor Alassa Fouapon, and beaded by Mama Wouochawouo in Foumban, West Cameroon.

Into Nature

art expedition

Hervé Youmbi

Hervé Youmbi
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