Hexagon Project in Cameroon
The Interdependence Hexagon Project in Cameroon
By Beth Burkhauser
Since 2003, I have been the chair of an international visual arts project ‘The Interdependence Hexagon Project’, that aims to use the arts to facilitate interconnectedness amongst youth globally, and thus contribute towards building a global civil society. In this project, youth from different cultures and countries make artworks on a theme of social concern within a hexagonal template that are then exhibited in an annual exhibition in Scranton, USA. The project has connected various art teachers, art educators and youth from around the world and helped in understanding different views and perspectives of youth globally. In 2008, we collaborated with an elementary teacher, Bridget McCarthy, a graduate of the University of Scranton, who helped to implement the project in Cameroon. She taught in a private Catholic elementary school in the city of Kumbo for several months. While teaching in Cameroon, she met Ngwa Afanwi Neba (Afa Ngwa), a young student in a technical high school in Bemenda, who was a keen artist and art learner. Afa made two Hexagon artworks for the project and since then we have remained connected and shared other artworks that have been exhibited in the United States. These artworks tell us stories from Cameroon, which provide a window into the life and philosophies of Cameroonian people.
From left to right: Figures 1 and 2: Hexagon artworks ‘Happy Family’ (2008) and ‘Joined Heads’ (2011)
Afa’s first Hexagon in 2008 is titled ‘Happy Family’ (Figure 1). According to Afa, “a family is a good representation of interdependence, even though each member is very different. The bird and the sun (in the artwork) reveal that we are part of a bigger family – the world. When we are together, and there for each other, for every living thing, then happiness exists because interdependence exists”. This hexagon represents a “happy family – a happy interdependent life”. Afa received a top recognition award for this artwork at the annual exhibition of the project in Scranton. In 2011, Afa made a second Hexagon, titled ‘Joined Heads’ (figure 2) which coveys a different idea of interdependence. In this artwork, the “blue and other colours indicate different ideas. The heads are not looking happy because they are thinking of something. When only one head is thinking of the idea, it will not be the best and might be wrong…but with additional heads joined together, the ideas will improve and will be much better than the one head idea. I had this experience when I was in high school. I was good in maths but at times I would solve a problem and but still not come up with a solution. But when I took it to my friends, we would call other friends and together we would come up with a better solution”. Hence, in this painting, “with two or more heads joined together, the idea is better and can lead to a better solution, which is going to help others and… why not the World?”. Along with ‘Joined Heads’, Afa also sent a painting titled, ‘African Life’ (Figure 3). These artworks were hand carried, all folded up… from Cameroon to Louisiana in USA, by someone he knew, then another person mailed them to Bridget and then Bridget mailed them to me in Scranton.
Figure 3: Afa’s painting titled “African Life” (2011)
Afa’s painting ‘African Life’ illustrates a different aspect of family life in Cameroon. “I do my paintings in the African way. They relate to African culture”. This artwork conveys how, “Africans always live as one family, they share the same home and eat from the same plate. When there are times of tragedy, they join together to look for a solution to their problems. The calabash (pots) in the sky, is what they sell to make money, but it’s broken because of the harsh sun around the Sahara. Now, when they have nothing for sale, they all join as one family and stand in the street to beg. The birds that fly in the sky show that even when they are down, one day they will have peace of mind and happiness. The mothers always have love for their children and others. The fathers make sure they have a bicycle for transportation and provide the kids with education. Now the type of life in the African villages is also improving, because they have electricity to provide them with lighting, and entertainment through music at their drinking spots. Africans are so impressed with their palm trees because they provide them with wine and nuts, which they eat as food and use for oil, and export to get revenue for the development of their country. In Africa, there are also aid organizations, which help them in times of hunger, they always use the mailbox to send some money to get food for their families. This family here (in this artwork) is looking at the mailbox to see if there is a mail for them”.
From left to right: Figures 4 and 5: A painting by Afa and Afa Ngwa with an African mask
Currently in Cameroon, there is no formalized arts curriculum in schools like we have here in the United States. In spite of limited opportunities for engaging with the arts, there are several children and youth like Afa who want to learn art. Afa has now finished school, but continues to make paintings and has become quite an accomplished artist. He wrote the following inspiring words, “Beth, I was once told by an elder person that what you have passions for, you should never let it go, because once it is gone, darkness and sadness will take over. I do my paintings and give them out like gifts without selling any but I still will never give up painting because I love art. I love it when I am painting and will never stop painting on God’s green earth. And i have dreams”. For more information please contact Beth Burkhauser or visit the project >>