Mámbáy bebhɛp 43r / mɛnyu nɛfaŋ / bakay nɛkɔ was a polyphonic sculptural and audio installation by Cameroonian artist Em’kal Eyongakpa, commissioned for the 39th EVA International. The work drew on the artist’s interests in the two-way relationship between oral culture and the natural environment; transcribing audio signals from recordings of lullabies, chants, laments, poems and folk songs between Southeast Nigeria, Southern Cameroons and Ireland, as well as processions and intersessions between the Gulf of Guinea and Western Europe. Eyongakpa gathered new recordings from more than 25 sessions, with participants contributing from refugee settlements and displacement camps, and weaving together voices from across 10 language groups. The audio from these recordings was layered into a dense composition that plays through the exhibition space, while also triggering a series of vibrations in the suspended floor and illuminations that drape from the ceiling.
The title of the work is Kɛnyaŋ (Kenyang), a language spoken in the cross-river basin of Manyu, in the Cameroons. The title element Mámbáy bebhɛp is a coined expression alluding vaguely to “doves shelter”, while the number 43represents the people who have contributed their voices to the recordings (mainly women who have lived through, struggles, conflicts and wars in the Gulf of Guinea and Western Europe). In the second part of the title nɛfaŋ translates as “thunder”, mɛnyu vaguely translates as “rhyme”, “form” or “way”, and bakay nɛkɔ, which literally translates as “riddled journeys” or “journey proverbs”. The various elements of the work’s title correspond to the integrated sonic and sculptural elements of the installation. This work was the first iteration of a two-part presentation, the second part took place at IMMA during Spring 2022.
Commissioned through EVA International and IMMA’s Encounters partnership, supported by Mondriaan Fund.
Em’kal Eyongakpa lives and works in South West Cameroon and Amsterdam, Netherlands. He approaches the experienced, the unknown, as well as collective histories through a ritual use of repetition and transformation. His recent ideas draw from indigenous knowledge systems and aesthetics, ethnobotany, applied mycology and technology. Eyongakpa is also known for self-organised community research spaces and autonomous art hubs, from KHaL! SHRINE in Yaounde (2007-2012), to the recent research platform/fund Boh- Bɛtok/ ɛfukuyu. Eyongakpa holds degrees in Plant Biology and Ecology from the University of Yaounde I and was a resident at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Eyongakpa’s work has recently been exhibited at the Jakarta Biennale (2017), the 13th Sharjah biennial (2017), La Biennale de Montreal (2016), the 32nd Bienal de Sao Paulo (2016), 9th and 10th Bamako Encounters (2011, 2015), 10th Dak’art biennial (2012), as well as several other international art spaces and museums around the world.