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dossier My learning is affected by the condition of my life

Experimental quest on the relevance of the 'Système de Grands Frères' for the arts

03 March 2021

In response to the project My learning is affected by the condition of my life by Aude Christel Mgba, Annette Schemmel explored the relevance of the Système de Grands Frères for the arts beyond Cameroon. Partners on three levels joined in this experimental quest; her students at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, a class of pupils at Theresien-Gymnasium München and the curator Aude Christel Mgba, currently working from Arnhem.

In 2016, Annette Schemmel published a book Visual Arts in Cameroon, a Genealogy of Non-formal Training 1976-2014, a case study of the major actors, discourses and paradigm that shaped the history of visual arts in Cameroon during the second part of the 20th century. Her book meticulously reconstructs the multiple ways of artistic knowledge acquisition – from the consolidation of the Système de Grands Frères in the 1970s to the emergence of more discursively oriented small artists’ initiatives which responded to the growing NGO market of social practice art opportunities in the 2000s. Based on archival research, participant observation and in depth interviews with art practitioners in Douala and Yaoundé, this study is a must read for everyone who wants to better understand the vibrant artistic scenes in countries like Cameroon, which until today lack a proper state-funded infrastructure in the arts. In this video, Annette explains the Système de Grand-Frères.

More info about the book (also available at the ArtEZ Mediatheek):
www.langaa-rpcig.net/visual-arts-in-cameroon/
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Audio visual material by Annette Schemmel about her book.
The conversation with Aude, who has trained in the arts in Cameroon, focused on Aude’s hypothesis that the Système de Grands Frères might be "a form that we can learn from to imagine alternatives to future art schools”. Antje Majewski, a third art professional with experiences in various countries of West and Central Africa and in Europe also contributed to this discussion that touched upon learning settings, aspects of gender and different concepts of the artist as teacher.
To her pupils in the terminal class of high school Annette gave the assignment to pay hommage to people who have taught them important things along their way, without being their teachers, parents or trainers. This part of the inquiry was inspired by the Igbo and Yoruba wisdom that it takes a village to raise a child and by British author James Allan’s dictum "Don't let schooling interfere with your education!". The pupils are producing graphic posters for and about their personal Grandes Soeurs and Grands Frères. The best posters are going to be shared here (pdf).
In their seminar on the didactics of visual arts, the art students responded to Annette’s book chapter on the Système de Grands Frères by transferring this system’s potential to their own experiences of formal artistic training. Their joint reflection resulted in a video that might inspire changes at their art school, besides being available to wider audiences online.
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Together with her students, Annette Schemmel has thought through the "Système de Grands Frères"/Cameroon as an inspiration for future art schools. In their video, the students are suggesting that the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich could learn from this informal artistic training.