Issa Nyaphaga

As part of Black History Month celebrations


Issa Nyaphaga is a politically-committed plastic artist and poet from Cameroon. His unique, political and artistic career has fostered multi-facetted work: humorous drawings, caricatures which have landed him in prison several times, collages and “capillarism”, graphic research, painting on canvas and on his own body – his face, arms, and hands – in music.

Through exhibits, documentaries, performances, meetings and workshops, Issa Nyaphaga brings us a complex and paradoxical universe that is at the same time playful and colorful but serious, fragmented but perfectly homogenous, provocative but esthetic.

The Artist

Issa Nyaphaga was born in Douala, and then grew up in a small village of the Tikar tribe, in the very heart of Cameroon’s equatorial forest. Like other village children, Issa was introduced to traditional painting at a very early age. He learned to paint with his fingers and hands and to mix earth, natural pigments and other colored substances used to decorate houses.

At age fourteen, Issa returned to Douala to continue his studies. There he met a local painter, Kanganyang Viking, who was to become his spiritual father and with whom he continued to deepen and perfect his artistic training. Issa then worked as a political cartoonist for a satirical newspaper, Le Messager Popoli.

His opposition to the political regime in Cameroon earned him several trips to prison where he was tortured. In 1996, he left his country for France where he was granted political asylum, and where he has continued to establish a name for himself. In 1998, Issa Nyaphaga was the principal artist in the group exhibit Un Vrai Livre d’Art, organized by the Musée de l’Homme in Paris by the organization “La Plume noire”.

As an artist who is committed to helping refugees, Issa Nyaphaga was invited to speak before the French National Assembly on June 16, 2001 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Convention on the status of refugees.

Issa Nyaphaga regularly collaborates with the photographer Jacqueline Hyde, former assistant to Man Ray, also known for her work on Botero, Zao Wou Ki and Nicolas de Staël. Today he divides his time between the U.S. and France where he exhibits his work and offers advice to young artists. Issa has also been working for some time on a philosophical concept called “Urban Way” where he paints his body and stages live performances accompanied by music.  This is an “act of protest” at not being able to return home freely.

Issa has perfected a unique painting technique, known as “capillarism”, which uses human hair as a first layer on various surfaces (paper, canvas, wood and hardboard) before applying color. He also experiments with different textures and materials such as sand, earth, feathers, leather and recycled material. He has been dubbed the “scavenger of painting” because he rummages in garbage cans, picking up and collecting all kinds of objects. He works primarily with salvaged objects: I divert discarded objects away from their initial use and give them a new birth, he says.

Since 1997, in addition to teaching his painting techniques in universities and cultural and social centers, Issa also conducts art-therapy workshops for at-risk children and adolescents in collaboration with the association “La Source”, headed by President Gérard Garouste. He also illustrates books published in France.


- Documentary on Issa Nyaphaga’s career (15 min.)
- Musical Performance (1 hour)- Discussion with the audience in French or English
- Exhibition of about fifteen worksOptional: artistic workshops in French or English (ages 9 and up)

Link to the artist’s site and photos of his works:

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Related Sites

  • Fondation Alliance Française
  • Alliance Française de Paris
  • Cultural Services of the French Embassy
  • Federation of Alliance Française USA

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