It's Nice That

Yaya Azariah Clarke reviews Marc Padeu’s 'Le baptême de Roxane'

If you blink, baptisms are merely a transformation for one. A state where the candidate is found in a frenzy owed greatly to surrender. The surrender of their life to God and the surrender of their body to the charisma of the water. Those awaiting their douse, in many cases, are dressed in all white, and for the majority, the rite assures a full immersion in the water. Sometimes you’ll see that moment of hesitance on the candidate’s face just before being submerged, that reads almost like a decorative pretence, because we know there’s no chance of them dismaying the flock, and God, now. And for those who’ve seen the rite a few times, the monopolising phrase: ‘I baptise you in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit’ echoes like a punchline – there’s more excitement in the fanfare of baptism than the life-long journey of change that it represents. But that’s only if you blink. In Marc Padeu’s Le baptême de Roxane, he shows us what it’s like to be the eagle-eyed onlooker, representing baptism as a rich dramaturgy that equally depends on the audience as it does the star. Baptism is a show of collective faith.


For many years, Marc was a trusted member of that audience. While growing up in the Cameroonian coastal region, Melong, he was often in the church congregation during religious ceremonies, and he was made privy to the grandeur of religious imagery early on by the way it decorated the walls of his childhood home. The paintings throughout Le baptême de Roxane, are a culmination of memories from this time, which explains why they feel both observed and dramatised. “Drawing has always been present throughout my childhood and adulthood, but after my secondary studies I had a period of hesitation because I could not find an interesting course for me among the offers of traditional universities in Cameroon,” he tells us. But the artist would soon meet coincidence, as the first art schools in the country began opening around that time (c. 2009). “That makes me one of the very first art graduates in Cameroon,” he adds.


Le baptême de Roxane is also fairly broad, with Marc also wishing to examine the prevalence of religion within families throughout Africa. “The relationship with the church, worship on Sundays, all the ceremonies including baptism, religious effigies in family living rooms, etcetera,” Marc shares, “the series is really only a pretext that allows me to highlight religious influence.” His paintings always start from an idea, a moment in time, a core memory; he loves going back to his childhood to draw inspiration for his works, which provides a rich motif for these ideas that feel specific but relatable. The Italian masters and his early period of commissions from the clergy – to create frescoes and paintings for different churches throughout Nkongsamba during his student years – also influenced his work’s symbolic realism and tendency toward working in a large format.


As Marc approaches his work through inspiration that is both personal and ubiquitous, he often finds his only challenges to be present at the beginning of his creative process. “It’s when I’m trying to arrange everything, when I’m trying to give a coherent meaning to the composition of the painting,” he shares. Which is often because he takes everything into account from the very beginning – the gestures of the characters, the draping of the fabrics and clothing, the facial expressions, interactions between subjects, shadows, light, perspective and harmony. It’s a world of consideration that allows him to create works that are both showy but don’t bear that feeling of being rehearsed. In one painting the pastor slightly, but attentively, rolls the cuff of his sleeve as if it’ll stop them from being entirely drenched, and in another a woman looks at the pastor and candidate in the moments before the baptism with an amused but reserved posture – she is showing off her familiarity with the rite and long-lived faith in it. This is what all of Marc’s characters are doing, living in the paintings, each telling us something about the power of baptism.


In what we can assume is the last scene of Le baptême de Roxane, the flock wash down the immensity of change with some wine and a hearty feast. By this point, Marc has well and truly communicated the power of the submerging, for every soul involved. But he’s done it without actually showing us the moment. There’s no soaked face or drenched clothes, no evidence of discomfort or euphoria, no bonus scene in the form of a portrait showcasing the joyful tears of the baptised. There is simply no climax. But what we have is greater; Marc’s compositional mastery that shows us the collective influence on religion and faith, and the ability that this imagery has to influence another. “I'm like a director who wants to tell a story. That’s why I paint – to translate moments in life.



April 2, 2024