Théâtre Source

Philip Aguirre y Otegui
Douala, Cameroon



Invited by Doul’art to create an artwork for the Salon Urbain de Douala in 2010 (SUD 2010), Belgian sculptor Philip Aguirre y Otegui noticed a natural water source in Ndogpassi III, a densely populated makeshift neighbourhood
that is home to 3000 refugee families in the city of Cameroon, Africa.

Struck by the geography of the site, which took the form of a natural amphitheatre with steep slopes and an eroded centre bowl, he worked to produce a maquette for the exhibition that illustrated a sculptural form that encapsulated a journey of thought that began with the daily basics of collecting water and washing laundry and ended in a sculptural gesture of an
agora in the city centre. Reportedly residents were initially disappointed with a mere maquette as the outcome for their project for the 2010 exhibition and were sceptical whether the intervention itself would materialise. The following period between 2010 and 2013 was spent fundraising the necessary budget to complement the original grant of the Flemish Ministry of Culture, the SUD2010 partner. As well as producing and selling engravings of the Ndogpassi maquette, Philip was able to convince the Belgian partners to raise the necessary funds. The building took a thirty-month construction period and was delivered in time for the following edition of the Salon Urbain de Douala, SUD2013.

Before the intervention, the water source rose out of a muddied and diffcult to access low point in the landscape. In the past it was only a place to collect water from, and now six tiered levels spanning more than twenty meters in length, served by three flights of stairs of about thirty steps, provided access to three terraced stages. On opening the work hosted theatre performances and screenings, while continuing to provide safe drinking water every day for three thousand homes in this area, who are not connected to the public network of water distribution. Théâtre Source has been described as bringing poetry, beauty and pride to everyday life in this shanty town in Cameroon.
The residents of Ndogpassi III are mainly migrants from the hinterland, in search of a better future. The government has no answer to this inux of people and remain indifferent. Basic services such as water, electricity and garbage collection are often lacking. Improved ergonomics for access to the source as well as the management of water quality of the spring have made the project a point of reference, a benchmark even for engendering ideas of what’s acceptable in respect of citizens' right to base expectations for civic life. In these problematic areas, the local arts center Doual'art and the artist bring to make art there are trying to make a difference. They want to improve the urban development of Douala through various art projects in the city. Artists try to provoke the policies of the government to respond to the needs of their community and Théâtre Source is their most ambitious project to date.

The work frames how good urban arts practice can be inserted into an environment where people are more concerned with survival. A project of this nature demonstrates how the activities of the artist and the
significance of their art can contribute to complex social realities.

Written by Diane Dever



The Jury felt that Théâtre Source was a genuinely holistic response to the site and the context. In addition to the functional purpose of providing safe drinking water and washing facilities to three thousand homes, Théâtre Source also provided a community amphitheatre from which poetry, beauty and pride could be diffused through everyday life in this shantytown in Cameroon. The dedication with which those responsible for the project raised the funds to make it possible was also commendable.