Trauma abounds in Barthélémy Toguo’s Heart Beat. From the torture of captives at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to the massacre of students at Virginia Tech in the United States, the Cameroonian artist’s 2008 installation powerfully visualizes contemporary scenes of human suffering from around the globe in an immersive, visually overwhelming environment. Yet, this overdose creates a space in which psychological transformation and political reorientation can occur. As a work made specifically for display in art museums of the Global North—at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, United Kingdom, and Temple Gallery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Heart Beat both speaks to and acts on its presumptive Euro-American viewers. Its message, the author argues, is that in today’s globalized world, where life itself has become marginal to the pursuit of capital, all human beings are united by a shared subjugation and a shared victimhood. The images found within the work, as well as the physical arrangement of the space itself, animates this reality, bringing to life well-known scenes of trauma and surrounding viewers in a visual cacophony that makes its message impossible to ignore. What is necessary now is not Pan-Africanism, feminism, or any movement that seeks to advance the rights of a particular social identity, but, instead, what is needed is a radicalized cosmopolitanism, a shift from a rhetoric of particularism to a rhetoric of universalism in order to help us relate to each other first and foremost as humans.

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