25 giugno 2009

Africa opens its eyes to its art

La Nouvelle Liberté, sculpture monumentale de Joseph Sumegne à  Douala, Doual'art 1996

La Nouvelle Liberté, sculpture monumentale de Joseph Sumegne à Douala, Doual'art 1996

For our internet readers we publish the article “Africa opens its eyes to its art” as a preview from the last number of The Courier (special 3, June 2009):

After almost two decades characterised by the intense effort to fight the invisibility of African art in the contemporary scene – through big pan African exhibitions, important publications and participation in biennials – now the most appealing trend in African contemporary art is the involvement of the African public together with the participation of local governments, museums and sponsors.

In recent years we observed the birth of some extremely interesting initiatives in several African countries, led by curators and artists firmly convinced that it is necessary to bridge the huge divide between African artists (cultivated, recognized worldwide, and with international relations) and African citizens living in widely different conditions. These initiatives move from the assumption that all people have the right to access the knowledge and input that contemporary art can give them. They have the right to be educated in art interpretation, and to experience its richness and aesthetic pleasure that it can give. They have the right to visit a contemporary art gallery and enjoy it. Africa must open its eyes to its artistic production.

Read the rest of the article


A contemporary African art gallery was opened in 2005 by the Zinsou Foundation in Cotonou (Republic of Benin), a private foundation set up by a retired Beninese banker.
The foundation, led by the young Marie-Cécile Zinsou, daughter of the principal sponsor Lionel Zinsou, aims at promoting contemporary African artists, art exchanges, wider access to contemporary arts, and a universal appreciation of African art. The gallery holds exhibitions and children’s art workshops. The Foundation became an incontestable cultural point in Cotonou. From its opening it was visited by three million mostly young people, thanks to free entrance and to partnerships with several schools in the city. The artistic programme started with the Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé, and continued with celebrated painter Jean-Michael Basquait; born in New York from a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother; an exhibition about voodoo and one of the Beninese king Béhanzin d’Abomey (1844-1906).

But these initiatives do not consider exclusively African works but look outside the borders of the continent as stated by Sindika Dokolo, the Congolese patron that decided to create in Luanda “an African collection of contemporary art rather than a collection of contemporaryAfricanart”. In 2007, involved by the dynamic Angolan artist Fernando Alvim, Dokolo lent the principal group of works to the African pavilion at the Venice biennale.

He insists that the contemporary African art world should discontinue its “dependence” on external aid – namely collectors, promoters, and financial support – that somehow distorts its African origin. He also denounces the fact that Africans are not in control of their own cultural domain and this affects the content of their artistic production. He regards “access to art to be a human right, just as basic and legitimate as access to education, drinking water and health”.

Furthermore, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, an independent non-profit organisation set up in December 2007 with the curatorship of Bisi Silva, insists on the involvement of the African public and on the development and professionalisation of artistic production and curatorial practice in Nigeria and the West African region. It presents a programme of workshops, talks, seminars, performances, movie screenings and exhibitions such as the currently running ‘The World is Flat’, an international collaboration with Danish curator Johanne Loegstrup. Bisi Silva also curated the exhibition ‘In the Light of Play’ at the Joburg Art Fair.

Doual’art is a contemporary art centre created in 1991 in Cameroon by Marilyn Douala Bell and Didier Schaub. The centre is carrying out an important job for the involvement of the local public, fostering cultural projects and site-specific art interventions within the city of Douala. We have mentioned just some examples, but it seems that in the 21st century, the African contribution to the history of world-art can be important and can involve both artists and public – including the Government, education, museums, galleries, Academies of Fine Art and collectors – in telling the world of the high level and diversity of African art.

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