Contemporary African Art Collection by Jean Pigozzi
André Magnin: A Prospecting Life
One pleads for difference, as long as there is none. One praises openness to others, as long as they are like me.
In memory of my friend Jean Hudry
I don’t believe in art education, but in art as education.
Beyond my duties as an artistic director and curator of the CAAC, as well as a project initiator, I see myself as a "ferryman": I like the idea that I am helping to raise awareness about the works, thoughts and personalities of those whom I admire.
The exhibition proposed for the contemporary section of Arts of Africa is distinguished by the fact that it shows artists who live and work in black Africa, save for two who divide their time between Cameroon and Europe. The exhibition displays a significant number of the most important works by these thirty artists. But it also includes a few hitherto unseen works, created especially for this event. This project is, in part, the product of nearly twenty years of determination, curiosity and exploration. Twenty years of my life, and of a relationship with the art itself, whose subjectivity is entirely my responsibility.
My experience and knowledge of contemporary art in Africa grew out of the investigations and research I conducted on non-western cultures for Magicians of the earth, beginning in 1986. I never actively sought, of course, to be a "specialist" in African art. I perhaps became one over the course of the time I spent criss-crossing black Africa, meeting artists. Labels always over-simplify. I am as interested in African art as in Western art; it is art that interests me.
Henri Michaux said that an entire life does not suffice to unlearn that which we have
"naively and submissively allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into believing". His words perfectly sum up the fundamental reasons I have felt compelled to reach out to others, to artists, and "let myself be filled by the polyphonic beauty of the world".
MAGICIANS OF THE EARTH
In the late 1920s, administrators, missionaries, art lovers and patrons were struck by the talent of painters who adorned local huts with decorations and helped them to further develop their art by providing needed materials, canvasses, paper and longer-lasting colors. A handful of museums in Brussels, Paris and Geneva organized exhibitions. These initiatives can be seen as marking an initial phase of modern art in Africa, which Joseph Aurélien Cornet finely surveys in his book, Sixty years of painting in Zaïre.
Beginning in the 1950s, we began seeing exhibitions of non-Western art – Inuit, Shona (Zimbabwe), Makondé (Mozambique, Tanzania), or "popular" African art – in ethnographic museums or other fringe venues. On rare occasion, there would be an exhibition in a modern-art museum, usually in Belgium and France. The frenchman, Pierre Gaudibert, was among the first curators to carry out research in Africa and to show the contemporary art of the Shonas at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris. In the mid-1980s, David Elliot, who was curator of the Oxford Museum at the time, showed an exhibit of contemporary artists that included many South Africans. These events drew a limited audience. Magicians of the earth was the first truly international exhibit in the sense that it was conceived on a global scale, spanning the works of a hundred artists from different cultures and five continents. The organizers never sought to rank the art in some hierarchical or geographic order; they let the works speak for themselves. The exhibit, with its worldwide repercussions, provoked lively debates that continue to this day. It was visionary in its conception, turning the aesthetic landscape upside down, changing the prism through which we view issues and creating new ones.
Jean-Hubert Martin was the architect, initiator and chief organizer of Magicians of the earth, which was shown from May to September 1989 at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, as well as the Grande Halle at La Villette. The exhibition had previously been turned down by Documenta 8.
Jean-Hubert turned to Mark Francis, Aline Luque and me when he was assembling his team in early 1986. Jean-Hubert, Aline and I shared a rundown little office, but we remained unflagging in our enthusiasm. We had pinned a map of the world to the wall. We each chose a destination and went about preparing for our respective trips. Aline was drawn to South America, Jean-Hubert, to Asia, and I gravitated towards Africa. For very personal reasons that go back to my childhood, I picked Madagascar as my first destination.
My travels through the end of 1988 took me just about everywhere in Africa, as well as to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and the far North.
Sylvie Boissonnas was the first key figure to lend moral and financial support to Magicians of the earth. The project was finally able to see the light of day thanks to support from
François Barré (president of the Grande Halle at La Villette), André Rousselet (president of Canal Plus), the French Culture Ministry and the Georges Pompidou Centre, where Jean-Hubert was named director of the National Museum of Modern Art in the autumn of 1987.
Three years of research on three-quarters of the earth’s surface area could not claim to offer a definitive picture, on a worldwide scale, of the state of contemporary art. Nor was that the objective of Magicians of the earth. The exhibition closed in September 1989 without becoming the big hit which we had expected. It was probably too soon for those of a conservative mindset, and the public at large, to appreciate the significance of such an event. We were on the threshold of the twenty-first century, issues of globalization were suddenly on everyone’s lips, yet it was still too early and, it seems, too risky, to take the liberty of showing artists from the world’s various contemporary cultures on an equal footing.
Nearly twenty years later, ever faithful to the principles that inspired this "adventure", I am convinced that exchange remains the most important thing we can experience.
THE CREATION OF THE CAAC: THE PIGOZZI COLLECTION
On its final day, Jean Pigozzi and his friend, Ettore Sottsass, visited the show. They were awestruck. Jean Pigozzi contacted the Pompidou Centre in hopes of acquiring a large number of the non-western works. As they were not for sale, he was advised to see me. I was surprised to come face-to-face with a man of my age who was funny, likeable and very determined. He asked me what I was planning to do next. At that very moment I had dreams of pursuing my research and prolonging the adventure of Magicians of the earth. Jean Pigozzi, for his part, sought to create an original collection, like no other in the world. We realized pretty quickly that the complementary nature of our objectives was going to allow both of us to fulfill our dreams.
Jean Pigozzi is a passionate collector, obsessive and blessed with a discerning eye. While anyone with a fat enough bank account can acquire a Warhol, a Jeff Koons, a Serra, a Buren or a Cattelan, it takes wherewithal of a very different kind to obtain a Kingelez "city", or a large Chéri Samba painting, or a magnificent drawing by Mansaray. When Pigozzi and I concluded our "pact" in 1989, I understood the intelligence, the appropriateness and the stakes of the ambitious adventure upon which we were embarking, and which we continue to lead together!
A work of art can be read and understood anywhere, and by anyone, regardless of its provenance, even if it bears some features that are distinct to a certain culture, set of beliefs, and specific context and history. When the collection was first established in 1989, not a single African artist was truly well-known. The western art world was either unaware of, or had overlooked, contemporary artistic creation on other continents, and particularly in Africa. For a long time, African artists have survived by selling their paintings to those in their immediate circle – friends, collaborators or occasional visitors. Generally speaking, the idea of getting their works into someone’s collection and achieving international recognition has been an alien one. For the most part, artists work day in and day out without genuine prospects, a strategy or any real interlocutors. This is why it has been difficult for an artist to think of what he does in terms of creating a work of art, or to be able to elaborate a plan, or even be inspired to do so.
When we first began prospecting for works for the collection, we wanted to support and encourage as many artists as possible. But some of them, by mere virtue of the fact that we had bought their works, felt as if they had been irrevocably "ranked" among "the good ones". They no longer bothered to try anything new. Making choices always implies a certain risk, and it is possible to overestimate or underestimate the "qualities" of certain people.
The current art scene seems to have vindicated our choices. The recognition achieved by Bruly Bouabré, Kingelez, Lilanga, Hazoumé or Samba, in Houston, New York, Kassel, Paris or Sao Paolo has dealt a fatal blow to the notion of "exoticism" that the Western mindset somewhat scornfully associated with contemporary art from other places.
The CAAC, without vowing to be exhaustive, is driven by an ambition to preserve artworks and make them known beyond national boundaries. There are undoubtedly other artists whom I have never had a chance to meet, or others that I have visited -- the Nigerian, El Anatsui; the South African, Kay Hassan; the Senegalese, Mustapha Dime; and the Mali natives, Abdoulaye Konate and Ndolo – who made a name for themselves without any help from the CAAC, and whom I admire greatly.
CAAC: THE METHOD
When you travel, when you go off to explore the other, you believe you are making a trip. But very soon you realize that it is the trip that makes – or unmakes -- you.
Putting together a collection is not a matter of leafing through catalogues and picking what you like. It requires lots of commitment, personal investment and passion and it goes without saying that working with an African artist demands the same disciplined approach as with any other artist: you must meet with them, listen attentively to what they have to say, familiarize yourself with the context, and understand the art. . . There is, however, a difference: the real geographic and cultural distance between you and the artist. You must therefore find the means and lots of time to "lessen" this distance.
I visit the region as often as I can, I phone, I write, I keep the artists updated on the activities of the CAAC. We regularly buy their works at a price we work out with the artist, and which is constantly evolving. They are always invited to the exhibitions in which their works are being shown. We never fail to give them encouragement, have messages of support passed on to them or to inquire about the welfare of their friends and family. Jean Pigozzi does not think twice about providing his assistance when the need arises.
Over the past twenty years, I have established many connections, trained colleagues who are loyal and extremely reliable and built professional relationships and precious friendships. I have my networks and contacts in all of Africa’s capitals. When I arrive in a city, the artists and friends are informed. I pay a visit to each one of them, and inquire about current affairs, the overall situation in the country, and political, social and cultural developments. I need to feel totally immersed in this reality. News of my arrival spreads across the town very quickly. In Kinshasa, for instance, dozens of young and still-unknown artists wait for me morning and night outside my hotel to show me their work or to set up a meeting in their studios. I take the time to get to know and to meet with most of these new artists. I always tell them what I think.
There is not a single Africa; there are many. The two sprawling, overcrowded megalopolises – Lagos in western Africa and Kinshasa in central Africa – are impressive. Cotonou or Bamako are much smaller, calmer and less chaotic capitals. Each country has its own identity, its own character, and its own singularity. Kinshasa remains the destination to which I return most often. I spend a lot of time there with many artists, musicians, dancers and intellectuals. . . So much talent, dynamism and hope. Fascinating, dense, noisy, overexcited, infernal and tumultuous -- yet incomparably warm and welcoming! At night, certain neighborhoods swarm with crowds. People "deck themselves out" in their Sunday best, and meet up over a Primus beer and grilled chicken amid a terrible commotion! They run into each other again later, in the nightclubs. All this wild behavior can’t hide the poverty and hardships of daily life. "Article 15" ("fend for yourself") is the unofficial injunction by which everyone abides in this capital ready to explode. . .
The traveling I do in search of new prospects for the collection offers me many exquisite and rare moments: each time I come across a work in a studio that touches me; whenever I accompany Bruly Bouabré into "his chapel" in Zéprégühé, his native village; or when Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé entrust me with their negatives, and I realize the full magnitude and the beauty of their work; all the moments shared with Alighiero e Boetti and Frédéric Bruly Bouabré while preparing the "World Envisioned" exhibit for the Dia Center for the Arts of New York; spending entire days in Chéri Samba’s workshop. All of these moments constitute unique memories that make me love what I do so much.
Putting together this collection provides a great satisfaction that has to do with the flexibility in the way it is structured. My colleagues, Philippe Boutté and Belinda Paumelle, are essential to the success of this adventure. Their drive, their commitment and their availability are invaluable to me. The way in which we operate is unique, and offers many fewer constraints than a public institution, where acquisitions are usually decided in committee. A museum is not in the habit of delegating a consultant to spend years putting together a collection. A museum does not have to anticipate trends in the art market, or whether a certain artist might, hypothetically, make it big some day. It is not concerned about being exhaustive; a few works might suffice to represent an important artist. It does not take the same risks. We help artists to gain recognition, while a museum confirms that they have been recognized.
Private collectors like Jean Pigozzi, who have the freedom to acquire a large number of works by a single artist, are a rare commodity. That is why we have been able to organize exhibits devoted to a single artist in many museums, artists such as Chéri Samba, Kingelez, Keita, Sidibé, Ojeikere. . .
Les Rencontres photographiques de Bamako, and Dak’art, the Biennale of Dakar, created in 1994 and 1992, respectively, have for the most part become professional affairs over the past ten years. Yet despite the wide coverage these events received in the international press, they have still not given rise to the emergence of a genuine art market. We have to wonder why.
In the field of photography, only Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibé and J. D. Okhai Ojeikere have figured as subjects of monographs, in personal exhibitions at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, and just about anywhere else in the world. These artists are shown at numerous galleries (Galerie du Jour agnès b, Fifty One Fine Art Photography in Anvers, Hackelbury in London, Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch in New York, Kewenig Galerie in Cologne. . . ) and are very accessible on the international market.
I have never seen any major works in Dakar by Samba, Bodo, Lilanga, Bouabré, Kingelez or Mansaray. Similarly, I have never come across any important dealers, art critics, specialized journalists, curators or significant collectors in the cities where these artists live -- Kinshasa, Lagos, Dar-es-Salaam or Freetown. It is true that it is quite difficult to cross the borders of their countries, to elude the gauntlet of corruption, get to where these people live and even be granted a reception. That undoubtedly explains why these much sought-after artists, recognized on the international stage, are practically impossible to come by anywhere on the art market even though they sell all the works they produce. This is why we are happy to regularly lend out their works around the world, and thereby help them become better known.
The biennales in Venice and Sao Paulo, and the Documenta of Kassel, in particular, validated our choices by presenting artists and works from our collection. In this dawn of a new century, the large private collections are taking part in the safeguarding of world culture. We assume this responsibility with pride.
We organized our first large-scale exhibit of contemporary African art in 1991, in Spain, the Netherlands and Mexico. Since then, the CAAC has conceived and produced around 40 single-artist exhibitions, some 30 collective exhibitions and played a supporting role by lending out works to more than 200 museums, foundations, art centers, biennales and galleries across the world.
Barely a day goes by without someone approaching us with a loan request. Galleries express their desire to collaborate with the artists in our collection; institutions or collectors seek to acquire works. . . In every case, we try, to the best of our ability, to lend our assistance in satisfying these requests.
Thanks to this policy of dissemination, we have enabled certain artists to become accessible and visible to an international audience. An artist is not something that you can "construct", but he does need support, advice and encouragement, so that his work can develop and mature. It is in those areas that the CAAC can also play an instrumental role.
THE FUTURE OF A COLLECTION
Art is what makes life more interesting than art.
Jean Pigozzi and I keep in close touch with the artists in our collection. Our loyalty, integrity and continual support constitute basic values that take precedence over others in Africa. I have never sensed any rivalry or competition between the artists, even in the case of Kingelez, a likeable guy who takes the prize for megalomania! In Africa, a person who succeeds is a source of pride. Most artists are anxious to share their success. A case in point: Chéri Samba in Kinshasa, Romuald Hazoumé in Bénin or Malick Sidibé in Bamako are always reminding me to pay a visit to their friends or former assistants. As for Barthélemy Togo, he is personally creating a foundation in Cameroon for contemporary art that will be open to everyone, and where works by other artists – from both Africa and the west – will be on permanent display.
Up until about 2000, a postal courier could take several weeks to reach his final destination – provided he did not get lost! In some countries, such as Congo, the government forbade the use of phones for non-professional purposes. The so-called "private phonies" that were authorized were saturated to such a point that placing a simple call could take hours, even days! The most efficient way to work with the artists, therefore, was to visit them regularly. Given these conditions, imagine the "revolution" heralded by the advent of the mobile phone and the Internet. Today, buying a mobile phone has become a top priority for everyone. But because it is still very costly to make an international call, the artists "beep" me so I can call them right back. Certain artists have mastered digital photography and the Internet, allowing us to follow the progress of their work practically in real time! The artists need no longer worry about physical distance, since we are able to speak to one another easily and often; being far away is no longer a major problem. Despite these "revolutions", it is still essential that we visit the artists where they live as often as possible. Nothing can replace this direct and personal relationship.
For the artists, the crucial thing is getting their works included in the major public and private collections, in Africa as well as the West. It is vital that these artists become known and recognized in Africa! We had no longer dared to believe it was possible for the artists to achieve recognition for their works in their native countries. The newly established Zinsou foundation, in Cotonou, opens up new horizons and sets a wonderful example. This audacious project, unique in Africa, was recently inaugurated with an exhibition devoted to the Benin artist, Romuald Hazoumé, who is known to everyone in the country even though they have never seen his work. For the first time, everyone will get a chance to see the full range of this artist’s work. The ultimate success of this initiative, and the influence it exerts in both Benin and beyond, will depend in the future on the rigor and the relevance of its aesthetic choices. Other important factors will be its ability to maintain a broad outlook, while integrating into the context of Benin and, more generally, West Africa. Perhaps one day soon artists from all over black Africa will have an opportunity to show their work at the foundation.
The outside world must no longer judge artists solely through the prism of their geographical origins. The real criteria should be the originality and the relevance of their works, which inarguably have their place in any worldwide history of art. We have to show that it is still possible to shift our approach to cross-cultural exchange: most of the artists whose work we promote are free from the aesthetic tutelage imposed by the western model. Chéri Samba, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Barthélemy Toguo, Romuald Hazoumé and Abu-Bakarr Mansaray take what fancies them from our history, free from any sense of obligation. The time is approaching to test the validity of our method on other continents, including our own. I have no doubt that the West has its own "universes" that exist outside the mainstream, on the fringes.
For this reason, I would suggest dropping the ‘A’ for African from the acronym ‘CAAC’, and pursuing this "adventure" on a worldwide scale without worrying about the pressures of fashion or the market that are the bane of so many artists. In this way, we aim to take part in the writing of a history of art that does not necessarily toe the official line, while bypassing the particularly perverse notion of the "politically correct" .
If we can legitimately feel as if we are participating in the writing of a history -- or rather adding a few pages -- then we can expect the museums to emphasize it. We also have plans to set up a foundation – in Paris, New York. . . ? – that will allow us to put works on permanent display and offer a more dynamic forum for cross-cultural exhibitions and exchanges.
THE FUTURE OF A CONTINENT
The day-to-day image of Africa conveyed by the media is a catastrophic one: ethnic conflicts, wars, famines, disease, natural calamities. . . It is a fact.
The end of apartheid, and Nelson Mandela, provided great hope to Africa and the world. Unfortunately, a decade later, South Africa remains "a country riven less by the color of one’s skin than by grinding poverty". After twenty years of traveling to the region, I still wonder how Africa will manage to pull through its predicaments. As Bruly Bouabré so aptly writes, "art is the best medium for binding together people and ideas".
Our collection focuses on artists who live and work on the continent. I am pleased to see that most of the artists, their fame notwithstanding, insist on pursuing their work in their own countries, firm in their conviction that the local culture must and can play an instrumental role in Africa’s future. We cannot imagine the extent to which this continent is in danger of losing its cultural treasures, its languages, its community spirit, its human warmth and, by extension, its infinite possibilities for creation, development and blossoming.
There exist a handful of professional structures – museums, biennales or galleries -- in Johannesburg, Dakar, Lagos or Harare, that contribute to popularizing the arts. Cultural and cooperation centers endeavor to promote young creators by fostering their development and providing support. I can only salute them. But in the absence of venues dedicated to the arts, hotels sometimes serve as art galleries, renting out space to locally recognized artists or to "promoters" : the Hôtel Ivoire in Abidjan, the Hotel Intercontinental in Kinshasa, the Sheraton in Dar-es-Salaam, the Marina Hotel in Cotonou… The paintings and sculptures that one can acquire at these hotel showings are more often than not copies of particular artistic trends found in the modern Western world. What they illustrate is the artist’s technical mastery, verging on craftsmanship, rather than a meaningful, thought-out process of creation. I assume buyers are drawn to these paintings for their decorative qualities.
We are talking more about attempts to copy, than about acts of inventive appropriation. Nor is this a phenomenon specific to Africa: one finds this same symptom of acculturation everywhere in the world, even in places that are regarded as being on the cutting-edge of contemporary art! People find imitation or even the literal appropriation of familiar art forms reassuring. Invention, by contrast, shatters our convictions. As Francis Picabia so incisively remarked: "You have to see and hear something for ages before you can like it, you bunch of idiots!"
This is why I am a firm believer in the need for any and all projects aimed at promoting and disseminating contemporary creation in Africa. On the whole, a wide range of events have seen the light of day over the past twenty years thanks to private collections, governmental and individual initiatives, and international aid and collaborative ventures. They include: the Rencontres Chorégraphiques de l’Afrique et de l’Océan Indien, in Tananarive; the Rencontres Transsahariennes; the FESPACO in Ouagadougou, Africa’s biggest film festival; the Dakar Arts Biennale; the Biennale of Photography, in Bamako; The Festival of African Arts and Entertainment, or MASA, in Abidjan; the International Biennale of Lomé (a cross-fertilization of traditional know-how with contemporary creation). Even the international literary festival, Étonnants Voyageurs (The Surprising Travelers), in Saint Malo, has created offshoots in Africa. To this list we must add the private initiatives of African artists (foundations and associations) who have committed themselves to their countries’ cultural and educational development, particularly those started by Barthélemy Togo in Cameroon, Romuald Hazoumé in Benin or Chéri Samba in Congo. What is more thrilling than the idea that you are helping to safeguard and disseminate contemporary works of art that are so vital to the enrichment of a world heritage. All of these events and projects, this very dynamic, carry the seeds of hope.
Adeagbo, Bruly Bouabré, Hazoumé, Keita, Kingelez, Mansaray, Samba, Sidibé, Toguo, Tayou… – there are many who personify an ethical promise, a promise whose echo reverberates throughout their works and thoughts. They feel a duty to those closest to them, and to their people. Today, at the age of nearly 85, Bouabré makes the most of his popularity in order to make sure the things he has to say are heard – as do younger artists such as Sidibé or Samba and many others who seek to make an impact on humanity with their internationalist conviction. I do not believe art is a matter of taste, strategy, fashion, development, or design. You do not create because you have something to say, but rather because you have an urge to say something.
THE FUTURE OF ART
I wonder whether, just maybe, the definition, the very conception of art that you have in the West is not a little limited.
You have to ask yourself what the future holds for art as a whole, and not just for African art! Moreover, just what is art today? Are we sure that it is something we can find only in museums? We should place more faith in artists wherever they come from. Tell Chéri Samba that painting is "finished", and he will just smile and reply that he begs to differ: he has a suitcase full of ideas! It would be indecent to pose such a question to Bruly Bouabré, who bears daily witness in his thousands of little sketches to signs of the divine observed in nature. As Alighiero e Boetti told Bruly Bouabré: "We landed here on earth, and we had to survive". Or, in the words of the Cameroonian, Pascale Marthine Tayou: "Whereas the Europeans have lost their God, there are still several thousand here in Africa. Some have started to disappear, but the work is only just beginning. . ."
Ever since we started the collection, I have heard people say that we only work with "self-taught artists". To my mind, this approach represents a form of paternalism from another era.
Do we classify western artists according to whether they are self-taught or the products of formal art-school training? The question is all the more irrelevant given that artists such as Efiaimbelo, Cyprien Tokoudagba, John Goba, Calixte Dakpogan, Esther Mahlangu, among others, are heirs to techniques, knowledge, and learning that is passed down from father to son, or mother to daughter. Art is a school that lasts a lifetime.
What I look for in artists are independent actions that inevitably clash with the sense of propriety that goes hand in hand with the politically correct. How can art survive in a world where everything is becoming globalized and falsely reassuring without wallowing in a new type of international academicism? Today’s art has to resist a leveling tendency and a lack of differentiation. It cannot be inoffensive.
Africa is the cradle of humanity and we are all descendants of Toumaï and Lucy. Despite their situation and their history, artists continue to make sense out of things, to pass on thoughts, revolts and emotions that can be universally read and understood. Throughout history, Africa has been a constant source of talent and masterpieces. It has proven equally prolific in the fields of music, dance, literature and, more recently, the visual arts and photography.
I dare to hope that our collection will help raise the profiles of major African artists, while driving home an obvious message: Africa is a place of abundant richness. It would be inadmissible, even dangerous, to turn our backs on such a continent.
ART OF AFRICA, 2005
Kinshasa, May 26, 2005. Djili Airport. Joachim, the "fixer", saves me all the hassle of customs formalities upon entering the Democratic Republic of Congo. I dive into the car with tinted windows that Chéri Samba has lent for my stay to Jean-Pierre Lutonadio, my loyal driver, “bodyguard” and right-hand man – all absolutely essential. You cannot get anything done in Kinshasa without having such a network in place beforehand. It is nighttime; a massive traffic jam all the way to downtown Kin. An infernal commotion. Kingasani, an over-populated suburb, lit up by millions of candles. On either side of the road, as far as the eye can see, makeshift sheds. Crammed into them is an impoverished population, numbering perhaps in the millions, swelled by the rural exodus and the daily influx of entire families fleeing ethnic wars in the north of the country. Officially, Kinshasa has six million inhabitants, but the last census was twenty years ago. . . In fact, ten, maybe twelve million souls -- who knows? -- actually populate this chaotic megalopolis bursting at the seams. For more than 12 miles, mobs of people are on the move and rushing every which way – where they are going, or why, I have no idea. A never-ending "go slow" (traffic jam), of overhauled vehicles on their last legs, sent over from Europe, belch thick, black, suffocating smoke. Next stop: the scrap heap. People pile into these cut-rate "taxis" by the dozens, in order to get to the "modern" downtown, where most of them put into practice the famous "article 15" ("fend for yourself") ! I give a phone interview to Europe about my three exhibitions -- Africa Art Now, currently in Houston and slated next for Washington, Arts of Africa at the Grimaldi Forum of Monaco, and Africa Remix. Taken together, the shows are celebrating the entire African continent this year. I reply seriously, but not without a tinge of irony, that Africa has already been put through the grinder! Yet it is in this context, in the heart of the village of Kasa Vubu, in his little yard protected by high walls, that Rigobert Nimi has been laboring away alone and in secret for nearly a year on his "intergalactic city", conceived especially for Monaco. Rigobert, the young "artist engineer", patient, persistent and equipped with his signature tools of a "pair of pliers, scissors, a ruler and a converted knife". He invents and creates from scratch his "futuristic machines", his wildest dreams, which propel him from his beaten-earth courtyard into the cosmos. Not far from Rigobert, also removed from the urban tumult, the painter Bodo, just like Cheri Samba in the village of Ngiri Ngiri, on the corner of Birmanie and Kasa Vubu avenues, are hard at work on the creation of enormous paintings that they plan to unveil for the first time at the Grimaldi Forum. . .
"One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star."
Back from Kinshasa, I am tempted to add: and chaos around oneself! For everywhere in the world, in such conditions, we come across works that we can all appreciate outside of these contexts, works that spring forth like so many little miracles. At any rate, I would like to believe it. And spread the word to others.