Put West African art in the spotlight of the world

Around the same time in 2017 when French President Emmanuel Macron promised that repatriating African artifacts from French museums would be a “top priority” for her government, Cécile Fakhoury discovered a figure that really shocked her and disturbed: about 90%. of sales from his gallery in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, went to international collectors.

Considering that the reason she created Galerie Cécile Fakhoury was to sell contemporary West African art to regional collectors and to help strengthen a local art scene, it felt like history was repeating itself.

“When I received this number, I said to myself: ‘No, it’s not possible,'” the 37-year-old Frenchman recently said during a video call from Abidjan. “My initial vision was to create a platform in Côte d’Ivoire, in West Africa, on the continent. Building something from the continent for the continent, for the artists who live and work there, and at this point, it was completely out of balance.

Ms. Fakhoury, who has participated in international art fairs since opening her gallery in 2012, decided she had to “find another way” of working. So, in 2018, she opened an outpost in Dakar, Senegal, a city that was not only a hub of the regional art scene, but also had a strong cultural infrastructure, including the influential Biennale of African Art. contemporary Dak’Art.

This expansion allowed Ms. Fakhoury to meet a number of West African art collectors to “balance our sales a bit more”. It was also the right time, she said, as a number of collectors across the continent are rethinking their collections.

“It was very local with Moroccan collectors collecting Moroccan artists, Nigerian collectors collecting Nigerian artists, South Africans collecting South Africans,” she said. “But I saw that collectors were starting to be more structured, more open and starting to collect outside of their country, which means a lot.”

What has also become very important to her collectors and artists is that Ms. Fakhoury has managed to strike a balance between her anchoring in the local art scene and her return to the global art market. This week, she opens her new gallery in Paris with an exhibition “Un pied sur terre”, which will highlight emerging artists like Elladj Lincy Deloumeaux and Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien and established artists like Ouattara Watts and Jems Koko Bi. She will also participate in the FIAC, the International Contemporary Art Fair, for the third time.

“This shows that a young gallery, created just 10 years ago, can achieve the same level of ambition and quality as the mastodons in the sector. [such as] Gagosian or Perrotin, ”Bassam Chaïtou, an influential Senegalese collector, wrote in an email. “It is important that the aesthetic canons which will define what makes the African masterpieces of tomorrow also come from the continent and not simply dictated by the mega western galleries.

At FIAC, Ms. Fakhoury will highlight the work of Senegalese artist Cheikh Ndiaye with her first solo exhibition in Europe. Mr Ndiaye, who works in Dakar and New York, said what initially attracted him to his gallery was his desire to be a major international gallery located in Africa.

“I also liked the idea that my first gallery was African,” he wrote in an email, “and that I could somehow approach the art world. international from the African continent and not in the opposite direction, which usually happens. “

With its percentages now recalibrated – 40% of its collectors come from Africa and 60% from elsewhere – the time had come to expand outside the continent. This follows the opening last year of a project space in Abidjan specifically focused on emerging artists and large-scale non-commercial installations.

“She really thinks long term with her priorities,” said Alicia Knock, curator of contemporary art and research at the Center Pompidou in Paris. “Even if it opens this space in Paris, it is not the center of its action, which is really to develop a strategy in West Africa and to extend what it does.

The Parisian art scene is not new to Ms. Fakhoury because she grew up there. Her parents run Hervé Peron, a modern art gallery, and she spent much of her childhood attending museums and auctions. After earning a Masters in Art Studies at the Institute for Graduate Arts, she did internships at galleries such as David Zwirner and Chantal Crousel. She moved to Abidjan in 2011 with her husband, whose father is the eminent Lebanese-Ivorian architect Pierre Fakhoury. It was an instant introduction to the country’s art scene.

Côte d’Ivoire was nearing the end of a second civil war, and the idea of ​​opening an art gallery “became very quick and very obvious” to her because she saw “that there was the place to create something around art ”.

She said there was nothing tangible about the way she decides which artists to work with. “I’m looking for a strong enough voice,” she said, adding that she was expanding her network of artists to include those from other parts of the continent – and the diaspora – including Jess Atieno, a Kenyan, and the Algerian Dalila Dalléas. Bouzar. “I always say to myself, ‘What would I think of this job in 15 years? In 40 years? ‘”

Simon Njami, curator and independent critic who organized the 2016 Dak’Art Biennale, said he found it “very courageous” when he learned that Ms. Fakhoury was opening a gallery in Abidjan. “Cécile is intuitive,” he added in an email. “She works with people whose works she loves, and that’s how she can stand up for them so firmly.”

Ms. Fakhoury’s dedication to the local and regional art scene has earned her many fans who are also keen to see the West African artistic infrastructure grow and develop. Franck Hermann Ekra, art critic and independent curator who works in Abidjan and Paris, described Ms. Fakhoury as “a good partner for this project” of changing the discourse on African art.

“It’s in an area where artists are not supported by an art system, you don’t have critics, you don’t have a museum and when you create a gallery in such a system, you have to fill that gap. ‘infrastructure,’ he said. “You have to make people realize that these artifacts belong to them. “

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