“What’s new is the relationship to the world”
She welcomes established artists as well as young hopefuls to her trailblazing Abidjan gallery.
AM: What led you to open the Cécile Fakhoury Gallery in Abidjan in 2012?
Cécile Fakhoury: I’d been travelling around Côte d’Ivoire for around ten years. Meeting artists and moving to this country led prompted to develop the project. Abidjan is a booming city and a nerve centre in West Africa. There’s plenty to do here in terms of culture and the market.
What have the results been so far?
I’ve noticed that interest in contemporary art is growing every day in Africa. When I opened the gallery, I had no way of telling how the project would turn out. Three years isn’t enough hindsight, but today I’d say the results are highly satisfactory. I’ve created an energetic gallery, held five shows a year, put together an efficient team, forged ties with various players on Africa’s art scene and developed a presence abroad. There’s still a long way to go but the groundwork is there.
What’s the attitude of people in Abidjan and Côte d’Ivoire? Curiosity? Incomprehension? “White folks’ business”?
In general, the public is increasingly varied, curious and eager to see a vibrant cultural scene emerge. You might think art isn’t a priority in a place like Côte d’Ivoire. But in my view, now’s the time to act and to organise relevant, stimulating and committed activities. It’s a means of dialoguing, of offering another way of seeing things, of opening your eyes up to what’s happening in the world and in Abidjan. Fostering a form of debate by this means seems important to me. Attendance has been good since the beginning and as many as 600 people come to the openings. Whenever there’s an exhibition, we also organise school visits as a way of raising children’s awareness. But it’s not easy for everybody to walk through the door of an art gallery.
How would you describe new African contemporary art?
What’s new is its relationship with the world. The rising interest in contemporary art and the fact that many artists’ outlooks are more global than African have prompted the emergence of a vibrant scene. Travelling in Africa has given me the opportunity to meet artists and discover a very rich culture. I’ve experienced these encounters as real shocks. Aware of their roots, these artists use them, draw from them and offer us something really new, a vision that’s open to the world.
How do local residents view contemporary art?
The words “Africa” and “traditional” fail to encompass all the facets of today’s scene. Granted, uninformed members of the public are not always receptive to the innovative aspect of some works, but the role of the art world’s various players is precisely to show all its forms and expressions. South Africa and the Maghreb lead the way in this area with a host of galleries, museums and institutions. People there may already have a bit more savvy. Facilities and events like Dakar’s Raw Material Company cultural centre and Dak’art Biennial, Mali’s Rencontres de Bamako, Benin’s Zinsou Foundation or Abidjan’s Donwahi Foundation also help teach people how to see. For example, the gallery held a video exhibition in 2013. For most of the visitors, it was their first encounter with this medium as an art from. What matters is that the show raised people’s awareness and sparked discussions.
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