Thursday, May 18, 2006

African Painters

I been working on this project for nearly a decade now but Africa is merely an abstract idea. Imagine a continent that holds the entire human race. Who wouldn’t have an opinion? Who wouldn’t want to say how things should be done? Regardless of being black, white or brown everybody is interested in the development of Africa. It seems to hit a key-note with the world. Who could possibly charter all the events happening on this immense continent. The artists living, dying and yet to be born? Africa’s contemporary has yet to be defined. Where does it starts and ends? Which country started first? What I hated to hear was that world famous artists were and are dying drunkards’, facedown in the still muddy streets they have tried to develop. I just wanted to take on this mammoth task because of those that I would meet along the way. Jack Mapanje, Ibrahim El Salahi, Iba N’Diaye and his wife Francine Ronald Jung and wife Doris over in Germany. Soly Cisse and N’Dary Lo in a bar in Brussels Elisabeth at the October Gallery, not to mention the King of Africa, Charly D’Almeida from the Republic of Benin and the Queen Suzanne Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso. The best I can do is pass on an opinion and try and start the ball rolling in the right direction.

My introduction into this arena of "Art of a Continent" was greeted with great applause and warm welcome but before too long those that where interested in me soon realised that I wasn’t a millionaire businessman or part of the British Council or UK Arts Fund and in fact I was just another Joe. In doing research over the past decade I have come to realise numerous people have given this idea a good go but unfortunately have failed dismally. This is not for want of trying but this is a project not for the faint hearted. Barriers have been set up. It becomes more obvious the more you wade in. You can feel all around you a comfortable sense of pure failure. Misery and despair a constant. After all Africa is seen as a charity. Charity Africa.

I put on a show in Brixton, “Living with Voodoo” – probably one of the best shows never seen in the United Kingdom. The Exhibition was about the importance of mysticism to those living in West Africa with works by Suzanne, Charly, Grek, Emmanuel Kavi - beaded work by JB and painted plywood by Twins Seven Seven from the Oshogobo school. Black and white photography, on the ceremonies in Republic of Benin by me, Joe Pollitt. I was keen to share the experiences I had had in the Republic of Benin with the healing herbs but my path was full of barriers. The Voice gave me a no show and The Guardian, Standard and Time Out…well for them it was all too far out. BBC London Radio rang me on the last night of the month long exhibition. In the studio was the Metropolitan Police Inspector on the Adam - Torso in the Thames - case…what possible chance did I have…? Why I was so keen to put this exhibition on was that the herbs of the Republic of Benin had reduced the tumours in my neck. Having and still having Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma - a Cancer of sorts - I travelled with my growing tumours to a land of healing. I thought the world would be interested in traditional values and the herbs of West Africa but I suppose it really was asking too much. Looking back I see Africa as a journey of immense self-discovery and best taken alone.

A few weeks later I remember vividly going into Bonhams in Knightsbridge in 2003 and discussing contemporary African art with the sales girl. I wont mention her name. I was so excited about talking and showing the art of Suzanne Ouedraogo, a wonderful artist from Burkina Faso whose work focus’ on the issues surrounding women of West Africa. Suzanne is one of the most important female figures in West African art circles but to Bonhams she was a nobody.

“African art!?…Weee could organise a Charity Auction, I suppose. There’s really no interest in African art, you see.” Came the spluttering blurb of this blond-haired upper class twit. To which, I quickly responded, “Africa doesn’t need Charity she needs, ‘Respect’. We need to support women like Suzanne in the world otherwise what good is the art that is actually being produced on this troubled Continent, if all we see is the censored versions of the truth. What is shown is the sponsored commercial junk art being produced mainly outside of Africa."

Disappointed and rejected, I left Bonhams that evening and the very next day I started building the African Painters website.

No interest in Africa! No interest in the creation of contemporary societies in 53 different countries? This is not a niche market place, in fact the African Art Market should be the majority in the World Art Market. No wonder there are so many barriers to entry! This is the emerging Art Market. To ignore it would be foolish. To embrace it would be advisable.

2 comments:

V said...

i totally agree what you said about the bohemian. maybe its because they really want to be affiated with that europian lifesytle.. glamor and their vanity...yes they are out of it... my what i mean it.. i mean their minds.... its a cultural gap..

Malam Bala said...

hi, i am looking for publications/bibliographical entries of the Musée Dynamique of Dakar, Senegal, which closed down in the 1980s.

best regards
wen