Guillaume Piens explains the purpose of the fair: “Displaying the works that have never been shown in Paris.” After focusing on South Korea in 2016, this year the fair offers an eclectic selection of 21 galleries, featuring African artists. Among them, 14 galleries are based in Africa and 7 are based in Europe, presenting a group of artists from both North and Sub-Saharan Africa as diasporas.
The focus on Africa is placed in a rich array of events, including the multi-disciplinary “100% Afrique Festival” at La Villette, “L’Afrique des Routes” at the Musée du Quai Branly and the upcoming Louis Vuitton Foundation exhibition, which will present the collection of Jean Pigozzi, included nearly 10,000 works discovered largely by André Magnin, who is also present at the show.
While there is a new trend turning to the West and North America in the Western art market, it is important to remember that it took years before it is possible. London’s niche art fair 1:54 makes France seem behind in the race of art fairs; however, the different variety of African galleries offered in Art Paris Art Fair allow us to catch up the race.
Marie-Ann Yemsi, who piloted the African focus of the fair is delighted by her enthusiasm, while tempering it. “Rather than talking about fashion, I think it’s more about catching up. We were lagging behind compared to other European countries, like Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom … not to mention the United States.” Guillaume Piens and Marie-Ann Yemsi preferred to mix the African galleries with the other participants at the fair, rather than segregate the galleries based on their locations.
The Best-known Signatures
Among the 21 galleries that feature African artists, some have chosen to showcase the most renowned artists. For an example, André Magnin offers visitors the opportunity to review pieces they have seen during the exhibition “Beauté Congo” in 2015 at the Cartier Foundation as he was the curator of the exhibition. There are the colorful and burlesque paintings of Moké, a painter and journalist who has focused his career on the streets of Kinshasa; the famous sappers of J-P Mika in western costumes which take on the characteristic motifs of Congolese fabrics or Chéri Samba, the flagship artist of the contemporary African scene. The Parisian gallery Françoise Livinec has also concentrated on artists from Congo. For Art Paris Art Fair, she presents a series of historical paintings by the artist of the Atelier du Hangar Mwenze Kibwanga, which used framing techniques to represent animal scenes. Another European gallery that has chosen to showcase an African artist: the London gallery October which features works by the “the most expensive artist of Africa”, the Ghanaian El Anatsui whose work gives life to disqualified items. At the Abidjan MAM gallery, artists from the post-1960s are also exhibited, such as the Senegalese Soly Cissé, who became famous for his collages and his characters tortured by doubt.
Still among the best known signatures, Rachid Koraïchi is exhibited by the Franco-Chinese A2Z gallery. The Algerian-origin artist known for his work the Invisible Masters is inspired largely by the Sufi mystical masters: a dialogue between art and prayer to question life. Another problem, another country: Kendell Geers whose DNA gallery of Barcelona exposes one of the pieces of his polymorphous work. Finally, in homage to Ousmane Sow, the gallery Bogéna of Saint-Paul-de-Vence offers works of the Senegalese artist who died during the winter.
Emerging Artists and Galleries
Conversely, other galleries preferred to give voice to emerging African artists. Among the latter, Wahib Chehata, a Parisian artist of Tunisian origin, takes up the black-and-white Caravaggio and the traditional scenes of Renaissance Italian painting for his photographs. His characters are beggars crossed spontaneously in the streets of Bamako which he then staged in front of a black cloth. Further on, the young Art Twenty One gallery in the Promises sector – opened in 2014 in Nigeria – presents the works of Namsa Leuba. Here again, the dialogue between African and Western cultures is present. The young woman tries in her photographs to reconcile “identities in permanent struggle (…) in a form of cultural syncretism”. At the 50 Golborne gallery from London, an electro-fetish by Beninese artist Emo de Medeiros welcomes visitors – a digital offering made using a smartphone calls them to adventure.
“Landscapes of the Body”, the video program dedicated to African artists and projected in the central aisle will thus enable the 50,000 visitors expected this week to discover the diversity of African voice in our contemporary time. With this focus, Art Paris Art Fair is a new opportunity to see that the production of African artists is plural, as do the identities of the continent.