The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
Art collector and business man Sindika Dokolo created the Sindika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art in 2004 with the artist Fernando Alvim. The collection now holds 5,000 works which span from ethnographic art, and tribal masks, to more contemporary pieces from William Kentridge, Ghada Amer to Chris Ofili, Marlene Dumas and Yinka Shonibare.
The foundation is run on the basis that contemporary African art should be accessible to Africans and have an impact on their lives. Recently the foundation has acquired two ancestral female masks from the Pwo tribe and a statue representative of the male figure of the Chokwe people from private European collections. These pieces of art originally belonged to the Dundo Museum in north-eastern Angola, which saw many of its artefacts disappear during the civil war. Their purchase by the foundation means they’ll now return to Africa.
So far the Fundação Sindika Dokolo has initiated 590 events on the continent and supported 55,000 children in educational programmes.
Why are you on this crusade for the looted Chokwe Masks to be returned to the Dundo Museum in Angola?
We realised that although the museum had been completely restored and rehabilitated after the war, none of the masterpieces of African art were there. So, along with my friend Tao Kerefoff, who is an amazing Parisian dealer specialising in classical art, we started working on the archives of Marie-Louise Bastin.
Marie-Louise Bastin is a Belgian lady who passed away in the year 2000. She is still considered the greatest specialist of Chokwe art and culture, having spent an incredible amount of time in the Dundo region, doing ethnological work, studying the art, language and music of the Chokwe people. We realised that her archives contained a lot of pictures of important artworks that were once housed in the museum. These pictures of pieces that were in the museum led us to a logical conclusion. If they were not in the Dundo Museum, then they were probably somewhere on the market.
Save for a few notable exceptions like the Ife Museum in Nigeria, there were no masterpieces of classical African art on the African continent.
I’ve been into art for a long time, and I’ve been a collector for a long time. My father had initiated me to classical African art, back when I was a young child. So I realised that some of these pieces were priceless. I think the last transaction on the open market for one of these pieces might have been around 20 or 30 million dollars, and I was really amazed that, save for a few notable exceptions like the Ife Museum in Nigeria, there were no masterpieces of classical African art on the African continent.
The other part of it was that, in general, Africans have no idea of the contribution of our culture to the art world. So I thought it was an important objective to try to put together a system that would enable us to work on the archives so that one can find out how many works are missing, and then try to find them and put together a mechanism that would enable us to bring these masterpieces back home.
You are one of the few Africans collecting masterpieces. Why do so few successful Africans collect art?
Very few Africans have been introduced to African art. That was an objective of our foundation when we first started collecting contemporary African art. We felt that it made no sense that young Africans had to go abroad in order to be introduced to, or engage with the creations of contemporary African artists. There was nothing happening in Africa. If you look at all the big collections, if you look at the big things that are happening in art, you see a few in Johannesburg and in South Africa, you see some dynamics in Ghana and Nigeria. And the rest is Livingstone’s dark continent.
There are so few Africans who can name three important ethnic groups that are recognised, respected and valued around the art world
There was something that needed to be done, in terms of providing an opportunity for the wider public to engage naturally with this form of art. There are so few Africans who can name three important ethnic groups that are recognised, respected and valued around the art world. The only Africans that I know who can name five ethnic groups are my kids. I am generalising, of course, but we know that there is a huge disconnect between the importance of this art, and its established value. This is due to the lack of information, so we need to solve this problem. This problem is much deeper than the debate around aesthetics.
Who is your African of the year?
Samuel Eto’o. And not just because he’s a good friend. I’ve heard and I’ve read interviews with him, and what I like is that he has managed to become extremely successful without compromising in any way. He is one of the few Africans evolving in environments that are not controlled by Africans, who has remained very comfortable with who he is. He is comfortable with his values, with his ideas, and at the same time he has clear judgments on everything that surrounds him. He doesn’t try to be accepted by the audience, and he always tells it the way it is. That means he is the center of gravity of his own self, and that is something that is very difficult, and very rare for any African, especially for one that lives abroad.
I am speaking about Eto’o the man, the man who has had to deal with all the politics involved in football, which is so competitive.
I am speaking about Eto’o the man, the man who has had to deal with all the politics involved in football, which is so competitive. And with all that, he still manages to tell it like it is. He calls people out, he will say that this person is unprofessional, that this person is a liar, that he doesn’t want to work with this person, that he refuses to engage in this or that. I think this is very strong, and sets a great example for young Africans.
And on top of that, he scores goals.
Visit the fondation-sindikadokolo.com
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