Testo di Sindika Dokolo: arte, Triennale di Luanda e la collezione Sindika Dokolo

Inserito da iopensa il Mer, 2007-05-09 11:16

At present Africa faces the largest challenge in its long history – combatting underdevelopment; my anxiety about this stems from what appears to be a decrease in our individual self-confidence.

What is, I hope, only a temporary incapacity in finding a miraculous solution for the problems of our continent has created doubt and common feelings of guilt. We no longer dare to think, invent, decide our own future or demand a rightful place on the international stage. Our «underdevelopment complex» has provoked the emergence of self-censorship.

This process seems unstoppable. But as the African continent becomes more impoverished, it demands more understanding and help. However, solutions that cannot be sustained only encourage dependence and, as a result, Africans, whatever their social condition, know that they “have to be helped”. This complex has spread throughout society like a paralysing dart, and had sapped the moral fibre we need to be in a position to envision and create our own destiny.

Superficial solutions are not enough because they preclude any option for structural development. It is necessary, therefore to create, a firm foundation that relates not only to basic human realities but also to questions of identity and self-esteem.

It is evident that access to education and health, as well as awareness of environmental issues, are an important part of this,but I think that culture is absolutely fundamental in determining how we may formulate a structured response to the problems of underdevelopment.

It is not widely known that the cultural budgets of many African countries are relatively large in proportion to their available resources but, paradoxically, art is still often regarded as a marginal accessory rather than as something of great strategic importance to the formulation of State policy.

Unfortunately in Africa, art is an activity in which the phenomenon of «dependence» reaches its height. With rare exceptions, the contemporary art world here is not very African, neither in its philosophical and sociological contexts nor in its infrastructure, means of financial support, collectors and organization of events. We are not in control of our own cultural domain and this has an impact on the content of our artistic production.

The artist produces what is expected by his clients just as if he were pulling a rabbit out of a hat. In suchcases art stops being the expression of what it could be but becomes more what the perceptions of others, foreign to the culture, determine it should be. This explains the second rate exoticism of much of the art recently made in the Democratic Republic of Congo even though the potential for producing expressive, complex and audacious works is there. These artists have become little more than artisans and their aesthetic and style favors superficial decoration to the detriment of the true added value of art.

In order that there should be no misunderstanding, my purpose here is not to criticize the help we have received nor to revile cultural partners working with Africa. In the absence of any alternative, in this cultural initiative for which we hold the responsibility, we cannot but welcome the interest that is directed towards us. The severity of my analysis seeks above all for the development of a collective awareness of the problems.

The different ways in which we all participate in cultural life will always present fundamental challenges. We must stimulate creativity so that we can establish a place in the contemporary world by making projects that explore and question issues of identity and aesthetics. We must not leave it to others to tell us who we are or, particularly, what we will never become.

The very idea that in the twenty first century, the African contribution to the history of world art should be reduced to the level of decorative craftmanship makes my blood run cold – or maybe the opposite – it makes it boil! We have to get moving ourselves, both artists and public – including the Government, education, museums, galleries, Academies of Fine Art and collectors – in short, the whole of society. If we cannot tell the world who we are, if we do not show them the best of what we are capable, we will never see an end to incomprehension, condescension and prejudice.

This alarming picture of Africa, at both a continental and national level, reveals the exceptional importance of the first trienal of contemporary art. The Trienal de Luanda engages directly with the situation I have just described by creating a specifically angolan cultural politics in which the individual is firmly placed back at the center of a strategy for development.

The Trienal de Luanda, the first one will take place this year (2006), questions the usual mechanisms by which culture in Africa has been promoted. Conceived, developed and financed by both private and public sectors, it will highlight the work of those artists, curators and producers who have been responsible for showing both to Africa and the world at large the high level and diversity of African art. Angola will not only become a cultural center within Africa but will also have a strong international impact.

When deciding to build a collection of contemporary art in Luanda our main objective is to show these worked which are all linked to Africa in some way to as broad a public as possible without any arbitrary limitations. By creating a center of contemporary art in Luanda, we hope that this will not only support cultural production at home but also help to integrate Angola into international cultural networks. We are doing this because we regard access to art to be just as basic and legitimate a human right as access to education, drinking water and health.

The timing seems to be right. The virtual invisibility of African art in the contemporary scene to date has, paradoxically, created an appetite for it, while the art market has also shown its strong interest, even if the work itself is sometimes a little over ambitious or structured.

While contemporary artists as Ghada Amer, Yinka Shonibare, Kendell Geers, Marlène Dumas, Billi Bidjocka, Chris Ofili, Olu Oguibe, William Kentridge, quietly and rigorously, producing complex, multilayered works reflecting on who they are while exploring different aspects of their relationship with Africa; these have been shown in different world centers such as Johannesburg, London, Dakar, New York, Cairo and Paris. The relevance of this approach, supported by the artistic quality of their work, has ensured that subsequently they have been seen in such international forums as Documenta in Kassel, the Venice Biennale, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, or at the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It is precisely such work that also constitutes the center of gravity of the Sindika Dokolo Collection. But the initiative of showing this collection in Luanda prior to the opening of the Trienal is also a political action.

We have consciously chosen to create an African collection of contemporary art rather than a collection of contemporary African art and in doing this are challenging the usual cultural and artistic standards that have so far prevailed. This is not a collection created in the South but based on the North. Africans know virtually nothing about their own contemporary cultural context, and for this reason we have decided to base the Sindika Dokolo Collection in Africa at the very epicenter of its creativity and imagination. Any international museum that is interested in any aspect of the Collection will therefore have to participate to participate in an inversion of the normal cultural flows and, as a result, will contribute to the organization of African cultural projects within Africa as well as in the world.

It is our conviction that culture is a fundamental right for all people and that the right to artistic freedom as inscribed in our Constitution is equally fundamental.

The collection also contains a number of works by Angolan artists. “Soso Lax”: http://www.soso-arte.net/ has played a central role in this acquisition strategy by encouraging young talented artists in developing their work and, as part of this, a virtuous circle linking public, private collectors and artists is gradually improving artistic production at both national and continental levels. Eminent art world personalities have engaged in exhibitions and discussions in Luanda, transforming the city in a cultural platform for the whole continent.

The multiplication of private collections, the success of exhibitions, the participation and enthusiasm of children and students in several Soso Lax projects, all these are signs enough of a true cultural renaissance and convince us that this development is well founded.

By promoting the culture of beauty and intelligence in our continent, we are paying tribute to the humanity of all Africans. Through this gargantuan cultural effort, starting with those Governments that are confronted every day by the challenge of the fight against poverty and underdevelopment, we celebrate the humanity in every one of us. Africa must look after and nurture itself.

From the regard and admiration of others an awareness of our own value has been born. But you may ask: is Luanda really capable of becoming the capital of contemporary art in Africa within 5 years? This is our challenge. The creation of the Center for Contemporary Art is not only a symbol but also a necessary fact in the social development of Angolan and African culture.

Sindika Dokolo,
Luanda, May 2006