French Gallerist Cecile Fakhoury On The Contemporary African Art Scene
Abidjan, Dakar and Paris: the Ivory Coast-based art gallery owner Cécile Fakhoury today runs three eponymous spaces in three different world capitals dedicated to artists from the African continent, defending the voices that she is passionate about. I sit down with the daughter of Parisian gallerists Laure and Hervé Péron to discuss the contemporary African art scene.
How has the contemporary African art scene evolved over the past decade?
Since 2012, in Abidjan, I have observed a constant evolution of the contemporary African art scene, even if it is not easy to deal with in a general way. Each country on the continent has developed in a different way, but we can note that several scenes have emerged these last 10 years. We can use Morocco, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast or even specifically Senegal as examples where we can observe an increasing number of projects going in this direction.
Why is the international art community finally turning its long overdue attention to Africa? Is there still some ways to go before buyers recognize its value?
Overall, I would say that African artists are still undervalued; there is a fantastic margin for progression. However, I envisage the increase in prices will depend on the artists’ path thus far, the evolution of the East Coast that has an impact on their career and our role at the gallery to make sure that the artists’ work is well placed in public and private collections and that they participate in meaningful, quality exhibitions. All this in-depth work can build an artist’s reputation, and today this dynamic is possible because there is a growing interest in creation linked to the continent, and this has been the case for several years. A number of different elements have come together to enable the development of this interest, such as the growth of structures that promote artistic creation and the art market on the African continent. For example, the appearance of specialized fairs and large-scale exhibitions related to African creation. These events give the public the keys to understanding these artistic scenes, leading them to become interested in them, then to buy their art and support the continuation of their creation. Today, we observe that this interest is growing among international collectors and institutions, but also among collectors, institutions and important cultural decision-makers on the continent.
Who are the biggest buyers of contemporary African art today?
There are very beautiful collections of contemporary African art on the continent, and the largest collections are probably based in Africa, which is very encouraging, I think this market will not just be a “trend” or “in vogue”. If these artistic structures come from Africa, and originate from market players on the continent, I think that there will be a willingness to build a local fabric together that is strong enough to resist what could look like a passing fad. The international market is obviously very buoyant, and we have passionate and committed collectors who support the work of our artists. It’s great to be able to create bridges and dynamics in collections that are not at all specialized. Many of the gallery’s collectors are discovering contemporary art linked to the continent and it’s a fascinating story to write with them. It is a privileged moment to be able to forge new links.
Which categories or themes of contemporary African art are registering the most interest from collectors?
I find it difficult to talk about categories or themes. It is still said a lot that contemporary African art is often naive and colorful, but this is not true. There is a trend towards black figurative representation, coming from the United States, but it is so much larger than that.
Which are the three most interesting contemporary African artists to collect today whom you feel have the greatest potential, and why?
To preach for my parish, I will name three artists: one young artist, one mid-career artist and one established artist. Despite their different career levels, all three still have a lot of room for development. A young Beninese artist, Roméo Mivekannin, rewrites history on large sheets using iconography linked to colonization and art history. He seizes on clichés that stigmatize the black man, transforming a narrative that is both common and intimate. He tackles subjects that are essential today, at the heart of debates. Cheikh Ndiaye is a Senegalese artist who paints society through its architecture. He is witness to a time, to an era, he tells an essential story that is not seen or heard, bringing a very accurate reading of the African continent. Cheikh’s work is very well collected: he is today in large public and private collections. Ouattara Watts is a major artist of the contemporary art scene who carries a strong history. His paintings are very charged with great power, and he has had a work bought by the MoMA of New York.