It is no secret that the vast majority of art produced in Africa does not remain on African soil. For the many Africans who grew up with this sorry fact of post-colonial existence, the closest one came to seeing the great artifacts of the Benin Kingdom was through reproductions in textbooks and on postcards. Sindika Dokolo is representative of a generation of Africans who see the preservation of the continent’s cultural heritage as both a collective duty and an individual right.
The Congolese entrepreneur began his collection of art in Luanda, Angola in 2004, with the aim of unveiling contemporary art to an African audience.
In its inaugural decade, the collector’s personal project has entered the public domain, and can now be thought of as a blueprint for building an African collection of contemporary art. With plans to establish a new museum, his Foundation may be a pragmatic answer to the problem of only seeing the majority of African artists shown abroad and seldom on the continent – addressing the historical deficit of knowledge on African art in Africa.
Dokolo’s initiative has enabled the Foundation to negotiate the conditions of cultural exchange between its vast collection and Western museums by insisting they also bring relevant exhibitions to the African continent. The Sindika Dokolo Foundation is symbolic of the structural growth of the Angolan economy, led by a public investment policy in infrastructure, energy, education, and more recently in the arts. While we may have wondered whether there is a distinct lack of interest in contemporary production on the part of Africa’s leaders, Africa’s cultural operators can lay claim to its strategic importance in the formulation of national policy.
And while the destruction of history may have swept away Africa’s cultural institutions and any knowledge of them, the unified vision of Africa captured in the future plans for a centre for contemporary art along with the triennial of contemporary art in Luanda (which will be held next year) tell a different story. Sindika Dokolo Foundation is countering the dominant narrative that suggests African modernisation is bound to failure, triggering new potentialities for cultural development.
OB: When was your first encounter with art?
SD: My parents introduced me to art at an early age. The art in our home, whether western or African, books about art, going to museums, have educated my eye and developed my sensitivity. I started to collect ancient African weapons when I was ten, thanks to my father and his good friend the Belgian collector Jean Cambier.
They both offered me pieces, and encouraged me to research about the context in which these art works had been produced. I discovered my own culture, through powerful artistic expressions by those such as the Songye, the Chokwe, or the Mangbetu people of the Congo.
I soon realised how important and instrumental these singular art forms had been in triggering the revolution of modern western art.
It is my strong belief that without the exposure to African art, Picasso, Matisse, Miró, Giacometti, Modigliani would not have developed their vision. Yet, to this day, African expression is still referred to as primitive, or tribal art at best.