Sindika Dokolo, By Sue Williamson

Sindika Dokolo, By Sue Williamson

Sindika Dokolo

The experience of viewing Jean-Michel Basquiat’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece, Pharynx (1985), was a critical factor in the transformation of Congolese businessmen and entrepreneur Sindika Dokolo from being an art lover with a small collection of work, to a major collector of contemporary art, with a focus on African artists. Dokolo grew up in Kinshasa, surrounded by his banker father’s collection of 19th century Congolese art. However, unexpectedly viewing Pharynx at the home of a private collector some years ago, was, says Dokolo, «like an electric shock, exposing me forcefully to the strength of contemporary African art, to an energy that seemed to transcend time and space and to explode off the canvas.»

«It is what Basquiat called ‹cultural memory›,» continues Dokolo. «He who never set foot on our continent. He said, ‹I am an artist who suffered the influence of the New York context. Yet I have a cultural memory I do not need to search for. It exists. It is there, in Africa.› Being myself the fruit of so many cultures, I am perhaps more sensitive to this energy, the coexistence of two experiences, one innate and one acquired.»

In 2005 Dokolo bought the entire Hans Bogatzke collection from the heirs of the German businessman. Bogatzke, of Hugo Boss fame, had amassed a substantial collection of contemporary African art before his collapse after the New York attacks led to a coma, and his eventual death. The heirs wished to sell the collection and, as Bogatzke had once said that he would like to see it end up on African soil, his art consultant Fernando Alvim put the proposal to young collector Sindika Dokolo.

Alvim is an Angolan artist, curator and publisher who opened and was the director of Camouflage, a gallery in Brussels, which played an important role in introducing young artists from Africa to a European art audience. He returned to Luanda in 2003 with the idea of reinvigorating the culture of his war-torn homeland. His proposition to Dokolo was not only that the cultural value of the collection was unique, but that it would become part of the national Angolan patrimony. Work from the collection will play a key role in the first Trienal de Luanda, opening this March, and post Trienal, will be housed in a new Centre of Contempo-rary Art in the city. Thus, work of top international quality will be on display for a public which is just beginning to throng the streets again and enjoy life after 27 years of civil war, which came to an end following the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002.

Until now, the international art world has paid scant attention to Luanda, a lively coastal city with a Portuguese colonial heritage. Alvim, who conceptualised the forthcoming Trienal, and his fellow organizers are hoping that the Trienal will give Luanda a new presence in the art world. Laurie Ann Farrell of the Museum for African Art in New York will coordinate the American participation, and others who have confimed their attendance include sociologist Edgar Morin, curator Simon Njami and Professor Henry Louis Gates. It will undoubtedly be an important moment in contemporary African art.

The Trienal will invite more than 60 artists from Angola, Africa and the rest of the world to Luanda for the event, and the work of 26 of the artists from the Sindika Dokolo Collection will play a key role. The collection includes work by many of the artists from Africa who have become prominent in global art circles in the last decade, such as Berni Searle, who recently took part in Performa 05 in New York, and South African artist William Kentridge, who is represented by a full catalogue of his videos. Many of the other artists are also represented by more than one major work, including Pascale Marthine Tayou, Moshekwa Langa, Kendell Geers, Olu Oguibe and Kay Hassan. Additional works in the collection include Yinka Shonibare’s photographic series Diary of a Victorian Dandy (1998); Ingrid Mwangi’s Wild Life (1999), Masked (2000) and Waiting Room (1998); Bili Bidjocka’s Le Principe et la Faim (1996); Willem Boshoff’sGarden of Words (1982–1997); and works from Zwelethu Mthethwa’s Sacred Homes series (2002).

Outstanding pieces will continue to be added to the collection. At present almost all the work is by artists from Africa or the Diaspora, but Sindika Dokolo is equally interested in works of art that appeal to the African imagination such as those of Jean Du Buffet, the Spanish artist Miquel Barceló, (already in the collection) and Jean Michel Basquiat.

«My perception of Africanity in art is not a question of a flag or of geography», says Dokolo. «In the field of contemporary art, it blows like a breath of fresh air with an energy that nourishes me and which I wish to cultivate in all of my collection. It provides a domain where Africans affirm their point of view about this century, a space which the great Senegalese poet and statesman Leopold Senghor has called ‹the meeting place of give and receive›.»