“Everyone brings their own stone”: when French and African museums work hand in hand

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The Museum of Black Civilizations, in Dakar, in November 2018.

More than a prompt, it was an injunction, kind but firm. On October 20, during a cocktail party organized at the Elysee Palace on the occasion of the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC), after having listed some African artists exhibited in Paris, greeted the gallerists of the first hour who defend this scene like the new arrivals, Emmanuel Macron urged the heads of institutions to strengthen their links with Africa, before releasing in English, in front of an international audience: « Africa is so important for us ! »

Franck Paris, his Africa adviser, confirms this: “The president seizes every opportunity to encourage our cultural operators to engage with African operators or artists, each time insisting on the partnership dimension, in accordance with the spirit of the“ Africa2020 ”season and the methodology advocated by [sa commissaire] N’Goné Fall. »

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Laurent Le Bon, new president of the Pompidou center, has heard the lesson. “I want to insist, because it is the meaning of our history, on Africa, that we have neglected in recent years, he said on October 21 at his first press conference. I believe that fundamentally, it is impossible to set up Pompidou centers in Africa, that does not make sense. On the other hand, a renewed partnership policy, yes. “

Restore “the importance of Africa in the history of art”

While he was director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, Laurent Le Bon had organized in 2017 an exhibition of the Spanish painter at the Mohammed-VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, in Rabat. He also planned to exhibit, at the end of 2019, around thirty works by the Andalusian master at the Musée des civilizations de Côte d’Ivoire, in Abidjan, with the support of Quai-Branly.

It is finally in Dakar, at the Museum of Black Civilizations (MCN), that this exhibition will be held, from 1is April 2022. With the passing of a major change: it is no longer a question of parachuting Pablo Picasso in Africa, but of organizing a co-production exhibition. The project “Picasso in Dakar, 1972-2022” will explore, in about thirty pieces, the correspondence between the work of the master of cubism and African art objects.

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Already in 1972, Picasso was the subject of an exhibition at the Dynamic Museum in Dakar. But at the time, says Hélène Joubert, co-curator of the exhibition, “There was no loan from French museums”. This time, in addition to the Picasso museum, two other institutions are around the table: the Quai-Branly, which will send fourteen African objects, and the Théodore-Monod museum of African art, housed within the Cheikh-University. Anta-Diop from Dakar, which lends half a dozen works as well as documents. “The exhibition restores the importance of Africa in the history of art, rejoices Malik Ndiaye, young director of the Théodore-Monod museum. The center becomes Dakar and not Paris, London or New York. “

The exhibition thus lays the foundations for a new mode of collaboration between French and African museums, which no longer involves a simple circulation of exhibitions or loans of works. “We worked together on the concept and the choice of works, without a point of view being imposed, confides Hamady Bocoum, director of the MCN. This is not a turnkey exhibit or a copy and paste. Everyone brings their own stone to the building. “

“For some time, relations have been rebalanced”

For a year and a half, the Grand Palais-Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN) in Paris, for its part, has been working on the “1966 Dakar Paris” exhibition, scheduled for the site to be reopened after works, in 2025. A group of research was set up, consisting in particular of emissaries from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (United States), Koyo Kouoh, director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in Africa, in Cape Town (South Africa), and Pap Ndiaye , general manager of the Palais de la Porte Dorée, in Paris, and Malik Ndiaye, of the Théodore-Monod museum.

Its starting point? A critical reconstruction of the “Negro Art” exhibition, which, after being held in Dakar as part of the first World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966, was presented in the national galleries of the Grand Palais. The hanging confronted African ritual objects with works by Picasso, Atlan or Modigliani. “Africa, in this dialogue, did not remain silent, did not come empty-handed”, then wrote Senegalese President Léopold Sedar Senghor in the preface to the exhibition catalog, laying down, six decades ago, the beginnings of a cultural dialogue that was slow to materialize.

“The“ Dakar Paris ”exhibition did not fall from the sky”, observes Chris Dercon, boss of the Grand Palais-RMN, who has long looked towards Africa, especially under the leadership of his friend, the late Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor. “A whole world of culture takes the African continent very seriously. Maybe it was a world At the same time, we just had to wait until he could take power to change the course of museums. “

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Malik Ndiaye recognizes it, a ” new era ” opens: “For a long time, my colleagues complained about a certain paternalism. For some time now, relations have been rebalanced, we are not in unilateral cooperation. The projects are not born in Europe and are not balanced in Africa. “

The development of equipment meeting international standards, such as the MCN or the Adama-Toungara Museum of Contemporary Cultures, in Abidjan, has greatly contributed to this. “A new mode of operation was in the pipeline during the international MCN prefiguration conference organized in 2016”, decrypts Hamady Bocoum, recalling this principle: “We don’t get what we don’t want. “ A principle that is all the more viable as the museum now has “The embarrassment of choice in the partners”.

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“Everyone brings their own stone”: when French and African museums work hand in hand