Following the Luanda Leaks, one can’t but wonder about the fate of Sindika Dokolo’s collection of more than 3000 contemporary African art. Considered one of the most important contemporary African art collections, it includes works by William Kentridge, Zenele Muholi and Yinka Shonibare. It is frequently loaned out to major museums around the world with the precondition that the exhibition be replicated in Africa.
Advocate of African Art
Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman, art collector and active supporter of the repatriation of African art, was born in Kinshasa in 1972 to a Dutch mother and Congolese father who established the first bank in Congo. Dokolo grew up in Belgium and France. He returned to Congo in the late 1990s and later moved to Angola. In 2002, he married Isabel Dos Santos, daughter of the then president of Angola who had been ruling since 1976.
In 2004, Dokolo established the Sindika Dokolo Foundation through which he has participated in and supported numerous art festivals and exhibitions, including the Trienal de Luanda 2006, the 52nd Venice Biennale, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and 2017 edition of Documenta (where his generous donation of €340,000 supported the presence of African artists at the exhibition). The foundation has also been at the forefront of the campaign to repatriate African art and has facilitated the return of 17 artifacts.
Tainted or not?
Back in 2007 at the 52nd Venice Biennale, a report on the controversy surrounding the business activity of Dokolo’s family was published when the art show featuring Dokolo’s art holdings was selected to represent Africa. At the time, only the Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Toguo declined to participate in the biennale stating, “Under no circumstances whatever should my name be associated with that of Sindika Dokolo or the collection that he has put together over the years.”
But in the wake of recent copious evidence by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showing how decades of unscrupulous deals by Isabel dos Santos and Dokolo made Angola one of the poorest countries on earth, definitely it’s time for the art world to distance itself from Dokolo? Not for some. Talking to the French newspaper, Le Monde, curator Simon Njami, a long time art adviser to Sindika Dokolo, says,
“I refuse to howl with the wolves … As far as I know, Sindika was neither an arms dealer nor a drug peddler. As far as I know, he did not manage state-owned companies. Till proven otherwise, what I retain about him is that he is someone who promotes contemporary art in Africa, and that’s why I continue to have the utmost respect for his activity.”
Olu Oguibe whose work featured at the aforementioned 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007 had this to say,
“To the very best of my knowledge there were no allegations of any misconduct against Mr. Dokolo or his wife in 2015, 2016, or 2017. We’re all reading and watching these stories unfold, and given the way stories relating to Africa are typically scavenged and portrayed in the media, we’re earnestly hoping, also, that due diligence is done to all.”
For Franco-Ivorian Anna-Alix Koffi, publisher of the magazine, Something We Africans Got, generosity is everything,
“He [Dokolo] is a true lover of art, it’s not about opportunism. How many people would buy works of art for hundreds of thousands of euros and return them to their original countries? He is a champion of African art and, as such, I stand by his side.”
Even Barthélémy Toguo, who refused to exhibit with Dokolo’s collection at the Venice Biennale, has since revised his position. After allowing his Viennese gallery Mario Mauroner to sell his drawings to Dokolo, he’s quoted thus,
“I prefer to watch the action … What he does for contemporary art in Africa is commendable. We can ask questions today about many private collections donated to major museums. …If we start, we don’t get by.”
It seems only the quinquennial German art event, Documenta, has somewhat distanced itself from Dokolo. In a statement to Monopol, the artistic director of the 2017 edition, Adam Szymczyk said,
“Three years ago, when the Sindika Dokolo Foundation provided funding for Documenta 14, we were not aware of such potential problems related to the alleged misconduct of Mr. Dokolo’s wife. Had this been otherwise, we would certainly have given it the attention it deserved before entering into a partnership with the sponsor.”
Fate of the collection
With the freezing of dos-Santos and Dokolo’s assets in Angola—where his art collection is based, the collection will likely be seized by the government and directed towards Dokolo’s family debt to Angola. As with the disgraced Indian businessman and art collector Nirav Modi, charged with involvement in a $2 billion fraud scheme at India’s state-run Punjab National Bank, whose art collection is being sold by a private auction house on behalf of Indian government, Sindika Dokolo’s celebrated art collection may be coming to an auction block near you soon.
AFRICANS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO TRAVEL TO WESTERN MUSEUMS TO SEE THE ARTWORKS LOOTED FROM THEIR CONTINENT. Victor Ehikhamenor writes about how it felt to see the Benin bronzes at the British museum. “The work that left me the most dejected was the Queen Idia mask … It was like happening on a long-lost family member in a foreign country,” says the artist who represented Nigeria at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Once again, he calls for repatriation of African art being held hostage in foreign museums and institutions [New York Times]
SANTU MOFOKENG, CELEBRATED SOUTH AFRICAN PHOTOGRAPHER, PASSED AWAY LAST SUNDAY. Mofokeng was a critic of mainstream photojournalism, and of the ways black South Africans were represented internationally during SA’s political struggle. In the 1980s, he joined the Afrapix Collective that engaged in exposé and documentary photography of anti-apartheid resistance and social conditions. Mofokeng participated in the acclaimed 2002 edition of Documenta organized by Okwui Enwezor and was awarded the Prince Claus prize in 2009. He was 64. [ARTnews]
A GROUP OF FRENCH ART DEALERS TEAMED UP TO BUY 27 LOOTED AFRICAN ARTIFACTS AT AUCTION—SO THEY COULD RETURN THEM TO BENIN. This private initiative contrasts with the slow progress made by the French government and its big museums. The items, which include recades, sabers, and Fon objects of worship, will join the collection of the Petit Musée de la Récade, a small museum dedicated to ceremonial staffs in Abomey in Benin Republic. [artnet news]
ZEITZ MUSEUM DIRECTOR KOYO KOUOH LOOKS TO TRANSFORM SOUTH AFRICA’S ART SCENE. ARTnews looks at how the Cameroon-born curator and all-around advocate for African art is turning deficiency into opportunity at Zeitz. “I am very cognizant of the hurdles and difficulties, but I strongly believe that MOCAA is one of the most important art initiatives on the continent today—and can be turned into an important tool of conversation, negotiation, and preservation,” says Kouoh. [ARTnews]
BAMAKO ENCOUNTERS—A STRONG SHOW OF AFRICAN SOLIDARITY THAT MALI WILL REMEMBER. The 12th edition of the African Biennale of Photography closes today. Headed by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, this edition of the biennale is one of the largest to date. The artist list is equally expansive, with 85 artists and collectives who reflect a truly global and complex African experience and culture. [C&]
Featured Image: IncarNations: Africa Art As Philosophy, 2019. (Exhibition of 150 works from Sindika Dokolo’s collection) Courtesy of Brussels Express