With ARTsouthAFRICA’s focus on creating and highlighting positive change in the art world, we spoke to Caline Chagoury Moudaber, founder and director of Art Twenty One and Echo Art in Lagos, Nigeria about her vision to develop new platforms for emerging and established artists.
This interview appears in full in the ‘Painting’s Not Dead!’ Issue (13.4) of ARTsouthAFRICA – on shelves at a store near you! You will also be able to read this exclusive content in the August Digital Issue (FREE download here for Apple and here for Android).
ARTsouthAFRICA: Please tell us more about your background in photography and documentary film – did it contribute to your participation in launching the LagosPhoto Festival in 2010, and what exactly was your role in the project?
Caline Chagoury Moudaber: I studied Film & Media and International Affairs at the American University in Paris with the goal to make documentary films. While working on a project after graduation, I decided to take a photography course at Speos in Paris and fell in love with photojournalism and the world of photography.
After photography school, I learned about the LagosPhoto Festival and was on the next flight to Lagos to help launch it. I partnered with African Artists’ Foundation to launch the Festival and at the time, my role was all encompassing. Photographers were on board, so we had to work on selection, curating the exhibition, finding a location for the festival, securing sponsorship, and every other detail to get the festival up and running.
Your motivation for Echo Art and Art Twenty One stems from your interest in positioning and promoting the value of contemporary art across Africa. Please tell us more about Echo Art, and how it functions as an arts consultancy firm to further your vision?
Echo Art is an art consulting and management company focusing on the African art scene. The firm functions primarily to manage artists and promote them, help collectors build their art collection, and to help position Lagos as a center for the arts. We currently represent Olu Amoda and Gerard Quenum, and work with many different artists on different projects. Echo Art’s first major project was the opening of Art Twenty One in 2013 (located at Eko Hotel & Suites). It is an art space and platform dedicated to contemporary art in Lagos. We have recently expanded to international art fairs, including Art Dubai, 1:54 London, 1:54 New York, and the FNB Joburg Art Fair.
The programming at Art Twenty One includes contemporary art, cultural practice and educational art programmes. Could you elaborate on these three pillars?
Each of these pillars informs the other – it is about creating a space where contemporary art in Nigeria can flourish. It has been exciting to see what the artists we have exhibited here have done with the space. Artists in Lagos are always limited by their exhibition space; there is a general lack of adequate exhibition venues here. With Art Twenty One, the artists are able to think without these limitations, and in doing so they are able to experiment with new kinds of practices. The goal of Art Twenty One is also to be and become a space for the public – through discussions, artist presentations, and related events that bring the art community together.
A combination of local and international projects build and develop the contemporary art scene in Lagos, while also giving artists significant exposure abroad that can lead to more opportunities and further their practice.
Art Twenty One is “designed to make art accessible to a large and growing audience.” Indeed, we are seeing the rise of a new generation of collectors and audiences in Africa – in your experience as a gallery founder and art consultant, what advice would you give to these audiences and emerging collectors?
My advice would be to be curious, to be informed about the growing art scene on the continent, to contact people in the know who can help guide them in finding works that they will appreciate, and artists who are building their careers. And of course, to not be afraid to buy art from the continent. Contemporary art from Africa is in the international spotlight – this is the perfect time to invest. Also, always buy works you love. You can never go wrong.
Part of Art Twenty One’s mandate is to give artists the tools to position themselves in the local and international art sphere. How would you describe these ‘tools,’ and how do you seek to provide them?
One of the tools is Art Twenty One as a space that provides an exhibition platform in Lagos, allowing the artists to create a dialogue with a public. Another tool is our helping artists connect and work with galleries, projects and exhibitions internationally. In general, artists would prefer to do their work and let someone else worry about the business side of things. It is important that they have the chance to be in that position and we are happy to help any way we can, from legal advice to career choices and financial help.
As someone who works as a catalyst and agent for an emerging and growing art market in Africa, what are some of the trends you’ve seen? How do you think this market can be harnessed and nurtured?
There is a growing interest in art from the continent as international auction houses such as Bonhams and Piasa hold sales specifically for this market and art fairs like 1:54 bring galleries and artists from the continent to the forefront of the art world and to a wider collector base.
There is obviously an international interest in what is happening in Africa, which is wonderful. However, I also believe the way to harness and nurture this market is to have powerful galleries on the continent, to have collectors from the continent investing in art, to have museums and foundations, better schools for the arts – all on the continent. We cannot have the rest of the world opening up to art from Africa without African countries having the means to back it up.
There are so many people doing great work already, regardless of the challenges they meet. It will take private and public funding, hard work, patience, and stronger fairs, biennales, and festivals to keep growing in the right direction.
Finally, what should we expect from Art Twenty One – in the short term and looking broadly into the future?
We will continue to showcase emerging talent from Nigeria,West Africa, the rest of the continent, and from abroad, while also building on our international platforms so that the world can experience the talent of our artists here and Lagos can experience the talent of artists from abroad.
Exciting things are happening in the African art world, we are excited to be a part of this movement and hope the rest of the world is paying close attention.