Simon Njami, November 2011
A contemporary art fair is not an event like the others. As its name suggests, if it is in the field of art, the fair is not thereby less on the edge of artistic creation in the sense that it presents finished artwork, ready to be placed on the market.
The necessary thinking, therefore, is related to the nature of the "product" which is thus presented to an audience that is both composed of professionals and amateurs. The difference between a fair and a museum exhibition is not only in the fact that in one, the visitor can walk away with the artwork or object that will be enjoyed while in the other, he must just be a spectator. The museum, institution usually with public funds, has a reputation for integrity, as part of the field of pure reflection and taken place in democracy, while the market usually causes some suspicions related to the fantasy visibility and handling money.
What are forces that make the same art-object, seen in the halls of a museum or displayed for sale in a renowned gallery, radically changes its nature?
The life of a artwork is like any other life, except that certain works can reach a way to immortality. In addition, therefore, the significant dimension of finitude which opposes human life to that of a painting, a sculpture or installation, the artwork active mechanisms of its own and his life goes through quasi initiatory steps that took it from birth to the consecration, which we call here to draw a parallel with human life, maturity. The distance between its implementation and what we might call the "social life" is a journey of the most mysterious, of which, sometimes, some of us have the chance to witness.
It all starts, we can never say enough, with the artist that we consider here as both a father and a mother. The intuition that leads to the idea and then its physical representation is mostly close to the magic. Some artists will demonstrate the ease of a virtuoso in the commentary of the creative process which comes from their work, but most of them will be unable to express an articulated manner alchemy that led to the final work.
The heart of this process is the workshop : this fascinating and mysterious area, because it is private and quiet, which allows the artist loneliness indispensable to the advent of complex concentration prelude to any act of creation. In this exclusive environment, the artist enters a world that belongs to him, with his quirks and tics, rituals and superstitions. Strange dialogue, which are received at distorted echoes, grows in the confined space, where the vision laid bare and the sensitivity of the human soul. We will never really know, and it does not matter, why the red spot remained at this place on the canvas, as an accident, an incomplete gesture, or why his face seems to observe and know about us the things we did not know. We will not know what is the balance of this set whose every detail - but which one? - could change the perception we have.
Once the finished work, however, that it is insignificant for a hearing. No criticism, no specialist of some sort is still had access. It is now located in limbo intangible creation that marks the art is in its most pure singularity. The work is still shrouded in a certain virginity, because no light "unauthorized" only it is made. It is still free of any interpretation of any message in any direction. It means both everything and nothing, in the fullness of its realization. Until it is delivered to the public, one could say that she is naked and vulnerable, like waiting for a new birth, a baptism. It contains no other value than that of energy and passion invested by the artist. Then come the commissioner, the museum, the critic and the merchant. The artwork takes on a life and a new dimension.
The places where decisions are made, that is to say the heart of what we call the market, is in the West. But for some time, Africans wanted the challenge posed to them one day Pierre Gaudibert who said peremptorily: "There is no art without a market". Tending in the market perverted art.
There are now markets in Africa. This allows us he means that art is now in Africa? Or it is it responsible for the creation of these markets that give embryonic aims to thwart the Western monopoly? This is the story of the egg and the chicken.
Four years ago, Johannesburg showed the example by opening the first contemporary art fair on African soil. A few weeks after its fourth year (beginning October 2011) in Morocco opened the second edition of the Marrakech Art Fair. One would have thought in a way that suddenly invade the continent. It is rather a desire for emancipation and control of their destiny which is implemented in Marrakech as Johannesburg. These are overcome if only as a symbolic way, the hegemony of London, Paris, New York, and especially Basel or play equally as do China and India now with their appointment of dealers 'auctions' and international fairs must. This is to develop assessment tools while remaining endogenous exogenous because these shows are home to many international galleries.
And no matter the dual challenge of both sell, develop and create a captive audience in a field whose contours are still unclear to many Africans. How indeed create a market in the territories where the majority of elites demonstrated at best a local classical nationalist and at worst a crass ignorance, apart from notable exceptions?
In Marrakech as in Johannesburg, buyers seek refuge heavily on what they consider safe values : local artists, some of which just happened in Morocco and South Africa, have an international career and international buyers - if not Western. But buying and selling local artists whose career is local, is it enough to expand the circle of potential collectors and attract international galleries whose experience would set standards? No matter. There are times when, to asking too many questions, one is unable to act. And we must salute the courage or unconsciousness of these individuals - as in Johannesburg to Marrakech as these projects are the result of work of private - because these events meet multiple needs and a lack of means of exchange or intellectual economic on the continent.
Faced with the appointment of contemporary art biennials, fairs have decided to play the roles of educators, mediators, facilitators and sellers. Caps many assume that the new born more or less, but which, through the excitement they create, encourage other initiatives and change the local landscape. It now begins to cross journalists, critics, curators who previously would not have deigned to move these unknown lands. The case of Marrakech is instructive in this regard: suddenly, the city will host a biennial (February 2012) which will be the actual launch, although it is a kind of foreshadowing in 2010.
Another initiative, also private, creating a center of art and artist residencies at some fifteen minutes from downtown. Dar al-Ma'mun, the name of the place, is an apartment complex and cultural in which, in a project where the aim of sustainability is pervasive, the initiators are trying to create new economic models in which money would not be a horrible thing, but a necessary tool.
But what we teach all these initiatives is that the manufacture of value does not necessarily put a price on things, but rather create the conditions for the emergence of a collective consciousness that ensures the survival of these achievements. It's a long process which local people should be involved, otherwise all efforts will remain fruitless. Creating value is tackle set up the "distribution of the sensible."
Perhaps we are deceived us by playing the hypocrites and wanting to deny the money that you can not see. The fairs have the advantage of putting it bluntly. We must think about new business model that allows the emergence of culture. And no longer looking at what needs to happen before, the egg or the chicken, culture or its financing. They are in fact inseparable. And despite the odd inevitable, the turf, the contemporary art fairs in Africa have their purpose because they give to see and think, and forced to confront the naked reality.
Davide Damoison, photographie, Habana 1992