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The Diaspora of African Artists
A remarkable innovation on the art scene is that many creatives have chosen to shuttle between the Homelandand Outer lands. In other words, the entire world is their inspiration, their canvas, their clay, their stone. Cameroonian Barthélémy Toguo, Ghanaian Owusu Ankomah and Kenyan Wangechi Mutu are among the exemplars.
Ernest Dükü (b.1958)
Entre nous histoire elle court, 2003
Mixed media 91x62x5 cm
Court. the artist
In this context, it is necessary to highlight the highly important patronage role played by the West Indian governor Guy Nairay, who President Félix Houphouët Boigny retained as an adviser following Ivory Coast’s independence. He was the natural godfather of all the activities of Ivory Coast’s artists through the Pen Club, which he set up in order to accompany their exhibition projects. All this took place in an era when there were hardly any real art galleries in Ivory Coast.
Furthermore, the most important Ivorian diaspora, which determined the principle by which different waves of immigration evolved until 1981 when François Mitterrand came to power in France, was sparked by Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Before becoming the first president of an independent Ivory Coast, Houphouët Boigny was a deputy of the assembly (when Ivory Coast was still part of the French Federation of West Africa) and had the visionary idea of sending 146 young people from upper Ivory Coast (now Burkina Faso) and lower Ivory Coast abroad. The aim of this adventure was to train them in all domains of society. Most of these young people returned to Ivory Coast after their studies and constituted the first wave of high-level officials of post-independence Ivory Coast. This adventure, called the Adventure 1946, provided Ivory Coast with a major player in Ivory Coast’s art scene: Dalouman Simone, who created the country’s first art gallery, Galerie Arts Pluriels.
This situation enabled artists such as Ouattara Watts to officially practice their profession. This was prior to Watts, an artist-painter, meeting Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1988. Living in New York since 1988, he is a figurehead of art from Ivory Coast and is the standard bearer in international contests. He has participated in three editions of the Venice Biennale he is one of four artists representing the Ivory Coast Pavilion in 2017 – and in one edition of Documenta. His visits to Ivory Coast represent an opportunity for young artists to learn about how he got into the ferocious American art market through actively seeking out encounters.