The gallerist Cécile Fakhoury was born in France into a family of gallery owners. Her early fascination with museums, galleries, auction houses, and artists’ studios led her to love modern art first, and then contemporary art. She was amazed at the artists’ abilities to evoke, transform, and rewrite our societies and the world. Today, she has contemporary African art galleries in Abidjan and Dakar, and a showroom in Paris, too. Her desire for all of these spaces is to showcase both original and itinerant shows, varying in size and layout.
This spring, in both of her galleries, she’s presenting solo shows—with Sadikou Oukpedjo and Armand Boua in Abidjan, and Kassou Seydou and Aboudia in Dakar. In advance of the exhibitions, Whitewall spoke with Fakhoury about her beginnings in art, and how the artists she represents create work that transcends place and time.
WHITEWALL: You opened your first gallery in Abidjan. What was it about this location that made you want to establish roots here?
CÉCILE FAKHOURY: At the time I had been traveling to Côte d’Ivoire for about ten years while working in a gallery and auction house in Paris. I have always been passionate about contemporary art. My parents, who own a modern art gallery, successfully transmitted their interests for creation to me at an early age, but moving to Abidjan and meeting artists from the continent really prompted this project. Abidjan is a booming city and a nerve center of West Africa. The possibilities in the cultural industry are endless; the gallery quickly established itself.
WW: Abidjan is now home for you, where you live, work, and raise your children. Can you describe the Ivory Coast art scene for us?
CF: The Ivory Coast is a culturally rich country. Creativity is in everyday life, in the informal. Craftsmanship is quite developed, music has a very important place, and in terms of contemporary art you can find a variety of painters, sculptors, and photographers. For the past couple years, I have witnessed a return of artists with a strong desire to produce and exhibit here in Abidjan, artists both from the Ivory Coast and the subregion. This dynamic is a carrier; the creation and exchanges are the basis of what we defend here at the gallery.
Dakar is a particularly fertile cultural spot. There isn’t necessarily a strong art market yet, but there is a potential for it to expand. Culture is valorized locally. There are already a couple art spots and good collections. The biennale has been running for years and keeps growing with time; a new museum opened last December. As far as Côte d’Ivoire is concerned, even though it is slowly positioning itself culturally, it is not a leading country in this field yet. There is, however, a palpable dynamism in Abidjan. More places are being created, and the public seems curious and eager to welcome a flourishing cultural scene.
Surprisingly, a recurring belief that art shouldn’t be a priority in a country like Côte d’Ivoire subsists. In my opinion, it is more than urgent to act, and propose relevant, stimulating, and committed actions. Art is a mean of dialogue and offers another perspective on what is happening both locally and internationally. Bringing a form of debate through art seems essential to me, and, thankfully, this vision seems to be spreading as well. On a broader scale, my experience on this continent tells me that the local art market is destined to thrive. Africa is booming; culture, art, and their respective markets will grow in its wake.
WW: How would you describe the gallery’s roster of artists?
CF: Traveling through several African countries gave me the opportunity to meet new artists and face a very strong cultural richness. I experienced these first encounters as actual shocks—everything I saw was very different from what I knew. Artists with a fascinating viewpoint, beholders of a fresh perspective in line with both their time and origins, using this energy and getting inspiration from it to deliver something genuinely new, an open vision to the world. And this can be found in each of the gallery’s artists.
The gallery’s goal is to display the strength and relevance of African artists on an international stage by showing the artists’ ability to transcend borders. The dialogue created by the gallery’s artists is resolutely contemporary. Observers of the world in which they live, they participate in the live memory of their countries through their link to the world. And it is this link that guides my choices; the desire to collaborate with an artist results from this feeling and leads me to think that an artist’s work and perspective is strong enough to last and impact the history of art. I always ask myself, “What would I think looking at a specific artwork 50 or 100 years down the line?” It’s not always easy to imagine, but I believe that the artists I work with have the intellectual and formal strength that would make their work readable, understood, and felt in different contexts and times.