I developed a passion for art from a young age. Born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised between DRC and Belgium, I was raised by parents who taught me the love of art and how important it is to support artists and culture. In my early days, I was surrounded by beautiful Congolese art and this impression has stayed with me throughout my life.
As I grew up, I started to collect art myself. I've also had the incredible opportunity to meet many established and aspiring African artists and collectors over the years. Through these encounters, it has always been clear to me that there is immense talent and creativity in Africa, but they weren’t really valued or talked about. Usually, it is the negative aspects of the continent that grab media headlines, and the progress, ingenuity, innovation or imagination that contribute to foster a great art scene are sadly forgone. I always wondered how to best bring these traits forward, to bring the beauty of my cultural heritage to the world.
When I moved to London from New York almost two years ago, I knew I wanted a change in my career. At that point, I had worked for over 13 years in the corporate world, including in banking and tech. I had studied Economics and had done an MBA from one of the top schools in the world. I had lived and worked in eight countries on four continents. I had learned about how the business world functions in the digital-first age, but at this point, I wanted to do something I was passionate about and where I could best utilize my skills.
The idea of Pavillon 54 came as I sought to add a new artwork to my collection to decorate my London apartment. I quickly realized how hard it still is to find and buy quality artwork from Africa outside of the continent. I also realized that there is extraordinarily little information available about African art, its history or context, and that it has never really been documented properly. Despite the surge in popularity of African art in the global art scene these past few years, the majority of people – even those individuals who are educated, well-travelled, and are generally interested in art – have no idea that high-end African art is prized in select international markets. And even if they do know, they have no idea how to source these works, and if they can trust what is being shown. Unfortunately, the solutions offered until now do not really solve these problems, and I wanted to change that.
So, I set out to build a solution that would truly benefit both the customer and the industry; a centralized solution that supports artists, galleries and experts, providing them with the exposure and tools they would otherwise not have access to. But I also wanted to create a solution that exposes more people to African Art, giving them enough detailed information to make them feel comfortable when making a purchase, or just learning about it.
The bright side is I know there are already millions of people like me around the world: educated, with disposable income, that are proud of their African heritage and want to participate in its cultural development, or are art lovers wanting to expand their horizons, learn and be amazed. Fortunately, some have already started upon this path. Art collectors from Africa are raising their heads and paying attention. They are acting. Last year, it was reported that 70% of sales made at the Sotheby’s Contemporary African Art auction were bought by African collectors. It is clear that the growing wealth on the continent and the increasing number of people who are becoming High Net-Worth Individuals are resulting in a budding group of collectors who, like me, are ready to reinvest in our culture, but just need the right guidance and tools.
I believe that it is important to build a domestic clientele for the African art market to be sustainable in the long run. While it is true that the number of collectors from sub-Saharan Africa has dramatically increased in recent years, Western collectors still dominate at dedicated African art fairs and exhibitions across the world. While all the talk about repatriation of art from the colonial era is raging, we’re also seeing a similar phenomenon happening with contemporary art, where African work is being taken abroad by foreign galleries and auction houses. According to a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, 95% of Africa’s cultural heritage is held outside the continent. If we’re not careful, we might see history repeating itself with contemporary art. That’s why it’s up to us Africans, Africans in the diaspora and Afro descents, to invest in our own art. We should buy now before it’s too late and while prices are still relatively affordable, even for the most established artists.
By thus supporting and giving more visibility to African artists and craftmanship globally, providing them with the exposure and tech tools they would otherwise not have access to or use, we can change the continent’s image to reveal one that provides invaluable creative output to the world. This reclaiming of the narrative and our identity could be an incredible source of esteem, community cohesion, and political stability. How can we as Africans leverage our creative industries to build the economic potential of whole nations? Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, is already the country’s second-largest employer, creating over a million jobs and generating over $500m annually. It is time to build parallel initiatives in the visual arts, theatre, dance, and other creative spheres.
So, how can this be done? For myself, the idea of combining my background in marketing and digital with my passion for art and my experience as an African woman, proud of her heritage, was the perfect match. Pavillon 54 was the natural solution: a platform by Africans, for Africans, and anyone who's passonate about, wants to learn more about, support or invest in Art from Africa. Together, we're building community and economic value for the African art world globally. I invite you to join me on this initiative, to sign up to our newsletter, follow us on social media, and get plugged in to the community. The African art world is only set to grow, and as it does, I want to make sure that the voices forming its narrative are our own.