Non-African Africanity

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Two non-African artists, Blaise Patrix and Kaïdin Monique Le Houelleur, are listed in the Guide de l’Art Africain Contemporain [Contemporary African Art Guide] (Paris, 1996) that provides a repertory of African artists based in Africa or the diaspora, as well as non-African artists who work and live in Africa. In the context of this point of view, considered unusual by some but perfectly logical by others, how do these two artists place themselves in relation to the Africa in which they have chosen to live?

Blaise Patrix
The self-taught painter, Blaise Patrix moved to Burkina Faso from France twenty years ago. He has become very attached to his new homeland, having lived there for fifteen years. Blaise Patrix’s works are strongly impregnated by their place of creation and bear the marks of all the profound changes that « African life » has caused in the artist, as well as the peace that it has offered him. Blaise Patrix is now based in Dakar and he moves between Africa and Europe, where he is working on the « art of changing the world ». This concept operates within the framework of urbanisation projects and is intended to implicate local populations in the artistic portrayal of their everyday life and surroundings.
« Saying that I am African is wrong because I was not born there. At the same time, I am glad that I am being called an African artist, because I have nevertheless spent over 20 years in Africa. However, I would feel out of place saying that I am African. I am a contemporary artist. I am happy and flattered that I am being compared to African artists but at the same time, it would seem to me that this type of classification is restrictive.
Paradoxically, I am no longer a Western artist – having lived under African conditions for such a long time has given me another outlook on life in general and on painting in particular. I am proud of my permeability and my vulnerability. It is something that took a long time to learn and I learnt it in Africa, which, in a sense, saved my live on a personal level. I would be dead now if I had stayed in Europe and it has become something that I need to speak out about. In the cultural process of world writing that is being established, it seems to me that it would be healthy to draw the world’s attention to the values that the African continent can teach us. Creativity is a cultural process that is much wider and empirical than in more institutionalised societies.
Africanity is a term that I do not like. More important is what certain intrinsically African traits bring to contemporaneity, in the enormous symbiosis constituting modernity. Africa occupies a very big place in contemporaneity because it is complementary to the dominant world of progress.
Despite the universal symbiosis in fashion these days on a cultural level, local characters still exist. Africa has an even more important role to play in that it is perfectly complementary to the efficient rationality of the other, of that which dominates the world and wants the world to know that it is dominating it. People need to be seen for what they are, and they must stand up for their originality.
Kaïdin Monique Le Houelleur
Kaïdin Monique Le Houelleur has been living in Africa for the past twenty years, having travelled around the continent for some time before settling in Côte d’Ivoire, where she now has citizenship. Over the past few years, the sculptor has been working on ephemeral installations in West African villages and the forests of Central Africa. Having represented the African continent numerous times internationally, she was awarded the Africa award at the Hanover 2000 World Expo. Although she is a Eurasian of Vietnamese origin, she also says that she is « Ivoirian in my heart and by adoption ».
« I have an Africanity in the sense that I am totally impregnated by this continent, where I have spent over half my life. I work with materials that I find here, I am constantly taking ideas from this environment, which inspires me enormously and is an integral part of my work. The objects and materials that I use are found in everyday life – vines, gourdes, wood, iron, earth, etc. Because I am formed from this African land, as is anything I make, and as are all those who live here, I can say that to some extent, I am an African artist. What is more, Africans sometimes appreciate my work better than Westeners because it talks to them about their life, their way of living. One day, when I was working in a village in Mali, a village-person who was watching me work said, « It’s beautiful what you’re doing, it’s what I see every day ». Despite all this, I am sometimes excluded from certain African events and collections under the pretext that I am white, and sometimes I find it hard to understand why.
It is partly because of the problem of my Africanity that I decided to change my name because it disconcerted people in art shows since they could not work out where to place me. They would see a work that they identified as being African because of the materials used and the references they perceived in it, but then when they saw a Eurasian woman walk up, they would be completely thrown. That is why I felt the need to add an identity from an elsewhere close to me. I chose, Kaïdin, my Grandmother’s name, which takes me back to my Vietnamese origins. By adding Kaïdin to my name, I am going back to my first roots, but this distant-sounding word may also be the way that I have found to make a connection between my name, my work and my physical appearance.

///Article N° : 5504


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