Sindika Dokolo’s Luanda
The Congolese art collector shares his insights into the Angolan capital’s arts scene.
Congolese art collector and businessman Sindika Dokolo grew up in Belgium and France. As the founder and director of the Luanda-based Fundação Sindika Dokolo, Dokolo seeks to promote African arts and culture both at home and abroad. To date, the foundation has initiated 590 events within the continent, which have consequently led to the support of 55,000 children in educational programs. His art center in Luanda houses original art from internationally-known artists of African heritage or sensibility, with the work of powerhouse names including: British-Nigerian Chris Ofili; Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso; South African painter Marlene Dumas; Nigerian artist Kehinde Wiley; and even Andy Warhol, who photographed athletes Muhammad Ali and Pelé in 1977.
This year, the third Trienal de Luanda takes place in the city. Founded by artist Fernando Alvim, the year-long event runs in partnership with Dokolo’s foundation and features a full range of exhibitions across Angola’s capital — including Dokolo’s own 5,000-piece collection of contemporary African art. The timing of the Trienal is particularly significant for the city’s culture, as 2016 marks Angola’s 40th year of independence.
In this interview, Dokolo shares some of his thoughts on Luanda, as well as his ongoing vision to make African art more accessible across Angola, the rest of the African continent and beyond.
What was the first gallery or museum you visited in Luanda?
One of our important objectives for the foundation is to open the first bona fide art gallery or museum in the city. A few years ago, though, I visited the Dundo Museum, located in a mining town in northeastern Angola, about 15 miles (24 km) south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo border — a long road trip from Luanda. The museum holds one of the most distinguished collections of ethnographic art, from wooden traditional masks and sculptures of the local Chokwe people of Central Africa, to recordings of local folk music and a photographic collection dating to the 1880s. Many of the museum’s art works “disappeared” during the Angolan civil war from 1975–2002, and due to the lack of archival documentation, the number of missing works and their whereabouts still remain a mystery. It was this visit that got me interested in the idea of heritage. Since then, the foundation has managed to acquire two ancestral Chokwe masks representing femininity, as well as a Pwo mask of a male figure.
Which Luandan artists would you prioritize checking out?
Edson Chagas, whose photographic works won the Golden Lion for the pavilion of Angola at La Biennale di Venezia in 2013. He possesses an elegant eye when framing his images, and he brings a subtleness to his oeuvre while making his overall aesthetic sublime. Then there’s fine artist and painter Paulo Kapela, whose detailed installations of poetic and detailed patchworks depict Angolan history past and present. Filmmaker Maradona Dias Dos Santos also has a unique aesthetic and lens when he shoots in Luanda.
Where’s the best outdoor art in the city?
Downtown Luanda. You get the best view of the bay from there, as well as the chance to go to the fort [Fortaleza de São Miguel], which was built in 1576 to defend the port and city from attack by the French, British and Dutch. The small Museum of the Armed Forces is inside. It has a collection of motor planes, combat vehicles and artifacts, as well as beautiful blue-tiled Portuguese rooms that are part of the colonial heritage.
Will there be a focus on outdoor space during the Trienal?
Yes. We are putting up 200 billboards featuring pictures of art throughout the streets of Luanda. The whole aim is to create awareness and to try to have as many people as possible who have never engaged with art, or who know nothing about the context, come to see that this is theirs — and that it’s important.
What other creative spaces exist in the city?
Teatro Elinga, also in Downtown Luanda, is a good cultural center for exhibitions and concerts — from reggae, house and electro to blues, jazz and samba. The space will be used for workshops during the Trienal de Luanda. The building will then be temporarily closed and refurbished at the end of the year, but it will remain a cultural center.
If you could only be in Luanda for a single day, where would you insist on going?
Casa 70 for live music. It’s where highly respected African musicians, such as Cape Verdean singer Tito Paris and the artist Lura, have performed. It has also hosted Angolan singer Diva Pérola, who launched her album “Mais de Mim” (More of Myself) there.
What do think the art scene in Luanda will look like in the future?
The big picture is that through the foundation, we’d like to develop a system that enables us to find many of the missing pieces of traditional African art and to bring them back to the continent. We want to create a dynamic interest in African art and to interact with artists and young people in and beyond Angola. If as a foundation this thing dies with me, then I would have done nothing. All of the work we’re doing is a starting point. If we’re asked the same question again in 10 years, I believe the whole process of creating solid projects on the continent will have multiplied by then, for sure.
The Trienal de Luanda runs until November 2016. For more information on exhibitions and events, visit fondation-sindikadokolo.com.
Nana Ocran is a London-based writer and editor specializing in contemporary African culture.