Curator focus: N'gone Fall
Updated: Apr 22
PLATFORMS FOUNDED: Co-founder Revue
Noire magazine; GawLab, research and
production platform for art in the urban space
and digital technologies applied to artistic
CURATING PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS:
Contact Zone, National Museum of Mali,
Bamako, Mali (2007); When Things Fall Apart,
Trapholt Museum, Kolding, Denmark (2016).
CURRENT APPOINTMENT: General
commissioner of the SEASON AFRICA 2020.
N'gone Fall is one Africa's leading curators. In A Decade of Curating, our inaugural publication, she is listed as one of the top 20 curators. As such we tracked and captured all the details of the exhibitions she has curated from 2007 to 2017 - the decade under review. Mary Corrigall interviewed her in Cape Town.
Mary Corrigall: You studied architecture, worked as the editor at Revue Noire; how did you wind up curating exhibitions?
N'gone Fall: In 1995 we did a big project on AIDS. Because we had the magazine, we were able to get funding from the European union, so we also commissioned young filmmakers to make some films, two choreographers also produced some dance pieces, and then we partnered with a French TV station that is also broadcast in French-speaking countries in Africa. A one-hour, let’s say, gathering, showing of these different interventions of artists, and also discussing with NGOs, working on AIDS and things like that.
We decided to put all of that into an exhibition, that we showed in Berlin, and then that was the opportunity to bring it to Dakar, because the Dakar Biennale was going to happen in May 1996. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it. That’s my hometown. Of course I have to do it’.
MC: I suppose curating and architecture is about creating space, and taking people on a journey through space, a physical journey…
NF: When I was practising as an architect, I also did some exhibition designs. Until today, when I’m curating I always tell the institution, whoever is curating that I’m in charge of the exhibition design, because when I’m thinking of the exhibition, I’m thinking of the artworks and what comes after which one, what kind of dialogue and what kind of physical experience I want the audience to have.
MC: It seems to me that even though there was so much effort by our high-profile African curators to advance this idea of contemporary African art, it’s almost like some of that work is now still carrying on, within art fairs - particularly with African dedicated focus stands. Has this drive moved from the museum into the art fair?
NF: Art fairs are the new fashion. Remember, in the early 2000s, biennales were the fashion. Everybody wanted a biennale, every country had a biennale. And you woke up one day and there were more than two hundred biennales around the world. Even now I see some new cities doing a biennale. And then, it became the fashion of the art fair, because everybody wanted to make money, because people were tired of not making money. And more and more galleries were, let’s say, opening their horizons and exploring non-Western art and artists, and including them into their galleries. Let’s see what the next fashion will be.
MC: Is it easy being an independent curator?
NF: We all have our bills to pay every thirty days. But that’s why it’s not my main activity, and I wear many, many different caps. So, when people ask me, ‘How do you make a living out of being an independent curator?’, I say, ‘Because that’s just a detail, and I’m not obsessed with doing an exhibition every year.’ So it could be every three years, every four years, every five years, it doesn’t matter. I prefer waiting for the right institution, to do something in the right place, with the ideas that I want to develop, and with the artists. So, if it’s going to take five years, then well, it will take five years. And the rest of the time, I will be teaching, or I will be writing, or I will be working with governments on their cultural policies. It allows me to keep this three-hundred and sixty view of the entire field.
MC: What city do you think has become the capital of contemporary African art?
NF: I would say Lagos. they have the longest tradition of collecting that goes back to the 1920s, So when you think of modern art from Nigeria, you have all the avant-garde, all the pioneers, all the big masters. The most interesting part of their production is not at the National Gallery in Lagos, it’s in the private collections. And now, their sons and daughters are moving a little bit away from collecting Nigerian art to looking at what’s happening on the continent, and even beyond. But I would say it’s because that country had the most amazing art school during the 30’s and 40’s, avant-garde artists, the first modern artists in the region originated from there. The first artistic revolution, aesthetic revolution, conceptual revolution also came out of Nigeria. It’s a huge population. The city, I guess, is so challenging that it also pushes the boundaries of artists. And they have amazing artists. For me, that’s just how it is, and that’s the real combination. But it’s also based on the history of visual art, and how it’s connected to literature, how it’s connected to music, how it’s connected to the film industry as well. So I just saw it growing, growing, growing, from the time of the Revue Noire magazine that was in the 90’s, and where they are today. Back in those days, South Africa was the biggest platform, and then at the turn of the Millennium for me, I would say it shifted to Cairo and now it’s Lagos.