In Conversation With Victoria Mann, Director of A.K.A.A.

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Also Known As Paris’s most Eagerly Awaited Art Fair, AKAA opens its doors a year after its planned launch, which was cancelled last year due to terror attacks in Paris, Bamako and Brussels. Scanning the room, it’s clear that the heavy atmosphere pervading the French capital at the end of 2015 has lifted: there are giggles and gasps and plenty of art-lovers squinting at business cards and price-tags. The art on show is a well-edited selection of the very best of contemporary African art: galleries from Harare and Casablanca sit alongside structures from Paris and New York and there’s even representation from online dealers. Some pieces stand out: Fatiha’s Zemouri’s “Untitled” (2016) wood and charcoal construction, Nicola Brandt’s “Remembering Those Who Built This Line” (2012) and Wole Lagunju’s eminently affordable “Study of a Coiffure Doll” carried by Ed Cross Fine Art gallery, priced at €3000.

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Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, The Immigrants’ experiences, 2013, October Gallery.
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Freddy Tsimba, Silhouette effacée n°2090, 2009, Angalia.
Nicola Brandt, Remembering Those Who Built This Line, 2012, Guns and Rain.

Founder of AKAA Victoria Mann told us that Paris was a natural home for her project, as the city establishes itself as a risk-taker in the world of contemporary creation, and a natural platform for continental partners.

Victoria, how did you choose the galleries represented at the fair?

“Once we have all the applications they go to a selection committee* and their job is to adapt to what’s going on right now: we realize that the scene is changing, that galleries don’t necessarily have an exhibition space and it’s hard for young galleries to open a space in cities where there isn’t an established scene. Nairobi has three or four galleries, Harare has three or four galleries, Abidjan has one. I think these galleries on the continent are forced to constantly re-think their way of working and be quite innovative in the way they promote and exhibit their artists. We have one really interesting gallery with us this year, Guns and Rains from Johannesburg which is an internet gallery. We have to accept these new types of galleries to make this work because this is not about a fair of established galleries showing African artists this is about promoting a market, artists, and galleries and creating new generations of collectors. 

Was there a turning point when everybody started getting interested in African art? 

All this is happening so quickly, I don’t know if we have the necessary distance to look at it from an Art History point of view. Exhibitions like ‘Africa Remix’ and even ‘Les Magiciens de la Terre’ which started in 1989 so this has all been a process. I think that in places like London there was definitely a larger platform for artists from Africa earlier. In Paris it’s been quite fast – the past three years really. Paris takes a little bit longer than everyone else but it gets there finally. Communication is key: artists who are not represented now have these communication tools to show their work and I think that’s what’s speeding up the process.

In your opinion, what will make the African market sustainable?

Platforms like ours! On the one hand, it’s important for fairs like the Armory show to do an Africa focus, it’s important for big institutions like the Grand Palais or the Fondation Cartier to do major exhibitions that are very accessible to a wide public, but fairs like ours are here to ensure sustainability in the long-term. We’re not a one-shot. We’re creating an annual rendez vous for this contemporary art scene for years to come. Another thing that’s incredibly important are initiatives on the continent and AKAA collaborates with events like Lagos Photo or the Biennale de Dakar. And a market grows when you help build new generations of collectors in the countries the artists are from.

If someone was looking to start a collection of contemporary African art what would your advice be?

My answer to that – because I am no art market analyst – is whatever you fall in love with. That’s how I’ve made my acquisitions and that’s what it really comes down to. I don’t think that there should be a manual to buying art; of course it’s important, they’re investments, but at the AKAA fair we’ve assured the high quality of the galleries and artists, so all that’s left to do for buyers is to buy what they feel a connection with. If you’re going to be hanging it in your living room you’ll be living with it for a number of years – follow your instinct!”

*Selection committee: Dominique Fiat, Elisabeth Lalouschek, Simon Njami, Azu Nwagbogu

Fatiha Zemouri “Untitled” 2016, Galerie 38.

Olivia Salazar-Winspear

Olivia Salazar-Winspear is a journalist specializing in arts and culture. Working in both television and text, her interests meet in a Venn diagram of London, Rio and Paris or - if you like - Fine Art, Cinema and Literature.