Marie-Ann Yemsi discusses her approach to curating at Galerie des Galeries and Art Paris Art Fair

Marie-Ann Yemsi is a busy woman right now thanks to her current exhibition Le jour qui vient (The Day That Comes) at Galerie des Galeries, and role as guest curator for the just concluded Art Paris Art Fair at Grand Palais. Since launching her agency Agent Créatif(s) over a decade ago, the independent consultant and curator has become renowned for supporting new talent. As such she’s also just been announced as the artistic director of the 11th Rencontres de Bamako this December, so her hectic schedule won’t be relenting any time soon. Nataal caught up with Yemsi to discuss her contribution to Galeries Lafayette’s Africa Now programme of spring events with her provocative group show featuring 15 emerging names, as well as her intentions to raise the visibility of African art beyond geographical, cultural and aesthetic borders.

What appealed to you about working with Galeries Lafayette?
Both the space and Lafayette Anticipation foundation have long shown an incredible commitment to artists and when I entered into a conversation with them, I was impressed by how carefully they approach their projects. Also as a curator I’m always interested in working outside of the white box. Galerie des Galeries is recognised as important space but the fact that it is inside a department store means that you can reach a new audience. I’ll be tremendously happy if someone comes in to buy sneakers and ends up discovering this art.

What has been your approach to the show?
I am not interested in having a statement and trying to put artworks together to fit my statement. Instead I’m interested in giving artists questions and for this show it was ‘What is your vision of the day that comes?’ My inspiration came from the Cameroonian author Leonora Miano whose book L’Intérieur de la nuit sequences from darkness into light. It’s this idea of tomorrow. The exhibiting artists belong to a young generation and most are in that moment of being discovered. Some already have established careers such as Emeka Ogboh and Mohau Modisekeng, who will represent South Africa at the next Venice Biennale. However France has been very late in looking at Africa so this is a Paris premiere for many of the artists.

For many years my work has been about counteracting misconceptions and preconceived ideas about creativity coming from Africa so it will be a shock for some people to see that these artists are using all kinds of traditional mediums to produce new art forms. I’ve also emphasised a lot of women because in Africa it can be difficult for female artists to be visible. Ruby Onyienechi Amanze is showing some incredible large drawings and Bomwyn Katz presents conceptual work using mattresses and linen. She’s just been invited to Documenta 14 this year so I’m very proud of this young woman.

What common threads can be felt through the works on view?
Whether born in Africa or the diaspora, these artists are always moving and this exhibition shows that Africa does not define them totally. In today’s world we choose our identities. I am an example of this. My mother is German, my father is Cameroonian, I was raised in several countries and now have French citizenship. This is my richness. Some people in Europe today are afraid of those from outside and are closing their borders but these artists show us that their work cannot be closed. The day that comes is open. They are tackling global political and social issues even though it is not instantly visible in their work, and are committed to a collective consciousness toward ecology, sustainability and freedom of speech.

Does Art Paris Art Fair’s invitation to Africa as this year’s guest of honour further fuel’s the art world’s awakening to the continent?
Yes but let’s be very clear – we are not mapping Africa here. We are interested in changing perspectives and decolonising the knowledge and the imagery of Africa. We invited galleries that are both new and established, from Africa and the West, and gave visibility to over 70 African artists in Paris outside of the francophone zone. These galleries weren’t gathered together apart from the rest, but scattered around the fair according to their chosen sector. That was important to me. The curated video programme Les territoires du corps featured 11 artists who take the body as a starting point to talk about both personal and wider histories. There was also a day of encounters and talks at Kadir Attia’s new space La Colonie, which was dedicated to discussing ideas of inhabiting the border. It’s symbolic and important to bring the public together to share experiences and fight against concepts of the other.

Le jour qui vient is at Galerie des Galeries until 10 June at Galerie des Galeries

Read more about Africa Now at Galerie Lafayette Haussman here

Visit Galerie des Galeries

Published on 04/04/2017