Contemporary African art: the Blachère Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary

Nestled in the former Bonnieux station (Vaucluse), in the heart of the Luberon, about forty kilometers east of Avignon, the Blachère Foundation is celebrating its 20th anniversary

Contemporary African art: the Blachère Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary

Nestled in the former Bonnieux station (Vaucluse), in the heart of the Luberon, about forty kilometers east of Avignon, the Blachère Foundation is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Dedicated to contemporary African art, it is the emanation of the family business Blachère Illumination: sparkle of the Eiffel Tower, lights of the Champs-Elysées and Fifth Avenue in New York during the Christmas holidays. Christmas, The Shard tower and the Harrods shopping center in London, the Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates…

To celebrate this anniversary, the Blachère Foundation returned to the sources of its collection: West Africa. It was in 2001, facing the cliffs of Bandiagara in the Dogon country (Mali), that Jean-Paul Blachère, founder of the company, now retired, developed a passion for the continent, after a few initial trips to Burkina Faso .

A meeting with the Malian sculptor Amahiguéré Dolo proved to be founding. “I was amazed by his kindness, by his work, by the explanation of certain Dogon myths. I was like a child. And of course by the places. I finally put a face to all my readings, particularly those of the works of Marcel Griaule [French ethnologist known for his work on the Dogon],” he relates.

“God holds him up.”

Thanks to his Ivorian friend Yacouba Konaté, museum curator, art critic, writer and university professor, he met artists in their daily lives, in their studio, and bought his first works: “At the beginning, I did not collect , I gave. Then, about fifteen years ago, I understood that we had to show them in a museum way. »

The exhibition “Bandiagara, at the beginning of the collection” highlights the work of 20 artists from the Blachère collection. Among those on display, visitors will be able to admire the impressive The Fallen Elephant (6 meters long), by the South African Andries Botha, the monumental tapestry The Zone of the Great Lakes (14 meters long, 4 meters high), by the Malian Abdoulaye Konaté, The Zoulou Lancer (2.30 meters high) and The Standing Warrior (2.60 meters high), by Senegalese Ousmane Sow (1935-2016).

Amahiguéré Dolo (1955-2022) is the leading artist of the event. “Ama” is the name of the Dogon god and “Higuéré” means “holds him up.” His parents lost several young children before the artist survived. Originally from Sangha, a Malian commune located near the cliffs of Bandiagara, the heart and cultural center of the Dogon country (center of the country), he comes from a noble family. From the age of 10, he began making wooden toys for himself and his friends, despite his father's disapproval because the caste from which he came was not that of blacksmiths, the only one possessing the power to work the iron, wood.

After four years of study at the National Institute of Arts (INA) in Bamako, he graduated in visual arts in 1980. Then he was transferred to Gao (north), to the regional directorate of youth, sports, arts and culture, responsible for cultural heritage for around ten years. But he never stopped sculpting and forging, imbued with Dogon cosmogony.

Gallerist and collector Luc Berthier knew Amahiguéré Dolo well: “He was humble. This is the first qualifier that comes to me. Without loudness of voice, of character, without inappropriate words. He was discreet and observant. » In 2021, he dedicated an exhibition to the ill sculptor, as a “goodbye” before the closure of his space. Then the idea of ​​a ceramics workshop adjoining Luc Berthier's house, in Courances (Essonne), emerged so that Amahiguéré Dolo would come to France and "require himself", as the latter said. But he died on August 21, 2022, at the age of 67, in Bamako.

Equipped with a simple adze

The sculptor had been introduced by the ancients to the forces of nature, to the power of the Earth, to the spirits of his community. We find this energy in his works. He brings “dead” branches and stumps back to life, using a simple adze, working on the original shapes of the wood and playing on the holes, voids, solids, and curves of the material.

From the artist's gesture emerge sketched human forms, wide open mouths, long emaciated legs, eyes sometimes closed, sexes, erect arms which seem to implore the sky so that the rain can fertilize the earth. Then “the divine seed gives life again, passing from red [latérite] to black going up into the body”, like blood in the sketchy human being, underlines Luc Berthier.

Working in his workshop in Bandiagara then Ségou, facing the Niger River, he was able to escape the pressures of his community, he the farmer who became a sculptor, painter and ceramist. His path will cross that of the Catalan painter, designer, engraver, sculptor and ceramist Miquel Barceló, who came to seek new inspiration. After a successful time together, “the ambitions of one took over and plunged Dolo into immense disappointment. He very rarely talked about it,” says the gallery owner and collector.

A collection of some 2,300 works

Today, it is Christine Allain-Launay Blachère, daughter of Jean-Paul, who directs the foundation: “There is no “mechanics” for choosing this or that work. It's very instinctive. It was first of all an instinct from collector to artist, developed a lot by Dad. I have more of a relationship with the work. We make sure that both of us like it. If not, it doesn't matter. We buy anyway. »

The themes of interest are different between father and daughter. The materials (wood, earth, iron, etc.) for the first. Scenes of life, the body, brutalism (aesthetic movement which rejects unnecessary decorations and highlights raw materials used in particular in the world of architecture, especially in the 1950s to 1970s) for the second. Two generations, a man, a woman, a transmission without really being it. In recent years, purchases have depended greatly on upcoming exhibitions.

Finally, the Blachère Foundation has a fund of some 2,300 works. For the current event, the choice of presentation was firstly chronological, depending on the date of acquisition, without forgetting a harmony of visit in the materials and cosmogonies mentioned. The themes suggested are painful: war, flight, wandering, very present two decades ago in contemporary African art. Today, these words have not disappeared.