Dutch curators on a working visit to Africa

June 2006 -

"Art must first be presented in the corner of the eye. Then it gradually slides into main focus," says Guus Beumer. He is the director of Marres, a centre for contemporary art in the dutch town Maastricht. Early in May, he and about a dozen other curators from the Netherlands went to Senegal's capital Dakar and Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa for a working visit.

The trip was initiated by the Prince Claus Fund and the Mondriaan Foundation in an attempt to broaden the horizon of exposition makers. Because let's be honest: when most curators think of contemporary art, European and American artists primarily come to mind. African art is associated with historical objects in anthropological museums. The existence of contemporary African artists is not in keeping with this line of thought.

The trip's objectives were orientation and inspiration, and its results will not be immediate. "A working visit is never concrete," emphasizes Macha Roesink, director of Museum De Paviljoens in Almere. "You want to learn how things are done elsewhere. It is very interesting. Parallels can also be seen: people there also tend to stay put, and it is important that they move around. The participants and their foreign colleagues also get to know one another during these trips, which can lead to cooperation."

The first stop on the itinerary was Dak'Art, the biennial fair for contemporary African Art in which nearly ninety artists participated. The program also included a fashion show, inspiring Beumer to exhibit the work of Oumou Sy in December. This fashion designer from Senegal was awarded a prize by the Prince Claus Fund in 1998. She also designs the costumes for the Sahel Opera, premiering in November on behalf of the Fund. After the launch in Africa the opera will be performed in Amsterdam and Paris.

Hripsimé Visser, photography curator with the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, expects to be doing something with David Goldblatt, a South African photographer who welcomed her into his heavily guarded home in Johannesburg, before the end of the year. "An impressive personality with a sharp mind and fantastic work."