Check List: controversial African project during Biennial in Venice

May 2007 -

Never before has African contemporary art been assigned such prominence at the Venice Biennial, opening for the 52nd time on 10 June 2007. The heated debate within the African art world about the participation of 'Africa' in Venice, however, and the selection procedure for the African pavilion has made the continent's participation controversial.

The Biennial jury, chaired by Robert Storr, selected the project Check List, which is based on the Sidika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art. This collection, owned by Congolese businessman Sidika Dokolo, has its home in Angola's capital, Luanda, and currently consists of 500 works of art by 140 artists from 28 African countries. Check List's curators are Angolan artists Fernando Alvim and former artistic director of the traveling art show Africa Remix, Simon Njami from Cameroon who lives in France.

According to an article published in Artnet News at the end of February, the criticism of Check List primarily focuses on the 'distasteful' political and business activities of the people behind the collection. Sidika Dokolo's father was a banker and founder of the Nouvelle Banque de Kinshasa, NBK, and acquired his fortune through 'mob-like' practices during the Mobutu dictatorship. Dokolo married the daughter of the Angolan president and owner of an impressive business empire, Isabel dos Santos, in 2002. She owns a significant share of the diamond companies that journalist Rafel Marques accused of violating human rights in north-eastern Angola in his report, The Stones of Death.

Sidika Dokolo is also one of leading patrons of the Luanda Triennial, a three-yearly art event organised by Fernando Alvim that is currently ongoing in Angola's capital. Personally, Alvim considers his cooperation with the rich art collector to be an example of 'the valuable contribution that private enterprise can make' to realizing large art events in Africa, according to the words he spoke during the conference of the International Association of Art Critics in Paris late last year. Check List wants to present an 'informed and distinctive perspective on the contemporary art of Africa and the African Diaspora' in Venice.