EXCERPTS OF INTERVIEW WITH SENEGALESE CURATOR N’GONÉ FALL.
Naidoo: You worked exclusively with socially engaged artists from the Global South. What was the logic behind this?
FALL: These artists stand for something.
In Senegal we felt a bit disconnected from the struggles of other Africans, in Angola, in South Africa, etc.
My father was preparing for an independent Senegal, so we were always talking politics.
We had an awareness that is in the DNA of my family.
……….It’s true that I was attracted to artists dealing with social, political and economic issues, because there are so many issues that we need to deal with on the [African] continent.
Naidoo: What made you reach out beyond contemporary African art in this exhibition?
FALL: Because the opportunity was there.
Generally speaking, when you are an African curator, people only call you to do an African art show.
That’s how it worked in the early 1990s and 2000s.
I’m not sure if it has changed. In Denmark I had carte blanche.
The exhibition was part of a festival called Artists in Society, which is very broad.
It was an opportunity to work with these different artists that I eventually included in the show.
I expanded my African family to the Global South family.
The other interesting fact is that the novel by Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, has been translated into more than 50 languages.
So when I reached out to the Vietnamese, they told me that it was the only African novel that they had ever read because it was the only one available in Vietnam.
So all the artists from the different countries around the world read the novel for this exhibition.
Naidoo: Is When Things Fall Apart an African response to the exhibition The Divine Comedy – Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists curated by Simon Njami in 2014? Is there any relationship between them?
FALL: There is absolutely no relationship at all.
When I am thinking about an exhibition, I am not thinking about what other curators are doing or not doing. It’s more about what is in my mind at the time, what I am thinking about.
My conversation with Tayou was confirmation that the novel was going to be the entry point.
Naidoo: I was just wondering because I know that Njami was criticised for being too Eurocentric in his reference with The Divine Comedy exhibition.
FALL: I grew up in Dakar, and 90% of my time I have spent in the streets of Dakar speaking Wolof.
I became Western-based when I came to do my studies in Paris in the mid-1980s.
……… I never think of myself as being part of the African diaspora.
I’m a Senegalese.
Sometimes I’m based in Europe, sometimes I’m based on the [African] continent, sometimes I’m based in South Korea for three months.
It is true my references are African.
It is extremely important for me to share that African experience, African knowledge with the rest of the world.
My role as a curator and as a writer would be to give access to that knowledge, so that while I am curating and writing, you can learn from the African experience.
So Eurocentrism is the last thing you can accuse me of.
I was raised in a pan-African mindset in my family and I strongly believe in the power of African cultures.
I can also be very Parisian, very New York, very Brussels.
Unlike Okonkwo, you adapt to your context – but you never forget who you are.
*******The full interview can be accessed here