The country of the Goethe family is establishing itself as a leading investor on the African continent. But there is still a long way to go to profoundly change the perception of Germans on the African continent. With the Akwaaba exhibition in Hamburg, the Melbye-Konan Gallery is using art to promote Africa and its so-called French-speaking part in the eyes of the Germans with some success. Stella Melbye-Konan gives us her vision of the relationship between Germany and the African continent.
How is the gallery a cultural and economic bridge between Germany and the African continent?
Our ambition is to participate at the emerging of artists from the African continent. We want to give them international visibility, especially in Germany. In this country, there were only two art galleries until now promoting the African continent. Our gallery covers two floors and 230 square metres. In addition, this gallery is customary for events such as art dinners or exclusive events that it organises. The different cultures and influences can be found through our exhibitions that we will conduct. We highlight the artistic works of Serge Aboua, N’Goye, Atowla or Saint Etienne Yeanzi. It is a way of putting into perspective certain current affairs or historical facts that encourage reflection on the cultural and economic links of the African continent with the West and the world in general. It is a vision that finds a positive echo with critics. In view of the number of visitors since the opening of the gallery and the exhibition, we think we are heading in the right direction.
After the first part of the Akwaba exhibition, what feedback have you received and what follow-up will you give?
We are very satisfied with the interest of the Germans and the attention of the Hamburgers for the Akwaaba exhibition. 300 visitors came in less than three weeks. The feedback is encouraging. In addition, the exhibited works have become part of large collections and as a first purchase of art for young collectors. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the actors of the Hamburg cultural scene, the MARKK museum, the Bucerius Kunst forum, the representatives for Germany of the auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the General Management of “Tourism Hamburg” who have honoured us with their presence and support. Indeed, we are preparing the exhibition Akwaaba 2 which will present the works of the first artists coming from the Ivorian art scene. This will allow art lovers and collectors to immerse themselves in the cultural history of the Ivory Coast from the pre-independence period to the present day.
The choice of Hamburg as the venue for the exhibition is no coincidence. The city is known for its harbour. How do you intend to strengthen the cultural, artistic and economic ties between Hamburg and the African continent?
The city of Hamburg through its port activity is very open and connected to the world. In German, we say “Hamburg das Tor zur Welt” (Hamburg at the Gateway to the World). I was born in Hamburg, so it was natural that we wanted to open the Melbye-Konan Gallery in this beautiful city.
Historically, the port of Hamburg and Hamburg’s merchants have had a close connection with Africa. Not only goods, but also art objects circulated through their hands. It is worth noting that Germany is the second largest buyer of cocoa in the Ivory Coast after the United States and the second nation to have recognised the independence of the Ivory Coast after France. There is a dynamic that is being established both culturally and economically. Notably, through the Compact With Africa set up by Chancellor Angela Merkel. We will make our modest contribution to increasing the intensity of this dynamic through the exhibitions and cultural exchanges that will be offered to Germans. In addition, we are in the process of programming projects and exhibitions with museums in Germany. We believe that this will play an active part in making the African continent more attractive.
You also advocate a Euro-African vision. In the context of the Africa 2020 cultural season organised by France, what message would you like to send to curator Ngoné Fall?
We think it is an excellent initiative taken by the President of the French Republic, Mr Emmanuel Macron. It would allow us to highlight the talents of the cultural milieu coming from the continent or inspired by African culture in all its diversity, because Africa is 54 independent nations, each with its own cultural specificities. We would like this initiative to take on a European dimension. We are confident in Ngoné Fall’s willingness to create the conditions for a global success around this cultural season despite the constraints of the current pandemic and we stand by his side.
How do you think the Germans view Africa?
The Germans’ view of the African continent is changing. This continent is beginning to arouse their interest, so we are hopeful that this will intensify. But many Germans, due to a lack of information, still have a negative image of Africa full of clichés (poverty, war, disease, etc.). With the gallery we also want to raise awareness and contribute to a positive image of Africa through the work of Yannick Ackah, Belén, Jean-Laurent Koné Zié. This is the mission that each African of the Diaspora must give himself to give back a beautiful attractiveness to our continent.