Interview with Nadine Hounkpatin and Céline Seror, curators of the "Memoria: Tales of Another History" exhibition
The exhibition Memoria: Tales of Another History was presented in Bordeaux (Frac Nouvelle-Aquitaine MECA) in 2021 as part of the Africa2020 season, curated by N'Goné Fall and produced by the Institut français. The exhibition is now part of the Résonances Africa2020 programme which, with the support of the Season's Patrons Committee, will allow 22 African countries to host one or more projects initiated during the Season in 2023.
Having travelled to Abidjan (Musée des Cultures Contemporaines Adama Toungara - MuCAT) in 2022, Memoria: Tales of Another History is now at the prestigious Musée National du Cameroun in Yaoundé until 30 July 2023, in partnership with the Institut français du Cameroun. Curators Nadine Hounkpatin and Céline Seror answered our questions about the event.
Updated on 27/07/2023
You first presented "Memoria: Tales of Another History" at the FRAC Nouvelle-Aquitaine MÉCA as part of the Africa2020 Season and Focus on women. For this first exhibition, you selected works by well-known artists and others with little exposure in France, to create a choral and plural narrative. How did the project come about and how has it been received in France?
The genesis of the Memoria project lies above all in the need, indeed the urgency, to offer counter-narratives of the history of the African continent to the widest possible audience. The Africa2020 Season and its curator's stated aim of inviting the public "to look at and understand the world from an African point of view" offers an ideal platform for sharing, exchanging and constructing an alternative discourse. And it was at the Frac Nouvelle Aquitaine MÉCA in Bordeaux, in collaboration with the team there, that the "Memoria: Tales of Another History" exhibition was conceived and brought to life.
Starting from the idea of a collective memory made up of a myriad of stories, histories, questions and experiences scattered across our individual memories, we worked to identify a multitude of voices that allowed us to highlight the plurality of the continent's Histories. From an artistic point of view, this meant carefully selecting artists from all disciplines, whose work and careers focus on the production of narratives and counter-narratives. Beyond the disciplines, it was also essential to present different generations of artists and to get them to talk to each other. It was a kind of multi-generational back-and-forth that helped to pass on knowledge enriched by the experiences of each individual.
It was also particularly important to give a voice to women artists. The memory of the continent has rarely been voiced by its women. Memoria invites you to hear the voices of these female artists, poets, performers, researchers and insatiable observers of our world. The response given here to "conventional" narratives is intended to create emotions as much as reflections. Last but not least, mention should be made of the book that accompanied the exhibition - published by Actes Sud - whose polyphony of writing complements that of the works presented.
The audience's reactions to the work of the 14 artists* exhibited in Bordeaux reinforced the idea that History needs to be portrayed in all its diversity, while leaving room for the universal aspects it can convey. In particular, the feedback referred to the way in which the intimate stories on show were able to echo the personal experiences of visitors, while the political issues raised in some of the works called into question our shared responsibility in the face of major contemporary challenges (migration, ecology, identity, among others).
*Memoria Bordeaux artists: Dalila Dalléas Bouzar, Ndidi Dike, Enam Gbewonyo, Bouchra Khalili, Gosette Lubondo, Georgina Maxim, Tuli Mekondjo, Myriam Mihindou, Wangechi Mutu, Otobong Nkanga, Josèfa Ntjam, Selly Raby Kane, Na Chainkua Reindorf, Mary Sibande.
© G. Deleflie
The Africa2020 Season, curated by N'Goné Fall, came to an end on 30 September 2021. Over 10 months, it allowed more than 1,500 projects in 210 towns and cities in mainland and overseas France to see the light of day, attracting over 4 million spectators. What did this Season mean to you?
Over and above the extraordinary aspects of the event, the Africa2020 season allowed us to present the Memoria project to new audiences, some of whom had little or no knowledge of the artistic scene in Africa and its diasporas. For others, it was also a chance to discover certain aspects of the continent's history and to challenge preconceived notions and ideas. For us, the season was certainly an opportunity to (re)introduce ourselves and open up new horizons for the first time in France.
"Memoria: Tales of Another History" continues to move forward. It was presented on the African continent for the first time at the Musée des Cultures Contemporaines Adama Toungara (MuCAT) in Abidjan from 7 April to 21 August 2022. How did you envisage the touring exhibition and this first stop on the continent?
The idea of taking the exhibition on the road came up very soon after the Bordeaux exhibition began, because it was clear that such a collection of works and the stories behind them needed to be shared with the African public. And so the idea of extending Memoria to the continent was born. The search then began for a space capable of hosting the exhibition in the best possible conditions, allowing the project to take root locally. The Musée des Cultures Contemporaines Adama Toungara (MuCAT) in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, offered all the criteria we had set out for showcasing the exhibition (space, equipment, outreach team, links with various local educational structures and associations, and the audience of course!) Thanks to the support of local partners who believed in the promise of Memoria Abidjan, and in close collaboration with the teams at Frac Nouvelle Aquitaine, the exhibition, enriched with works by 6 artists of Ivorian origin, the accompanying educational and vocational training components, and the catalogue all came together in April 2022. We are particularly grateful for the support of our Ivorian partners, who perceived Memoria Abidjan not only as an exhibition aimed at contemporary art lovers, but also as an opportunity for over 13,000 visitors in five months to come to the museum and meet the artists*, their works and their stories.
*Memoria Abidjan artists: Joana Choumali, LaFalaise Dion, Enam Gbewonyo, Selly Raby Kane, Gosette Lubondo, Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien, Carine Mansan Chowanek, Rachel Marsil, Georgina Maxim, Tuli Mekondjo, Myriam Mihindou, Josèfa Ntjam, Valérie Oka, Na Chainkua Reindorf.
Oeuvres (au centre et à droite) : Rachel Marsil, Georgina Maxim, Enam Gbewonyo, Tuli Mekondjo
After Abidjan, it is the turn of the prestigious Musée National du Cameroun in Yaoundé, a leading heritage and cultural centre in Central Africa, to host Memoria in partnership with the Institut Français du Cameroun until 31 July. The exhibition continues to be enriched with new perspectives in this new setting. The Institut Français du Cameroun has done a great deal to make this event possible. What is so special about Memoria in Yaoundé?
After its success in Abidjan, which reinforced the idea of continuing to tour the exhibition, Memoria was hosted at the National Museum of Cameroon, a former presidential palace and a key symbol of Cameroon's political history. The exhibition was also enriched by works by artists of Cameroonian origin, once again anchoring the exhibition in a local context in touch with its audience. The support of the Institut français de Yaoundé, in collaboration with the team from the Musée National du Cameroun, was key to setting up Memoria Yaoundé and ensuring that it ran smoothly, from transporting the artworks - a crucial aspect of any touring exhibition - to identifying local professionals with whom we were able to work, and supporting the publication of a free bilingual (French/English) catalogue.
As for the uniqueness of this stage, it is important to mention the number of Cameroonian artists who joined the exhibition - 11 in total - testimony to a rich and multidisciplinary female artistic scene. Memoria Yaoundé was also an opportunity to re-emphasise the fundamental role of museums in society. The determination of its current Director to democratise access to art is to be welcomed and supported.
*Memoria Yaoundé artists: Barbara Asei Dantoni, Ruth Belinga, Aurélie Djiena, Beya Gille Gacha, Justine Gaga, Enam Gbewonyo, Gosette Lubondo, Carine Mansan Chowanek, Georgina Maxim, Roxane Mbanga, Elsa M’Bala, Tuli Mekondjo, Josèfa Ntjam, Na Chainkua Reindorf, Grâce Dorothée Tong, Kristine Tsala, Charlotte Yonga.
Oeuvre (au centre) : Justine Gaga
Oeuvre (à droite) : Beya Gille Gacha
© Serenah Pictures / Institut français du Cameroun
How do you view the international impact of the exhibition, beyond the African continent and France? What follow-up do you envisage?
Given the number of visitors in France, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon (a total of over 60,000 visitors for the 3 editions), it is true that Memoria has rapidly gained international exposure, which has created new opportunities for the artists and professionals who worked on the project, and of course for the exhibition itself. The dynamic that we have seen from the start of the project is based above all on collaboration, on constant dialogue between all the participants, and on an invitation to the public to listen to the many voices and stories that have been revealed along the way. This is what inspires us and motivates us to continue with Memoria's tour of the continent. We're already working on the next stage. To be continued...
Oeuvre (à droite) : Justine Gaga
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