To the sources of Tribal Art

Paris, 12 September 2017

As every year since 2001, the fair takes place in Saint-Germain-des-Prés for a week devoted to tribal art. Until 17 September, this gathering of 67 merchants offers a guaranteed change of scenery in the heart of Paris.

Parcours des Mondes, the fair steered by Pierre Moos – also managing director of Tribal Art magazine – has become the most important event in its field, leaping ahead of its most reputed European rivals. Incontestable success that confers on Parcours des Mondes its unique renown. No small feat, seeing how the schedule of events around classic African, Pacific, pre-Columbian and Asian arts, has taken off. Between the BRAFA and the BRUNEAF in Brussels, the TEFAF in Maastricht, the Tribal Art Fair in Amsterdam and London, and even Frieze New York which, this year, backed the decision to welcome tribal-art dealers in its alleys — Donald Ellis (New York, Vancouver), L & R Entwistle and Co (London) and Galerie Meyer (Paris) —, one thing is sure: we can no longer keep count of the number of international rendezvous organised in honour of tribal art. France is no exception to this infatuation. Ever since 2016, the Bourgogne Tribal Show has been held at Besanceuil in the Saône-et-Loire region, and its second edition last May was well received. Unthinkable, just ten years ago.

“Tribal art is a sector that is rising more and more interest,” comments a satisfied Pierre Moos. “The multiplication of fairs helps promote this speciality in the eyes of an increasingly wide public.” From 12 to 17 September, in the space of just five days, over sixty dealers are therefore offering the public the opportunity to discover the most beautiful pieces available on the market, via exhibitions — sometimes themed —, lectures, book publications and discussions.

Special Guest As is the case every year, the Parcours des Mondes team has decided to pay homage to a significant personality from the tribal-art world. Already, the fair has honoured Jacques Chirac, Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller and Lionel Zinsou. For its 16th edition, the title of honorary president is going to gallerist Javier Peres, a renowned collector of classic African art and a tireless fairgoer. Born in 1972 in Cuba, Javier Peres founded the gallery Peres Projects in San Francisco in 2002. Today, he is based in Berlin, and he participates in the greatest contemporary-art fairs with prominent artists such as Donna Huanca or Mark Flood. In the eyes of Javier Peres, Pierre Moos’s invitation comes as a true sign of recognition. Indeed, the gallerist recently described the fair as the “Art Basel of tribal art”. For Parcours des Mondes, Javier Peres is staging, in the Espace Tribal on Rue Visconti, an exhibition called “Le Lion et la Perle” (The Lion and the Pearl), an impressive match of the traditional arts of Nigerian ethnicities and more contemporary forms. This exercise in cultural dialogue, midway between traditional heritage and contemporary creation, is one favoured by Javier Peres, as attested by his recent exhibitions, “Group Spirit” and “Wild Style”, in his Berlin gallery. The objects presented in the Espace Tribal come from his personal (contemporary art) collection alongside others which he has selected from among the Parcours des Mondes exhibitors.

Tapa in the Spotlight

The second major event at this new edition of Parcours des Mondes places the spotlight on a certain object from the Pacific Islands: the tapa. An original focus, orchestrated to coincide with the publication of the book L’Evénement tapa, de l’écorce à l’étoffe. Art millénaire d’Océanie (Editions Somogy), the fruit of collaboration between sixty or so international specialists and 35 artists. As indicated by the title, the book presents the ancestral art of the tapa, fabrics produced from tree bark for centuries in much of the Pacific region. A press conference scheduled for Tuesday 12 September will mark the book’s release.

While the art of the tapa remains little known in the West, it is in fact an ancestral cultural practice in Polynesia. Depending on the island, tapas may be produced by either men or women. To do so, a piece of bark is detached from a tree trunk, then steeped in water to soften its texture. The bark is then beaten. Finally, coloured motifs in geometrical forms are printed on the bark’s surface. Prior to the introduction of Western clothing to the islands, Polynesians would use tapas as everyday attire. They would wear these fabrics throughout their lives, and even beyond, as they were also used as shrouds. Tapas were also employed in religious or civilian rituals, as gifts to visitors, or to envelop the effigies of gods. In this way, these objects perfectly encapsulate the links that once connected humans to the divine, the community to myths, a means to unite the sacred and the profane.

Parcours des Mondes was naturally keen to participate in this book release – and nor is it doing things by halves. To mark the event, the Polynesian association TAPA is preparing a few highlights, including an exhibition-sale of contemporary tapas, film screenings, lectures, and even two bark-beating demonstrations by Mareva Gilmore, a craftswoman from the island of Fatu Hiva (Marquesas Islands).

A spiritual voyage which several gallerists will echo, among them Anthony Meyer, who is presenting tapas from the Solomon Islands and Lake Sentani. The gallery Flak is also offering Maori sculptures from Polynesia in its exhibition “New Beginnings”, while American gallery Michael Evans, hosted by Galerie Courteron, is presenting superb sculpted clubs in the exhibition “War Clubs of the South Pacific”. Finally, the Centre Culturel du CROUS de Paris, on Rue de l’Abbaye, is staging, parallel to Parcours des Mondes, an exhibition featuring contemporary tapas from Tonga, Fiji and the Marquesas.

Gallerists at Ringside

But Parcours des Mondes is also, and above all, a gathering of the top tribal-art dealers. As usual, many of them will be putting on themed exhibitions, the fruit of work largely carried out upstream to the fair. Several have pointed out that they have been gathering the pieces being included in their exhibitions over nearly two years. In other words, this is a new opportunity to note that beyond their commercial aspect, galleries play a core role in the democratisation of tribal art, cultural mediation… and the history of taste.

© Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

The choice of Picasso by Charles-Wesley Hourdé offers an eloquent example. What exactly is the scope of the “White Negro” reputation that has stuck to the painter for so long? Without bringing a comprehensive answer to this question, the exhibition “L’Emprise des masques”, organised by the gallerist at least offers a few clues. The Spanish painter, to whom the Quai Branly recently paid homage, would visit popular-art museums; he also owned African statues and masks. Despite his famous claim, “I know nothing about Negro art!”, there’s no doubt that Pablo Picasso drew inspiration from art outside of Europe. For this exhibition, the dealer is offering a set of African and Pacific works carefully selected for their aesthetic quality, their age, but also their correlation with the life and work of Pablo Picasso, namely a Baga mask and a Kanak statue in the style of objects that influenced the Cubist master.

In this respect, much remains to be said on the role played by dealers in making parallels between cubist art and African art. For dealers are well and truly the ones who triggered the movement, which would subsequently turn into a fearful historiographical trap. It is the Galerie Joseph Brummer in Paris which first launched the game of comparisons as of the 1900s. The first exhibition to compare Picasso and African art, titled “Picasso u. Negerplastik”, was held a little later, in 1913, at Otto Feldmann’s Neue Galerie in Berlin. And even if Picasso did not orchestrate this comparison himself, he certainly didn’t contradict it.

Nearby, at 35 Rue de Seine, Galerie Vallois is showing around fifty contemporary Gélédé masks by Kifouli Dossou as well as old photographs inspired by the same masks, retouched by French artist Coco Fronsac. Born in 1978, Kifouli Dossou works primarily in Cové (Benin), where he sculpts masks for at least eleven hours per day. “In my tradition, the Gélédé is sacred,” confides Kifouli Dossou. “I draw inspiration from it to try to educate, to try to raise awareness. (…) I draw inspiration for my work from tradition, but also from everything around me in order to advance and construct a better future.” In 2014, Kifouli Dossou notably won the first edition of the Prix Orisha for contemporary African art, founded by gallerist Nathalie Miltat. Meanwhile, at its second space, over at 41 Rue de Seine, Vallois is displaying two contemporary artists: Edwige Aplogan and Charly d’Almeida. These two exhibitions fall in line with the ongoing event “Paris – Cotonou – Paris”, which for one year has presented, every month, exhibitions by artists from Benin or with special links to the country.

On the other hand, Galerie Lecomte will be exploring the theme of collectors, very much in vogue at the moment… One only needs to push the boutique’s doors open to admire Batéké treasures from Lower Congo collected by different generations of the Lehuard family, from Raoul to Sophie and Claude, via Robert. Part of the collection was already displayed at the Galerie Ratton in 1998, in the context of a trilogy still fresh in the memories of connoisseurs. The exhibition also echoes the one being dedicated to the Barbier-Mueller family, on at the Grand Palais during Biennale Paris (until 17 September).

The list of quality exhibitions that the public can visit over this week is lengthy. Splendid objects, headrests, walking sticks, and adzes, among others, will be on display at Yann Ferrandin during the “Pouvoir et prestige” exhibition. At the same time, Galerie Estrangin at Aboriginal Signature invites us to discover a little-known art with the show “Gems from the Remote Australian APY Lands Desert”. Lucas Ratton is offering a focus on the Malian Bambara culture, with thirty or so works, while Dandrieu-Giovagnoni shows a leaning towards art from the Upper Volta. Elsewhere, Laurent Dodier is putting Dogon objects on display for curious eyes… All this, without forgetting the bustling presence of the best foreign galleries hosted by their French peers, amongst them, of particular note, Didier Claes, Donald Ellis, Jo de Bruck, Thomas Murray and Chris Boylan…

© Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

In the end, one thing is certain: over this wonderful week in September, even the most demanding lovers of tribal art will find what they’re looking for in Paris as Parcours des Mondes offers an eclectic programme that covers all horizons. Never before has the world’s biggest tribal-art rendezvous been so deserving of its name — literally, “crossings of the worlds”.

New Season at the Quai Branly

Atlantic Equatorial Africa has produced some of the most exceptional masterpieces in the African arts. From the aesthetic power of the Fangs to the naturalist elegance of the Punus, almost 325 works from this vast region are gathered in the exhibition. This large set of pieces, spanning from the 17th to the start of the 20th century, sets out to show the correlations, mutations and particularities, of Atlantic Equatorial African arts and forms, thus offering a panorama of its main artistic styles while retracing the history of its “classic” art.

Cupisnique, Mochica, Chimú, Lambayeque… While these ancient cultures from the north of Peru cannot rival with the force wielded by the Incas on our imagination, they nonetheless bore the seeds of the vastest pre-Hispanic empire. This exhibition takes the shape of an investigation into the traces of these lost civilisations against the backdrop of a reflection on power.

“Les forêts natales. Arts de l’Afrique équatoriale atlantique” From 3rd October 2017 to 21st January 2018. Quai Branly Museum. 37 quai Branly, Paris “Le Pérou avant les Incas” From 14th November 2017 to 1st April 2018. Quai Branly Museum. 37 quai Branly, Paris