UPDATE ON DOKOLO IN VENICE
Almost three months ago, Artnet News published a brief report on the Congolese businessman and art collector Sindika Dokolo, whose art holdings are featured in "Check List" (apparently now renamed "Check List Luanda Pop"), the art show selected to represent Africa at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Titled "Art and Corruption in Venice," the news item summarized reporting in the African, European and Israeli press on controversy surrounding the business activity of Dokolo’s family and associates (see Artnet News, Feb. 23, 2007). Since the "Check List" exhibition is designed to illuminate "the context of art patronage in Africa generally," this background was considered important.
Since then, there have been a number of further developments.
Most importantly, Artnet Magazine has received a reply from Sindika Dokolo, stating his opinions about the controversies reported in the original story, which we publish below in full. Through a Paris-based attorney, Dokolo has also demanded that Artnet Magazine remove the original report from its website.
In addition, several other important pieces have also been added to the puzzle.
* The roster of artists in "Check List" has been announced: Ghada Amer, Oladélé Bamgboyé, Miquel Barcelò, Jean Michel Basquiat, Mario Benjamin, Bili Bidjocka, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Loulou Cherinet, Marlène Dumas, Mounir Fatmi, Kendell Geers, Ihosvanny, Alfredo Jaar, Paulo Kapela, Amal Kenawy, Kiluanji Kia Henda, DJ Spooky, Santu Mofokeng, Nástio Mosquito, Ndilo Mutima, Ingrid Mwangi, Chris Ofili, Olu Oguibe, Tracey Rose, Ruth Sacks, Yinka Shonibare, Minette Vari, Viteix, Andy Warhol and Yonamine.
* The Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Toguo, however, has dropped out of "Check List," apparently as a result of the controversy. "Under no circumstances whatever should my name be associated with that of Sindika Dokolo or the collection that he has put together over the years," Toguo stated in an email declining the Biennale’s invitation posted on the blog Artheat. "I respect all of the artists whose work figures in that collection, but I don't want to have anything to do with it."
* In an email to Artnet Magazine, the German journalist Gunter Péus pointed out that the lion’s share of the Dokolo art holdings was assembled from a 500-work collection of contemporary African art amassed by the German shoemaker Hans Bogatzke, purchased by Dokolo from Bogatzke’s widow. This information is stated on a website connected to the collection (see http://www.trienal-de-luanda.net/?cat=5), though it is not mentioned in the Venice Biennale press release.
* A new website, www.dokolo.com, has been launched devoted to Sindika Dokolo; his father, the Congolese businessman Augustin Dokolu Sanu; the African art collection compiled by Sanu; and Sindika Dokolo’s extensive business interests in Africa. The Sindika Dokolo Foundation also has a new website.
* Asked by Art Review correspondent James Westcott about Dokolo’s controversial background at a press conference in London on Mar. 1, 2007, Biennale artistic director Robert Storr said, "Nobody knew about it when the decision was made. I wish it wasn't the case. It muddies the water. The jury voted on it because of the importance of the collection and I have faith in the jury."
* In an email exchange with Artnet Magazine, Storr clarified the process by which "Check List" was selected for the Venice Biennale. The committee -- composed of Meskerem Assegued, Ekow Eshun, Lyle Ashton Harris, Kellie Jones and Bisi Silva -- received 37 submissions in response to the open call for proposals for an African pavilion. The winning proposal, entered by curators Simon Njami and Fernando Alvim, consisted of a detailed plan for a show largely but not entirely based on the Dokolo collection. The entry was accompanied by the catalogue for "SD Observatorio," an exhibition of Dokolo’s art holdings that appeared at the Institute of Modern Art, Valencia, July 25-Sept. 10, 2006.
Of the decision, Storr writes: "I had no vote, no prior contact with the curators or the collector, raised several questions during the discussions simply to clarify the emerging consensus and to make sure issues such as the significance of selecting a private collection were aired but made no attempt whatsoever to steer the verdict one way or the other."
Storr also suggested that whatever claims might be made about the business practices of Dokolo's family, it had nothing to do with Dokolo himself or his art collecting. He further stated that he hopes that the controversy does not overshadow the importance of the debut of a show of African art at the Venice Biennale.
* Through his lawyer, Dokolo declined to be interviewed for a follow-up to the original story unless Artnet Magazine deleted its original news item.
In the statement by Sindika Dokolo that follows below, he makes several claims about "Art and Corruption in Venice" that are incorrect. The original news item said nothing about the source of the funds used to assemble the Dokolo Collection. Artnet News also made several efforts to obtain information from the principals of the Dokolo Collection. For instance, in early April, a request to interview Alvim and Njami was turned down by the Venice Biennale press office.
In his reply, Dokolo states that the goal of his art collection is to help Africans build "a strong point of view on the world that would be their own," certainly an admirable ambition. To this end, and in the interests of fairness and open debate, we present here the statement from Sindika Dokolo (all hyperlinks are in the original).
THE RIGHT OF REPLY
by Sindika Dokolo
The "Sindika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art" (SDACCA) was created five years ago in Luanda. Since then it has launched in 2007 the first African Triennial in the heart of the continent, in Luanda Angola. It has enabled the visit in Angola of important art figures such as Miquell Barcelo, Alfredo Jaar, Professor Henry Gates Jr., David Elliott. The dream of opening the first Centre for Contemporary Art in Luanda by 2012 now becomes real. The unanimous decision of the jury in the Venice Biennale in selecting the collection to represent the African Pavilion has confirmed the importance of linking the art world to the African continent; it has underlined the value of exposing the African public to its contemporary production.
Unfortunately, on 23 February 2007, the journalist Ben Davis published an article entitled "ART AND CORRUPTION IN VENICE" on the Artnet site. The fact that the journalist has not considered necessary to contact me or search for contradictory information raises doubts about purpose of the article. This article has had important consequences for the collection and for my family. Therefore, as advised by my legal team, without prejudice to any eventual court case, I ask you to remove the February 23rd article from your web site so that no traces remains on the web and to insert this text in the communication service concerned.
This article makes an attack on the memory of my father, Augustin Dokolo Sanu, who died in 2001. I believe that the journalist has not taken the necessary time to question or select credible or contradictory sources. My father was one of the first Africans to create a private commercial bank, the Bank of Kinshasa (BK) and an industrial group, providing jobs to thousands. His group was confiscated in the ‘80s during the decadence of the Mobutu regime. I invite the readers to discover the extraordinary destiny of my father who came from humble origins and became an economic tycoon and an inspiration to the business community in Congo. His book Telema Congo is still quoted 45 years after its first publication as one of the most accurate analysis on Congo and African development.
The article questions the legitimacy of my family. This is inappropriate and out of scope, my family not being involved in the Sindika Dokolo Foundation. I will leave to my family, my wife and her family’s legal advisors the decision on weather to give legal consequences to this.
This article exploits previous concoctions of ideas to raise doubts about where the money came from to finance my collection. I inherited one of the biggest private real estate patrimonies in Congo when my father died in 2001 and have developed since several industrial and service companies. Information on these companies is publicly available. I have inherited in 2001 of my father’s unique ancient African masterpieces collection that is known in Congo to be the most important in private hands. My father’s philosophy about African cultural heritage and the importance of the emergence of African collectors is referred to in Telema Congo, the book that he has written after having attended the "festival des arts Nègres" in Dakar, Senegal in 1968.
I could have given Artnet this information prior to the publication of the article but no time was spent to interview me or contact independent and well informed sources. Would this basic journalistic work have been neglected if I had been a European or American collector? Unfortunately the consequences of this poorly documented attack were immediate: I have been surprised by the disengagement of the MOMA from our project at the Arsenal in Venice [ed. note: the Museum of Modern Art press office has been unable to shed any light on this reference]; I learned with even greater consternation the refusal by the artist Barthelemy Togo to have a leading place in our pavilion after having read this article; I was also very sorry that the Venice curator Robert Storr was destabilized by this controversy. I trust that the Venice Biennale will be able to give a firm and suitable answer to these accusations.
I would like to conclude by questioning the "why" of this article. Why not take any time for research or analysis? Why this taste for immediate caricature when it comes to African elites? Like my father before me, I have decided to fight preconceived ideas so that Africans would have a strong point of view on the world that would be their own. My weapon is this collection and the impact that it will have on the African public. I undertake to meet the principal persons involved in contemporary art and to explain to them my actions as a collector, based on both logic and passion, and a militant message described fully in the manifest of my collection. I will propose to all readers to enrich the debate and support our action by reading and rejoining this manifest.