Gallery Profile: This is Not a White Cube
Sonia Ribeiro is gallerist, curator and art producer whose interest in art was sparked eight years ago when she began collecting art and promoting artists in Doula, Cameroon.
Her experience afforded her the opportunity to move to Paris where she studied contemporary art history at the Institut des Études Superieurs d’Art. During that time, she visited significant exhibitions in museums, art centres and galleries. She would later studycuratorship at Sotheby’s in New York, and after two years, travelled to Luanda in Angola, eventually settling there to explore the country’s art scene. She was soon invited to curate and produce exhibitions, which led to her establishing This Is Not a White Cube (TINAWC) Gallery, which focuses on promoting emerging contemporary artists from Angola and her diaspora. In this interview with Omenka, she discusses her gallery, including current and upcoming projects.
You are a gallerist, curator and art producer. When did your interest in art begin and what were the challenges in setting up your gallery?
My interest in art began eight years ago when I began buying art and helping artists promote their work in Doula, Cameroon. The context for emerging artists at the time was not easy, as there was no formal market or adequate platforms and spaces to promote art, except the Doual’art – Art Centre, which is nowadays fundamental, and an international fair of African art that allows artists closer contact with collectors, as well as an opportunity for the public to learn about the work of international artists.
My experience afforded me the possibility of moving to Paris where I studied contemporary art history at the Institut des Études Superieurs d’Art, and visited significant exhibitions in museums, art centres and galleries. I also had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of curatorship at Sotheby’s in New York.
Two years later I had the opportunity to go to Angola, which is where I settled. The fact that my husband is Portuguese-Angolan, that I speak Portuguese, and already knew some people here, made integration relatively easy. The artistic scene in Angola is exciting and presents several opportunities for interesting projects.
Shortly after arriving in Luanda, I was invited to curate and produce exhibitions. I feel artists need help, as well as a more professional, structured approach. Unfortunately, Angola does not have an established art market or enough institutional platforms to promote art. There is still no clear relationship between artists and galleries but I believe we have made every effort to ensure that Angolan art and artists have more opportunities to gain visibility and work more closely together.
Your gallery, This Is Not a White Cube (TINAWC) is based in Luanda and is focused on representing emerging contemporary artists from Angola and its diaspora. What inspired you to establish it, what is your vision, curatorial thrust and to what extent have these been accomplished?
For me, it is important to structure the relationship between an artist and a gallery. The relationship between a gallery and collectors is also equally important. We offer professional services with a clear strategy of the development of artists’ careers while working closely with collectors. In addition, we are focused on further developing our work at the international level, to contribute and promote Angolan artists including those in the diaspora.
We try to represent artists with critical vision and interesting aesthetics while at the same time complementing bodies of work. We value experimentation and projects that propose interesting narratives, as well as geographical and artistic dialogues. We are focused on post-colonial narratives, as an important process, not only in Angola but in Africa in general.
We have made great efforts to present platforms for discussion in the artistic community, the general public and non-profit projects, to contribute to artistic education and in particular to the young. We have a partnership with the Hangar Center for Artistic Research on art residencies kicking off in 2019 and we encourage the participation of both national and international curators. We have tried to build an incentive base for the inclusion of a number of local institutional partners, such as the Alliance Française and the Goethe-Institut, and on parallel projects in areas such as cinema, literature and music.
There are not many galleries in Angola, how has TINAWC performed as a pioneer and what has been its impact on art in Angola?
Angola still presents an emerging artistic context and there are few professional structures with a clear development strategy. I would say that we are in a learning phase with its challenges and opportunities, but with a lot of motivation and confidence regarding our project. We have been able to secure the confidence of partners, artists and collectors to present an upward curve to new possibilities. Our focus is on artists and their art, and as such we present ourselves as partners in long-term growth. The quality of our proposals and the production are fundamental. At the international level, I believe that TINAWC has contributed to a bigger picture. Since inception 18 months ago, we have participated in two international art fairs, in Paris and Cape Town and with this, promoted the work of 4 Angolan artists.
You often turn your attention to international fairs having participated at AKAA Fair. You will also be participating in this year’s edition of the Cape Town International Art Fair (CTAF). What impact do fairs like these have on your gallery and are there plans to sustain or increase this development?
Art fairs are part of our strategy as they are an important platform for promoting both the artists and the gallery. They also allow direct contact with collectors, museums, foundations, and curators, which is essential for the growth of the project, especially as we are an emerging gallery. For now, we will focus on the African art fairs but the next steps will be to bet on international contemporary art fairs. There is no doubt that although these fairs present an important investment, the financial risks can discourage and prevent the gallery from sustaining this type of initiative. Our approach is to include art fairs in our business plan, but with the utmost care. Part of this strategy is the careful analysis of the profile of each fair and the adaptation of resources to specific needs. 2018 will present some surprises that we hope to continue and strengthen in 2019.
Januario Jano will be representing TINAWC at CTAF, having been selected by curator Tumelo Mosaka. What are your expectations?
We had the confidence from the curator Tumelo Mosaka, which we hope to honour. The Tomorrow / Today section highlights emerging artists who will be tomorrow’s leading names. Januário Jano presents fresh, highly creative work with references to issues of memory, identity and the archive.
You were the Luanda producer for the recently concluded exhibition Being Her(e). Please tell us about the experience.
Although we are not independent producers, curator Paula Nascimento and Kauru Contemporary Art Projects invited us to produce this project in Luanda with the support of our partner – Banco Económico. Being Her (e) is the sequel to a “dialogue” that began in 2015 and 2016 with the exhibition Being and Becoming, Complexities of the African Identity, the focus of which was on the various layers of African identity and the urgency of forging new and unorthodox ways of seeing and being African. The project has enabled us to build bridges with South Africa, as well as contribute to this dialogue. It was a constructive and pleasant experience and one of the few to bring artists from all over Africa into focus.
What role has the government paid in developing art in Angola?
I understand that the government has made efforts to support contemporary art in Angola, but they are not enough. There is still much to be done. We need more institutional support for educational structures, as well as art schools, resources and art centres. A museum of contemporary art would also be a plus. It is essential to create more platforms for the exchange of ideas, and spaces for creation and experimentation.
Please tell us about your major projects, including forthcoming ones.
This Is Not a White Cube has several upcoming exhibitions this year and a contemporary art showroom in Angola. We are also working on an international project abroad for 2019. Furthermore, we will be attending two international contemporary art fairs and, at the same time, continue to consult and work with private collections. The team is growing and becoming more professional so it becomes necessary to use a model of gallery management with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
We strategically expect to increase the number of artists we represent including two international ones in the medium term. We also want to continue to support them with commissions, projects and residencies.
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