As a youth I was an avid reader of novels. Literature was and still is the art form I admire the most. I studied banking administration in Switzerland, and was actually predestined for a career as a trader at Credit Suisse back in the late 1980s. I always enjoyed art and regularly visited shows wherever I was. But it is the friendship with a Swiss artist duo that really awoke my aspiration to work in the arts. Meeting Swiss playwright and actor Dominique Rust and German costume designer Clarissa Herbst opened a totally different world for me. Their eclectic work in performance, installation and costume and graphic design is unfortunately totally under the international radar.
However, it was clear that I had absolutely no interest in becoming an artist myself. I was concerned with the lack of visibility of artistic and intellectual ideas coming from Africa and its diaspora in a country such as Switzerland, where I was living then. It is out of this perceived necessity – to make Africa related practices more visible – that I started organising discursive programmes and writing for local magazines. Later, a visit to Dakar in the mid 1990's shifted my focus to this city.
I work pretty much out of necessity. Meaning that I do things that need to be done and that haven't been done. Despite Dakar's international image as a vibrant cultural city, there was no single formal space to debate the role of art in society in a recognizable programmatic manner. Things were taking place erratically and informally, hence not providing any grasp of the important ideas being dealt with. Raw Material Company came in to fill that void.
Since its physical establishment, Raw Material Company has applied a range of diverse formats of mediating art through social and political thought. Curated programs have looked at the relationship between development and natural resources in Africa (George Osodi's Oil Rich Niger Delta and Olafur Eliasson's Little Sun), migration (Faites comme chez vous, Boulevard du Centennaire, Absence), video as an artistic practice (Project 35), collaborations and production among independent art spaces (Making Douala, Symposium Condition Report), African identity (United States of Africa, Hollandaise) and politics of democracy (Chronicle of a Revolt). All these exhibitions were accompanied by residencies for the participating artists and curators as well as critical publications.
In 2014, we are running a program on personal liberties, with an emphasis on sexuality and freedom of expression. It is a series of activities that include exhibitions, seminars and a final publication. Our program is generally well received if one measures it by the number of artists and related professionals who want to collaborate with us. Even though we are sometimes critiqued as being politically and curatorially too challenging. But we take it as a compliment and encouragement to continue on this path because it means that our work is moving something.
Every Documenta is a new curatorial enterprise with the artistic director as the leader. As such, every director has his/her own ideas and curatorial practice. As an advisor, I am very respectful of this hierarchy and stick to my role of directing attention to certain contexts, artists and practices that may otherwise go unnoticed. The work on Documenta 12 was most fulfilling. Roger M. Buergel has an admirable capacity to develop interest and expand realms of collaboration that produce a large horizon.
For Documenta 14, my role was in the finding committee and as such you have a great responsibility in choosing the right person in the light of expectations that the art world has from this event. I think our choice of Adam Szymczyk as artistic director has been generally well received. Documenta gained its significance as a serious and intellectual art event mainly from the dramatic context from which it was conceived – postwar Germany/Europe. For the greater part of its existence, it functioned pretty much as a Eurocentric art event with a noticeable shift with Harald Szeeman's Documenta 5. Yet, it was with Catherine David's Documenta X in 1997 that the event opened up to a world of practices and ideas beyond Europe and the Americas. Okwui Enwezor completed the process by making it truly global in a resolute manner with his Documenta 11 in 2002.
My work is generally not geared to the market. Nevertheless, it was important for me to support this particular initiative with a programme that added critical weight and gave credibility to the event. Art fairs have become unavoidable platforms of discussion, and 1:54 is no exception to that. I have grown beyond the idea of Africa as a geographical region, and rather, treat it as a mindset to give it a mental space that can inhabited by anyone interested in the idea of Africa. While I am interested in artistic practice and discourse regardless of any national origin, I feel a deep responsibility to deal with what is related to Africa.
From my point of view the entire program was a highlight. However, I believe that one on one artist talks are always very inspiring and provide greater insight into a specific practice.
A lot of art produced in the last twenty years often take the form of social advocacy. The last Berlin Biennial is the most recent kaleidoscope of it. While I am interested in the political discourse embedded in such productions, I surely doubt that art has the power to change the course of world politics or even the world economy. I would even argue that it is not art's role to have a moral value. Even though Duchamp has freed the artist from the shackles of form and discipline – meaning anything can be art as long as the artist declares it as such – I believe that the issues that are dealt with in these types of works are far more challenging than any art that could be made about or for them. This, however, does not diminish the quality of the art for the matter. For my part, art has already done a lot if it can elevate consciousness and therefore build some social value.