Credit: Jonah Batambuze
If You’re Not Passionately Chasing Your Dreams, What Are You Doing?
French-Cameroonian curator Elise Atangana discusses how seeing herself represented in art inspired her to take a chance. She hasn’t looked back since.
Every day, the universe presents signs directing us to our purpose. Being mindful of these signs is one thing—creating something tangible is another story.
French-Cameroonian curator, Elise Atangana’s story is that of a doer and shows what’s possible when you follow your passions.
As far back as she can remember, music served as a source of creative inspiration. “When I was young, my parents were known for their throwing parties in the community,” said Atangana. The soundtrack was an eclectic mix of music ranging from traditional Bikutsi to Motown classics, which brought everyone together.
In the mid-1990’s, Atangana’s older brother DJ Effa started rapping and producing with the hip-hop collectives Departement E and Mafia T. During this time, the collectives developed a theatrical concept of hip-hop. “Creatively, what the group was doing was original,” said Atangana. “It was the golden age of French hip-hop, and it provided a new perspective on society.”
When the Parisian hip-hop scene became commercialized, Atangana felt it was time for a change. One day, Christine Eyene, Atangana’s cousin who was studying contemporary art at the Sorbonne, introduced her to the African art publication Revue Noire. “Music had always been my passion. And, although I’d experienced French art, this was the first time I’d experienced visual arts which represented me,” said Atangana.
While thinking about how to get started in the art world, Atangana decided to contact Revue Noire’s co-founder, Simon Njami, directly.
Atangana Called Njami, and as they say, the rest is history. Collaborating on the first African pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale, and curating Kampala’s first Biennale are just a few iconic moments the two have shared.
I chatted with the Paris-based curator to learn more about her journey into the arts, and discussed her current exhibition, “This Is Utopia To Some,” which is open through 13 May 2018.
JB: Music has been a significant source of inspiration throughout your life. What was it like being part of the Parisian hip-hop scene in the mid-90’s?
EA: The creative ambiance was fascinating. Everywhere you turned new rappers were coming onto the scene, which brought a specific energy. Hip-hop highlighted topics often not discussed and gave the banlieues (suburbs of Paris) a voice. I loved that being creative had nothing to do with how much money you had. It was merely about being free in your mind and creating.
JB: Revue Noire piqued your interest in contemporary visual arts. What was it that caught your attention?
EA: The images throughout the magazine were powerful. I found complexity in the pictures and the personality of the artists. I realized that art conveyed difficult philosophies to me clearer than many people close to me could.The magazine touched me in a way I’d never felt before, and it helped me be at ease with myself.
JB: Revue Noire made such an impression on you, that you called the co-founder Simon Njami directly. What were you thinking?
EA: I realized no one is going to come looking for you asking if you’re ready for an opportunity. You have to go and get it for yourself. I didn’t recognize myself anymore in the music industry and wanted to do something that would allow me to learn something complex. Working with African contemporary art felt like a way of embracing new narratives and deconstructing clichés. I found new figures of representation in the artists, the artwork, and the curators.
JB: What did you learn working alongside Simon Njami?
EA: Simon is a strong-spirited and brilliant individual. One of the most important things I learned from him is the importance of the relationship with the artists. The artists require a supportive environment to create their masterpieces, and Simon has the skill of always providing advice that one needs to hear.
JB: Tell us about your current exhibition, “This Is Utopia To Some,” which opened at the Kadist Gallery in Paris.
EA: The exhibition displays work from artists including Steffani Jemison, Justin Hicks, Isaak Kariuki, Tamar Clarke Brown, Chloe Quenum, and Martine Syms. The show highlights how communication modes and new technologies influence our mental representations. And, how the artists conceive subversive strategies to become more autonomous. What I love about the show visually is that it is very minimalist. Content-wise the show is exceptionally current, discussing topics around data privacy amidst all the Facebook data sharing fiasco.
Steffani Jemison – The Power of listening (How would we ever get over / over) 2017
“This is Utopia, to Some” is on exhibition at Kadist Art Foundation in Paris until May 13, 2018.
Photo Credit : “This is Utopia, to Some”, vue d’exposition avec Steffani Jamison & Justin Hicks, Isaac Kariuki & Tamar Clarke-Brown, Chloé Quenum, Martine Syms, co-curated by Kadist and Elise Atangana, Kadist, Paris, 10 mars – 13 mai 2018, photo : Aurélien Mole
Jonah Batambuze, co-owner of lifestyle brand KampInd, is a multimedia artist, entrepreneur and UK-based digital strategist focused on shifting perceptions through design and fashion. You can find Jonah on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebok @Kampind.
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