Douala Art Fair, an opportunity to meet Landry Mbassi

Cameroon’s first contemporary art and design fair was held on June 1, 2 and 3, 2018. This innovative event was organised by the Omenkart creative advertising agency. The aim is to make Douala Art Fair a place where artists, Cameroonians and the world can come together. We wanted to chat with its Art Director. More than 1,000 people attended the event to discover works by artists such as Barthélémy Toguo, Koko Komegne, Hervé Yamguen, Jean David Nkot, Ajarb Bernard, etc.

Landry Mbassi

Landry Mbassi is a visual artist, curator and art critic based in Yaoundé. As an artist, he focuses on photography, video, art installations and new media forms. Since 2008, he has been one of the curators of the RAVY Yaoundé visual arts festivals, which is held every two years, and its general commissioner since 2016. One of his major projects, Contemporalités, RAVY 2016’s main exhibition, presented ‘Welcome to applied fiction’, a major installation by Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo, who won the 2015 Prince Claus Award. In May 2017, he was commissioned by the Ministry for Art and Culture to organise Cheminements – Art contemporain du Cameroun, the Cameroon national gallery’s inaugural exhibition. As an art critic, Landry has written for IAM - Intense Art Magazine, SWAG (Something We Africans Got) Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Mosaïques, the Cameroonian contemporary art and culture magazine. He is the Art Director of Douala Art Fair.

5 questions for Landry Mbassi…

Douala Art Fair is quite an ambitious project. Where did the idea to organise a contemporary art and design fair in Cameroon come from?

Douala Art Fair arose from a desire to provide a “market space” in an appropriate venue, given the growing demand from Cameroonian contemporary creation, but also to stem this market’s lack of structure. Indeed, contemporary creation is thriving, and the aim of this fair is to enable this community of artists, buyers and (potential) collectors to meet each other and open up new prospects together, in a globalised world where aesthetics are more than ever permeating each other like interconnected vessels.

Your country, Cameroon, has already held numerous artistic events. What is so special about this one? What are its innovations?

Firstly, one of the characteristics of this event is that it is the very first contemporary art fair to be organised in Cameroon. Secondly, it is based on a desire to provide a high-quality event within an environment that remains impoverished in this respect, with a lack of art galleries, art dealers, auction houses, etc. The main innovation – compared with other such events – is that, given the context, this is not just a fair where galleries can present their artists, but one whose artistic direction has been entrusted to a person who can pull the strings. We thus simultaneously have an exhibition (open-air, because the event site is outside) and a market, in the professional sense of the word.

From next year, we want people to apply who are not only from Cameroon, but from across this continent.

What activities have been organised around this contemporary art fair?

The event’s centrepiece was the exhibition, with works by some twenty Cameroonian artists. However, there were many other activities such as a programme of talks and meetings focussing on creation from here and elsewhere, as well as arts and crafts workshops for children and adults alike.

What are the fair’s short, medium and long-term objectives?

In the short term, the fair is aiming to create a “butterfly effect” vis-à-vis the country’s contemporary creation. In the medium term, it wants to rouse people’s mindsets and shake up the bourgeoisies in the long term, the goal is to contribute to the dawn of a new era where art is acknowledged as a major vehicle for development.

Were the artists who were invited all from Cameroon? If so, who were they?

Yes, we had Barthélémy Toguo, Hervé Yamnguen, Ajarb Bernard, Hervé Youmbi, Salifou Lindou, Koko Komegne, Yvon Ngassam, Béatrice Yougang, Boris Anje, Christian Djomani, Hako Hanson, Jean David Nkot, Jean Jacques Kanté, Jean Michel Dissake, Koko Komegne, Marc Padeu, Sarah Tchouatcha, Tally Mboc, Wilfried Nakeu, etc. yes, I think that’s it.

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