the Malagasy artistic scene is trying to structure itself

Hasnaine Yavarhoussen and Hassanein Hiridjee have more than a vague disambiguation in common. Heirs to two powerful Malagasy groups active in the real estate and energy fields, both have recently competed for the role of promoter of the local artistic scene.

The first, 34, CEO of the Filatex group, launched the HY endowment fund, which, in 2019, supported the first Madagascar pavilion at the Venice Biennale with 200,000 euros, a labyrinth of 50,000 papers of crumpled black rice imagined by artist Joel Andrianomearisoa. And in February, just before the planetary containment, the businessman opened a 500 m art center in Antananarivo.2, Hakanto Contemporary, which aims to be a springboard for local designers.

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Facing him, ten years his senior, Hassanein Hiridjee developed the H Foundation and launched the Paritana Prize in 2016, the winners of which receive a scholarship of 3,000 euros combined with a three-month residency at the Cité internationale des arts, in Paris. In September, the CEO of the Axian group also inaugurated in the heart of the Marais a small space of 70 m2 to exhibit Malagasy artists in the French capital, initially, then more largely African.

In Madagascar, we praise their efforts as we laugh at their rivalry. “These are our Pinault and Arnault”, quips a local artist, not unhappy that two patrons are finally leaning at the bedside of an artistic scene as unknown as it is penniless.

No grants, no schools, no galleries

Isolated in the Indian Ocean, eastern Madagascar “Both cut off from the world and on the fringes of Africa”, sums up the curator Rina Ralay-Ranaivo, who for twelve years directed the cultural programming of the French Institute of Antananarivo. In this country where two-thirds of the 27 million inhabitants live on less than 2 euros a day, art is anything but a priority. No public subsidy, no school to train, no museum to exhibit and see works, no gallery to sell. After independence, the country wanted to assert a Malagasy identity by erasing the colonial past, including by abolishing art schools ”, regrets Joel Andrianomearisoa.

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And yet they create. Thus Eric Andriantsialonina, alias Dwa, 38, a cartoonist who grew up in a village without water or electricity. It was at the cost of an iron will, with the support of foreign publishers, that this winner of the Paritana Prize was able to publish seven comics. On November 10, it comes out A Gasy in Paris (Editions Des Bulles dans l’Océan), fruit of his stay in the French capital. “In Madagascar, you can find the basic material, but when you want good quality watercolors or graphics tablets, it gets complicated”, he confides. Multidisciplinary artist, Donn also trained on the job. “Each project is a challenge which forces me to understand technical aspects in illustration or design”, observe the jack-of-all-trades.

Tenacity is not the least of their qualities. In the absence of structures and public aid, plastic surgeons must juggle several jobs to make ends meet. While swallowing their frustration at not being totally taken seriously. “In the mind of the Malagasy, an artist is first and foremost a musician, sighs the talented photographer Rijasolo. The other disciplines are just hobbies. “ Not surprisingly, artists identified on the international scene, such as Malala Andrialavidrazana and Joel Andrianomearisoa, were educated abroad. Without ever breaking with their sentimental roots, visible both in their art and in the support they bring to the local scene.

“Artists need support”

Rijasolo may have been born and raised in the east of France, the sickness of a country where, as a child, he spent his summer holidays, won him over in 2002. “Jean-Marie Le Pen had arrived in the second round of the presidential election, remembers the photographer. I realized that my place was no longer in France but that I wanted to rebuild my identity in Madagascar, my country of origin. “ The photographer Christian Sanna, who exhibited at the beginning of November at the H Foundation in Paris, was also trained in France, in Toulouse; but it was in Madagascar that he found his subjects: wrestlers practicing moringue, a traditional martial art, or the taboo of twins within the Antambahoaka ethnic group. Despite his ambivalent relationship with his country, the photographer intends to settle there within a year. In Madagascar, there is no formatting, people work without too much outside influence ”, he observes before adding, without illusions: “But there is no dream either.

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“Here, we carry the dreams of the world”: this is precisely the title of the first exhibition organized as artistic director by Joel Andrianomearisoa in the Hakanto space. This nursery, which enjoys a comfortable budget of around 200,000 euros per exhibition, aims to “Serve as a model for Malagasy entrepreneurs by making them want to defend and buy this scene”, explains the artist. At the end of 2021, he hopes to launch a residency to welcome international designers wishing to both soak up the island’s special atmosphere and pass on their know-how to their peers. Rina Ralay-Ranaivo hammers it: “Artists don’t just need help, they need support above all. “ President of the Paritana Prize, the Parisian gallery owner Eric Dereumaux abounds: ” Everybody can spend money. The most important and the hardest thing is to ensure sustainability. “

Not that easy. The Covid-19 pandemic has thus derailed all the projects that Rijasolo had initiated during his residency at the Cité internationale des arts. For the photographer, who has been methodically chronicling the health crisis since March, the challenge is now to “Stay hooked on your artistic ambitions” and of ” power [se] keep afloat economically while waiting for better days ”.

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