It is because he had discovered the monumental jute and straw statues of the Senegalese Ousmane Sow, one day in 1999 between the French Academy and the Louvre, on the Pont des arts, and because he had been conquered in a Paris concert hall by the voice of the Senegalese Youssouf N’Dour, whom the Moroccan painter, sculptor and writer Mahi Binebine accepts today to mobilize by becoming honorary president of Marrakech, African capital of culture 2020.
These artists, and some others, it is in Africa, that he would have liked to discover them … That the talents of the continent need Europe to get started deeply questioned the author of Forgiveness street (ed. Stock, selection of the 2019 Renaudot Prize) who, as he repeats willingly, wants to be able to meet the most talented of his neighbors, ” his home “. Not thousands of miles north.
This awareness of the writer, others have done it too. The idea was first discussed fourteen years ago in the debates of the 4the Africité Summit, Nairobi, Kenya. The territorial communities of the continent, united within the framework of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), have realized together that“The cultural link was missing in the continent’s development strategies” and “That the local authorities were the right level to put forward this approach”, recalls Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, a Cameroonian urban planner, secretary general of UCLG Africa.
“Ambassador of the cultures of the continent”
It is in this context that the idea of setting up revolving African capitals of culture is germinating. After a slow infusion, the project is taking shape this year, with the launch of Marrakech, African capital of culture 2020. Should follow Kigali, already in the ranks. Unless the Rwandan is overtaken by the Senegalese, Dakar, she too interested in taking up the torch in 2023.
“Every three years, a city is chosen to become an ambassador for the cultures of the continent. It was warned well in advance to develop a large program, to bring it to life and to disseminate it in other cities and countries “, adds Mr. Elong Mbassi, who has taken over the management of African cultural capitals.
Africa remained the only continent not to choose cultural capitals. The formula was born in 1985 on the Old Continent, implemented jointly by the Greek and French culture ministers of the time (Melina Mercouri and Jack Lang), in order to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of their cultures. To date, for Europe alone, more than fifty cities have obtained this title, which has enabled them to strengthen their image and gain an international profile in the process.
Africa has both chosen to follow in the footsteps of the Old Continent and to differentiate itself from it. “In Europe, cultural capitals often focus on building a museum, as we saw in Marseille with the Mucem or in Bilbao. In Africa, the spirit will be different and we will focus on the enhancement of the intangible heritage ”, warns Mr. Elong Mbassi. To his eyes, “European development models have shown their limits and Africa must invent its own solutions, in line with its realities rather than continue to try to imitate the West in vain. Our continent must invent a new relationship with nature and a new humanity based on more solidarity ”, he still observes, strong in the idea that art will help find the answers to these challenges.
“A hybridization between modernity and tradition”
Funding for the operation is based on several pillars. First, the organizing committee of African capitals of culture with the support of international institutional partners, but also sponsors, the idea being that public and private add their strengths, and that cities also participate in this funding. Sometimes for the better, since the cultural industries also provide funds.
Mahi Binebine has not forgotten how “A disaster-stricken city like Bilbao has been able to rise from the ashes thanks to a museum” and how more broadly, “In the West from a strictly economic point of view, the cultural industry pays more than that of the automobile”. This operation which advocates a reappropriation by the continent of its wealth, which bet on “A hybridization between modernity and tradition”, as Mr. Elong Mbassi reminds us, also wants to provide jobs and foreign exchange.
If the tempo is obviously given on the African ground, a launching operation takes place – in a delocalized way – this Thursday in Paris, so that the diasporas can also benefit by ricochet of the event. Maison Dentsu offers an exhibition of six previously unseen photographs of Moroccan Leila Alaoui. “We feel in harmony with the spirit of African capitals of culture because they want to bring out the African talents of tomorrow and that is also what our company Dentsu does, in a different way”, recalls Olivier Jadot, director for France and the Middle East of the agency Dentsu Aegis Network.
At a time when the young continent is launching its African capitals of culture, the French public is preparing to attend between June and December the Africa 2020 season, thought to break the clichés on Africa by revealing a little of its cultural wealth everywhere in France. 2020 will therefore be a year of African cultures.