Fondation Louis Vuitton throws into sharp relief the raw energy of African art

Installation view of New Manhattan
Installation view of New Manhattan (Manhattan City 3021), by Bodys Isek Kingelez, 2002. Courtesy of Fondation Louis Vuitton.
(Image credit: Marc Domage)

This summer, Fondation Louis Vuitton is shining the spotlight on Africa. It has dedicated all of its galleries to more than 700 works from 40 artists from the continent and the art will be accompanied by a programme of music, film and performance.

The overview focuses on art made from the 1980s onwards and is divided into three parts. It starts with ‘The Insiders’, 15 key artists whose work has been collected and loaned to the gallery by Jean Pigozzi. In 1989, Pigozzi started buying works specifically from sub-Saharan Africa and today has the largest collection of art from the region of any individual. It makes for an exuberant introduction.

Photographs of elaborate Nigerian weaves by JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere; fantastical architectural models and cityscapes by Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez; and masks made from jerry cans, old hoovers and plastic dustpans by Benin artist Romuald Hazoumé all evoke an innocent, pre-internet era.

Remembering the Future

‘Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb 2’, 2012, by Kemang Wa Lehulere. © The artist. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

(Image credit: Benoit Pailley )

Black and white portraits of people in front of wax print backgrounds by the late Malian photographer Seydou Keïta are there, alongside photos of dandyish young men on a night out by fellow Malian legend, Malick Sidibé. The pair’s influence on subsequent generations of African photographers is apparent throughout the show. ‘All the artists I collected had to be from black Africa, live and work there,' says Pigozzi. ‘Nearly all of them are self-taught, and 99 per cent of their inspiration came from their daily lives […] their creativity has not been “polluted” by art school.’

In a second gallery, ‘Being There’ is devoted entirely to contemporary art from South Africa. ‘The artistic community works together and is very dynamic in South Africa,’ explains Fondation Louis Vuitton artistic director Suzanne Pagé. ‘The focus was to concentrate on three generations of artist from the country, from the leading lights (such as Johannesburg-based William Kentridge and David Goldblatt), to those born in the 1980s and the post-apartheid, “born free” generation.’ 

Alongside the works of Kentridge and Goldblatt are equally socio-political works by equally renowned artists such as Jane Alexander, David Koloane and Sue Williamson. For 50 years Goldblatt has documented many of his country’s woes, from half-constructed villages to deserts choked by asbestos pollution, to the student protests of 2016, which included the dismantling of the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes at Cape Town University. Identity struggles and gender politics in the aftermath of apartheid (from 1994 to the present) are tackled by many of the younger artists, among them female photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman who captures fashion-forward youngsters in Jo’burg’s townships. 

A third gallery features pieces from the Fondation’s permanent collection and extends to African artists working outside their countries of origin, such as Benin-born, Rotterdam based Meschac Gaba, and Afro-American artist Rashid Johnson. The internationalism brings with it a change in atmosphere, and throws into sharp relief the raw energy (and edges) of the works that went before.


Cargo, by Romuald Hazoumè, 2006. Courtesy of Fondation Louis Vuitton.

(Image credit: Marc Domage)

Allien Resurrection

Allien Resurrection [sic], 2004. Courtesy of CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection and Abu Bakarr Mansaray

(Image credit: Abu Bakarr Mansaray)


Oba, 2007. Courtesy of CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection, Maurice Aeschimann and Calixte Dakpogan

(Image credit: Calixte Dakpogan)


Mambolo, The Great Hunter, 1993. Courtesy of Maurice Aeschimann and CAAC -The Pigozzi Collection and the artist

(Image credit: John Goba)

look at me

From left, Democratic Intuition, Comrades VII, by Meleko Mokgosi, 2016; Plateaus, by Rashid Johnson, 2014; and Look at me!, by Barthélémy Toguo, 2016. Courtesy of Fondation Louis Vuitton.

(Image credit: Marc Domage)

Danser le Twist

Danser le Twist!, 1965. Courtsey of Maurice Aeschimann and the artist

(Image credit: Malick Sidibé)

Mkpuk eba

Mkpuk eba, 1974. Courtesy of CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection, the Maurice Aeschimann, and the artist

(Image credit: JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere)

The ‘Être là’ section features work

The ‘Être là’ section features works by Zanele Muholi and Nicholas Hlobo, among others. Pictured centre, Reddening of the Greens or Dog Sleep Manifesto, by Kemang Wa Lehulere, 2015. Courtesy of Fondation Louis Vuitton.

(Image credit: Marc Domage)

Etoile rouge congolaise

Etoile rouge congolaise, 1990. Courtesy of CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection. © Bodys Isek Kingelez and Maurice Aeschimann 

(Image credit: Bodys Isek Kingelez)

‘Art/Africa, Le Nouvel Atelier’ is on view until 28 August. For more information, visit the Fondation Louis Vuitton website


Fondation Louis Vuitton
Bois de Boulogne
8 Avenue du Mahatma Ghandi
75116 Paris


Emma O'Kelly is a freelance journalist and author based in London. Her books include Sauna: The Power of Deep Heat and she is currently working on a UK guide to wild saunas, due to be published in 2025.