On Friday evening, to avoid the distress that comes from thinking about the present reality of living in Lagos, I turned to my dying phone for comfort. I tried to relive happier times at the biennale in Dakar for pleasure and as a reminder of the work in progress for TSA’s first digital magazine. That was a good idea, particularly because my attention was drawn to the photographs I took at the exhibition Maison Sentimentale by Joel Andrianomearisoa on the now defunct magazine Revue Noire.
I remember that my encounter with the fragments and collected memories of the magazine made my heart sing. It sang because I saw devotion and love in the eloquently written editorial, glossy covers and feature cut-outs nicely framed on the long white wall. Ironically, they were placed opposite rustling virgin papers that await future use. You are seduced to read and enjoy the content without the constraint encountered in typical art writings. I felt transported to the period when Revue Noire was a treasure in the hands of its readers. It was a time I was not aware of until three years ago when I first came across relics of the magazine online. In truth, that did not give the same feeling and experience like holding the magazine and slowly digesting as many copies as time could allow in one evening.
“Without reflection of one part into the other… image fragments… a disheveled memory… history of African contemporary art to contemporary expressions without a capital ‘h’, filial sentiments… today we are not the fathers of Revue Noire, but its offspring… progeny… the future… the herds of personal ambitions replaced the collective ambitions… fragments, materials, words lost and recovered… a new music of forms in full and empty pages… .” These words and phrases in the foreword by Jean Loup Pivin on Maison Sentimentale plays back as I stare at the photos from the exhibition on my phone. JLP, a founding member of Revue Noire describes Joel Andrianomearisoa’s process of creating the exhibition as digging “through his private memories and through the grand library of whole or partial images of Revue Noire”. The relevance and importance of archives ring in my head, jolting my memory to many stories of lost, perished and undocumented historical materials in Nigeria. I longed for history to be replayed with this kind of devotion in Lagos; to touch, feel and read the work of foremost art writers in Nigeria, a tribute to fluently written articles of the late 80s and 90s.
At the homage of Revue Noir, the presentation was pristinely chic, only befitting of a magazine known for top quality production and enjoyable content. It was like champagne spread out on a white wall. Moving from one framed story and publication to another, I drank and tasted the richness of something that ended 15 years ago but still fresh and relevant in 2016. I saw others around me sink into the velvety experience and I knew it was not my imagination doing these things to me.
Beyond the design and print quality, the language and style is also remarkable. The editors understood the importance of using simple but striking words to communicate the complex creativity that abounds in the art world. The language and style of art writing have been a barrier to making art open and accessible to many. It has created mystery and unnecessary complexity where there is none. I had commented on Instagram just the day before seeing this exhibition that Simon Njami, Curator of the 12th edition Dak’art Biennale writes readable curator’s notes. He writes for the low and mighty to understand without losing the flowery beauty of words and the essence of literature. That he was a founding member of Revue Noire was not surprising, the connection and style were apparent.
I assume that my instant connection to Revue Noire was because of the ideas that led to creating The Sole Adventurer blog. The editors of Revue Noir had the desire and sentiment to make visual art from Africa “glossy, savvy and relatable for an amateur”. For TSA, it was the desire to see art by Nigerian artists consumed differently by Nigerians, to make information on what is happening in visual arts available to people outside the inner circle of Lagos art scene and to say this serious art stuff in the most interesting way for new art lovers. While these goals remain our primary focus, the content and style have since grown to accommodate a broader audience. Now, we strive to do things better so we can be a relevant part of contemporary art history in the future. Revue Noire is a needed model for this new direction. Quality is our new watchword.
During a general interview with Simon Njami on Dak’Art 2016, I chipped in a few questions on Revue Noire. I was curious about the people who started it and why. Those questions were for me, I was looking for answers to personal questions as the founding editor of TSA. His response was, “Revue Noir started as a protest, it was a protest. The style, the quality, the content everything was a protest. It was not written in there but we made a magazine to show that there is contemporary art from Africa”. On why it ended, “We closed the magazine because it was becoming a routine, an institution. This was not why we started it. At the time we stopped, we had covered all the African countries active in the contemporary art scene then.”
Out of curiosity, I asked what he would do differently if he were to run a magazine on art now, in the world of digital media. His answer was, “If I am to do a magazine now, it will definitely be in sync with the current technology but I will not do it focused on Africa from Africa. I will do it focused on Africa from different parts of the world because of those who can’t see Africa in their world, to show them Africa is everywhere.” Without trying to draw a parallel to his idea, I remember “Art Beyond my Border” it is similar to this idea but with less clarity on how to make it happen. Funding was another problem as it require traveling with a small team to shoot documentaries on African artists in different parts of the world. This idea and doing videos of local “Arts Adventure” gave birth to The Sole Adventurer as a small blog at the end of 2014 while the original dream was left for the future.
As we round up that interview, Simon Njami got up from his seat, looked at me and said, “One more thing, no matter what you do, do it well.” He had sensed my unasked question.