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From the day when, at the age of 17, Gosette Lubondo held a small digital Olympus in her hands to document a women’s party in Kinshasa, she knew she would be a photographer. The 28-year-old Congolese woman has now found her signature in games of transparency giving a spectral aspect sometimes to a dilapidated train station in the Congolese capital, sometimes to a now abandoned school, founded by a Christian congregation in the colonial era. In 2020, she set down her tripod in Champagne, at the invitation of the Ruinart house. The brand, owned by the LVMH group, offered her an artistic residency during which she photographed the vines as well as the packaging of bottles, and staged herself among the workers. These photos will be presented in November at the Paris Photo fair, at the ephemeral Grand-Palais.
Like Ruinart, who also commissioned an advertising campaign from Gosette Lubondo, other luxury brands are beginning to roll out the red carpet for African artists. Thus the unprecedented collaboration in 2020 between Dior and the Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo. Or the one-year partnership established since February between the media Nataal, dedicated to African fashion and creativity, and the luxury sales site Farfetch. New step of this association, the publication, Tuesday, October 6, of photos featuring Afro-descendant artists based in Paris, dressed as Valentino in an urban setting where some of their works have been hung.
Inclusiveness has long been the weak point of the luxury industry. But the big brands know it today, without a multicultural strategy, they run the risk of alienating a growing black middle class.
“A real turning point”
Communication director of the spirits group Pernod Ricard, Olivier Cavil remembers the perplexity of the business community when, in 2016, he asked Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop to take the photos for the group’s annual report. The order coincided with the opening by the alcohol giant of seven subsidiaries in Africa and the hiring of more than 200 employees on the continent. “Putting forward an African artist in an exercise as standardized as an activity report, it appealed to the hushed world of CAC40 analysts”, tells, amused, Olivier Cavil, recalling that the advertising campaign “Was one of the best in terms of impact”. The eighteen sapper-style portraits of the group’s employees were first exhibited at the Paris Photo fair, before joining the Pernod Ricard collection. Olivier Cavil, who is thinking of calling on another African photographer in 2024 or 2025, is sure to have ” accelerated “ the career of Omar Victor Diop.
Today, luxury and fashion brands clearly have the capacity to propel artists, as much, if not more than traditional players such as museums, galleries or collectors. During Men’s Fashion Week 2020 in 100% digital format, the artistic director of Dior Hommes, Kim Jones, presented, instead of the traditional physical show, a video entitled “Portrait of an artist”, partially devoted to the Amoako Boafo course. “It is a return to the very essence of fashion, which is also that of art and lies in the celebration of creation and a trajectory”, observes Christophe Rioux, professor specializing in luxury and the creative industries at Science Po.
In his eyes, this operation stands out in an environment more accustomed to borrowing exotic and colorful patterns from Africa than to promoting its creators. “Rather than yet another quote or a sometimes ambiguous wink from a brand, specifies Christophe Rioux, it is the deep imprint of an artist, a life and a work on a luxury house. “ Amoako Boafo sees alliance with Dior “A real turning point” in his career. “To be chosen to embody black culture, at this level, it was an honor”, he confides, delighted with the international spotlight given to him by the operation. A lighting that did not leave Jeff Bezos indifferent: at the end of August, the richest man on the planet sent three works by the artist into space, welded to the outer walls of his New Shepherd shuttle.
Do these partnerships serve the cause of African artists or the image of brands? Christophe Rioux admits it: “There is a danger of instrumentalization of African artists who have become easy guarantees for brands, which could impact their artistic recognition in the long term. “ Art and Culture Director of Ruinart, Fabien Vallerian denies any brand strategy, specifying that “The collaboration with Gosette Lubondo is purely artistic”.
The young photographer says she is already benefiting from the benefits of Ruinart’s carte blanche, unveiled a few weeks ago on social networks. Too bad if this work will be visible not on the stand of his gallery or in a museum exhibition, but in the VIP lounges of fairs such as Paris Photo or Art Basel Miami Beach. “This work remains seen by a public turned towards art”, she protests.
Gallerist Marie Gomiz-Trevize, creative director of Nataal, for her part has always encouraged her young talents to interact with the world of fashion. “It all depends on how the operations are carried out, she specifies. When things are done with respect for their art, it can only be beneficial, it is a promotional vehicle not to be overlooked. “