the disappearance of The Belgian Henri Vergon, 51 years old, founder of the gallery Afronova, based in Johannesburg, has changed the world of contemporary african art. With his companion Emilie Demon, he had developed over nearly 15 years gallery innovative with some of the artists the most progressive and influential in the country. Thus, over the years, and with success, Afronova introduced South Africa to the rest of the continent and brought Africa and the diaspora in the economic capital of south africa.
After graduating from EDHEC, business school well-known, a trip to the United States in the late 1980s and a few years of working in the cultural community in France, Henri Vergon puts his suitcases in South Africa, in the aftermath of the retirement of apartheid. Arrived in Johannesburg to take the position of cultural officer at the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) in 1995, he finally settled permanently. The country is full of excitement in intellectual and artistic. The period is conducive to the questioning and artistic research, everything is becoming. It was then that he plunged with passion into the bustling art scene of south africa.
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The turning point : the gallery Afronova
" After years of creating festivals, urban projects and exhibitions underground, Henri Vergon launches, in 2005, Afronova Gallery, in the neighborhood of Newtown, the heart and soul of the fighting art of the 70s to the 90s, in front of the legendary Market Theatre, " says the website of the gallery. It then defines Afronova as " a platform polyphonic to contemporary expressions of african ".
"that was Launched with 30 000 rands (less than 1 700 euros) and a lot of chutzpah (audacity), Afronova has kept its promises, welcoming, very early solo exhibitions including the photographer's malian Malick Sidibé, the cameroonian artist Joël Mpah Dooh and the painter of haiti, Mario Benjamin," reveals the magazine south african Art Times. Next to exhibitions of recognised artists such as Gera Mawi Mazgabu (Ethiopia, 2005), Ricardo Rangel (Mozambique, 2008) and Gerard Sekoto (South Africa, 2008), the gallery has also been able to discover and promote young talents, today well-known artists as Billie Zangewa (Malawi), Zinkpé (Benin) or Mauro Pinto (Mozambique).
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With Emilie Demon, a duo of punchy
Henri Vergon has transformed her initial project to do Afronova gallery-african modern and contemporary art tour to several markets. © SYLVIE RANTRUA
With his companion Emilie Demon, they will join their artistic sensibilities and to become partners in the business complementary. Around the artists they represent, they manage a business model that is transparent for the benefit of the artist. "Together, they have decided to engage on a limited number of artists, with a relationship and an understanding narrow, rather than running after new sensation. The artists are not goods and personal interaction is the motor of the process ", explains the site Afronova.
The relationship with the artist is at the heart of their business, or at least the manner in which they live. With the pandemic of the Covid-19 and containment, "the most frustrating thing is being deprived of physical contact with regular and close proximity with the artists, because it is that which makes us live and thrive," explained at the end of march Emilie Demon.
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A rain of tributes
the heart of the Fair nos 1/54 that exposes online on Artsy editing that was to be held in New York, the sad news has shaken more than one, and this, so much so that the gallery Afronova is present through works, photographs, paintings and sculptures of six artists, from Henri Vergon and Emilie Demon had carefully selected. "Henri was a remarkable gallery manager. He had an exceptional eye for talent, he has presented over the years at fairs of nos 1/54 in London, New York and Marrakech. He was a true friend to the team nos 1/54. He made us laugh in all situations, so passionate about the artists with whom he has worked with, and attentive to all of us. We have lost a tremendous friend and partner, and we realize how lucky we are to have shared her journey for so many years ", a sign in a tweet the organization nos 1/54.
Illustration of the work of the exhibition proposed by Afronova. © Instagram Afronova
" With Henri, we have discovered the major artists of the scene in south-africa, as Mary Sibandé, Lawrence Lemaoana, Billy Zamgewa, Wayne Barker, and then, in the course of our meetings, the work of Alice Mann, Senzeni Marasela, and many others ", remember the collectors Gervanne and Matthias Leridon. "Henri, as a storyteller, knew as a person embark his interlocutors on the traces of the works he presented, and more than once, he knew by his stories and explanations, we show the magnetism of the deep of some of the works that were not able to attract us at first glance. Henri worked with visual artists, but like a true griot, he was the narrator of their creation, " they write.
" I was seduced by its professionalism and the trust that he inspired among artists. [...] Henry has been one of the first to exhibit at the Johannesburg contemporary artists on the continent, for the most part still little-known professionals and collectors, national and international, " wrote Jean-Michel Champault, artistic director of the Collection Gervanne and Matthias Leridon, and former director of the cultural Center franco-mozambican.
many testimonies insist on the commitment, the energy, the humour and the friendliness of the man, as the south african photographer Leon Krige, who refers to " his great energy and the great void that he leaves ". "Henry was remarkable in the way it dealt with the artists, he had an eye wonderful and has always been a colleague, caring and fun ", recalls Emma Menell, the foundress of Tyburn Gallery.
Michael Huard, creative director, partner and photographer Saywho, is a tribute to a boy " amazing and visionary ". "It is a way of being in the world of art, for Henry and his long-time partner, Emilie Demon, has allowed Afronova to represent its artists at fairs shifted and place their works in the reference collections, the Walther Collection and in the collection devoted to contemporary african art Jean Pigozzi ", analysis, Art Times. Henri will be missed in the world of contemporary art. Not only did he have this talent to discover artists, but they were accompanied also in their career.
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