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Three months ago, the French artist Vincent Michéa was in Dakar, hanging his solo show at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury entitled “Toi Seulement.” It was at the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, and so at the last minute, the gallery was unable to open its doors. Michéa quickly got back to Paris to be with his wife, and work while in confinement. The artist’s exhibition, however, has been viewable virtually on the gallery’s website.
In “Toi Seulement,” photomontages lead visitors through Michéa’s artistic study, exploring themes from life in West African cities. Pop culture references like film and music are recurring in Michéa’s work, and the chronological nature of this show takes viewers from Paris to Dakar and Abidjan—each occupying an important part of Michéa’s life (he lives and works in both Paris and Dakar).
Whitewall caught up with Michéa while he was still isolated in Paris in the spring to hear how he was staying connected and inspired.
WHITEWALL: How are you doing?
VINCENT MICHÉA: We are doing well, thank you. I left Dakar for Paris on March 16 to be closer to my wife during this period. We both miss Dakar a lot. We are thinking about our friends and family who are in Africa. We share news with each other as often as possible. Putting aside the threat of contracting the virus, we artists, I believe, have long been practicing isolation, confinement, retreating into our workspaces, silent and static musings, and the creative inertia of working in-situ. We are prepared for this. Life inside is a true life.
WW: What are you listening to, reading, watching?
VM: I am usually reading various books at the same time. I sometimes listen to music, often it’s the radio. I watch films and moving images. So, I started reading Primitivisme, une invention moderne by Philippe Dagen. This allowed me to reopen the catalog of Emil Nolde‘s exhibition in Paris. But when reading Dagen, you have to take breaks.
Others include Clovis Trouille; Romare Bearden, the catalogue of the Whitney Museum from 2004; Prehistory, a modern enigma, the catalogue of Centre Pompidou from 2019; and a small tour in the recent book Cave of the Trois-Frères dedicated to the cave of the 3 brothers. Also, Psychologie du Kitsch by Abraham Moles.
Novels I’ve been reading include Who Killed My Father by Édouard Louis and The Book of Wonders by Julien Sandrel (recommended by my friend Nu Baretto). I am re-reading The Wrong Side and the Right Side by Albert Camus. I’ve also re-read New Tales of Amadou Koumba by Birago Diop because I’ve had an ongoing project of collages inspired by these fables.
Film-wise, I’ve spent a few hours watching Salvador Dali interviews. I re-watched “The Mad Masters” and “The Human Pyramid” by Jean Rouch and two TV series: “Our Boys” and “For All Mankind.”
Music (apart from radio): the “Stabat Mater” by Pergolese and Marc Antoine Charpentier. Dub, and for reggae: Horace Andy, Sugar Minott, and Jackie Mittoo (Studio One).
WW: What are you cooking?
VM: I’ve always had the habit of cooking while working. Time spent painting and cooking go hand in hand. The time it takes for parts of the canvas to dry is a good time to start cooking. We normally cook at regular times, perhaps even more so at the moment. I like simple and traditional cooking and long meals. I am pretty greedy…
WW: How are you staying connected?
VM: Today, social media is more crucial than ever. I inform my gallery of my new works and projects. I regularly post on social media to show any works in progress.
We were unable to open the exhibition at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury in Dakar. Everything has been hung and set up. The exhibition can be seen by appointment and online. The gallery has set up an information platform for all its artists. So, this exhibition, “Toi Seulement” will be shown until September 2020.
WW: How are you staying creative? Are you able to make work at this time?
VM: I was meant to stay in Dakar for a few weeks to prepare for an exhibition as part of the Dakar Biennale of Arts 2020 and to be around for my exhibition “Toi Seulement.” I had already started a work program and my studio in Dakar was back on track, and suddenly, I had to go back to Paris.
So, what I was meant to be doing in Dakar I am doing in Paris. I had enough resources and materials to get started. I am making collages. During this period archives and supply of images are essential. It also allows me to review images and pick up resources that I may have noticed before but had been set aside. I also like to make photomontages in this way.
WW: Where are you finding hope or inspiration?
VM: We don’t have a choice. This is the way it is. “There is no love of life without despair of life,” wrote Albert Camus. As for inspiration, it’s good to not have any once in a while, but that can also be hard. My fear for the future is not seeing people’s smiles as often…