The facade of Fondation H's new space.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The first private contemporary art foundation in Madagascar and the first cultural institution of this scale in the country, Fondation H will inaugurate its new, entirely free, 2,200 square metres venue on April 28, in the city centre of the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo.
Fondation H was founded in Antananarivo in 2017 on the initiative of entrepreneur and patron Hassanein Hiridjee; he is convinced that art and culture have a strong social impact and enables a critical opening to the world. For the past six years, Fondation H has been running programmes to support artists from Africa and its diasporas in their careers and facilitate public access to art. It has actively participated in the development and structuring of the art scene in the Indian Ocean.
In a historic building in downtown Antananarivo, built a century ago and completely renovated and expanded, Fondation H’s new space is being hailed as a vibrant place of creation and dialogue, focusing mainly on artists from Africa and the diaspora.
Located in the Ambatomena district, literally “le lieu des pierres rouges” (the place of red stones) in malagasy, in the heart of the capital, Antananarivo, the new space of Fondation H was built between 1912 and 1924 to host the Central Offices of Posts and Telegraphs under French colonial administration.
Typical architecture of the time, in traditional brick and tiles of Madagascar, the building was completely restored over two years under the aegis of the Malagasy architectural firm Otmar Dodel in collaboration with local craftsmen, who partly recovered and rehabilitated old techniques for this renovation. The architecture firm first set out to find the original plans of the building, which have been hugely altered and distorted over the years and put to different uses. The long research work allowed a renovation, notably of the facades, as close as possible to what the building was during its construction in the early 20th century.
While the screening conditions meet the international museums criteria, the building was renovated by pursuing “the best air circulation, to return to what it was at the beginning of the 20th century, built to function without air conditioning and favour natural ventilation between the different rooms and outdoor spaces.”
A traditional courtyard has been restored, and an extensive garden has been created, housing a wide variety of endemic plants. Finally, the building was designed taking into account the context in which it fits and the environmental issues of the now. For this purpose, it is energetically autonomous, thanks to solar panels installed on its roof.
The new space will allow Fondation H to reflect and develop its multiple actions and programmes under one roof. With this building, the foundation aims to enter a new phase in its history and rank alongside the few institutions in Africa that, due to their aspirations and dimensions, can support and promote the continent’s artistic creations in their home countries and internationally.
Fondation H’s 2023 programme is structured around several key focuses: on one hand, the inaugural exhibition of the new building in Antananarivo, accompanied by a year-long performance schedule, discussions, residencies and mediation. On the other, shorter and regular programmes such as the residence and exhibition beyond the walls of the photographer Francois-Xavier Gbre in Antananarivo, and the residences and ‘carte blanche’ exhibitions of the artists Johanna Mirabel, Adji Dieye and Ange Dakouo, as well as the 7th edition of Prix Paritana.
The inaugural exhibition in the new space will show works by Zoarinivo Razakaratrimo, known as Madame Zo. For this show titled Bientot je vous tisse tous (Soon I will weave you all), Fondation H invited exhibition curators Berenice Saliou (Director, Documents d’ Artistes, Reunion Island) and Prof. Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung (Founder, SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, and Director, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin) to delve into Madame Zo’s work. The artist is an icon of the malagasy art scene (1956-2020).
Madame Zo dedicated her life to the art of weaving, an ancestral tradition still alive in Madagascar, where lamba, a wild silk or cotton fabric, accompanies every moment of life, from birth to death. She drew the essence of her work, first through design and fashion objects, and then transcended the rules of the codified art.
Madame Zo’s weavings have unusual shapes and sizes, thanks to the looms she made herself. They integrate several hundred materials such as newsprint, magnetic tapes, electronic components, copper, bones, medicinal plants, industrial foam, rubber, wood chips or perishable foods ...
Bientot brings together hundreds of works, the results of two decades of production. They invest 900 square metres of Fondation H exhibition space in sculptural and organic dialogue that highlight the main themes of Madame Zo’s work. From “oraliture” to “cinetiss”, threads carry messages and evoke memories. Bientot, in the artist’s words, promises endless experimentation. A programme of artist residencies and conferences with international personalities will accompany the exhibition.
“Convinced of the role of art in building an open society and in developing a critical worldview,” says Hiridjee, “I created Fondation H … the historic building (where it is located), beautifully renovated by local artisans, carries within itself the DNA of our mission: a human support as close as possible to artists and our public, in constant dialogue with the rest of the continent, in an environment, Madagascar, that still needs more production and exhibition venues.”
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