We’ve previously reviewed past iterations of Parcours des Mondes by highlighting the artworks that sold, the prices they fetched, or the star pieces that stood out above the pack. We’ve celebrated works that stopped us in our tracks but we’ve also been critical of previous events that have left us wanting. But not so this year.
This year, we write a love letter to the fair as it celebrates its 20th anniversary. A love letter to the event that has undoubtedly become the most important of its kind — one that focuses solely on classic (and increasingly contemporary) art from Africa, Oceania, Asia and America. A letter as a testament to our love for Parcours des Mondes.
Maybe it’s because we recently learned of a budding romance facilitated by an ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA introduction (how exciting you two!), or maybe it’s simply because we’re riding off the high of being able to travel once again after eighteen months in solitude but we’re feeling celebratory.
With the world still in a state of flux and with the constant barrage of negativity, we aim to highlight the positive this year, to celebrate the galleries and dealers that embody grit and perseverance, to salute the brave collectors that have been vaccinated, filled in multiple forms, downloaded COVID passports, taken many tests, traversed flooded cities and travelled many masked-hours to descend on the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Now bear with us. It’s a bit cheesy and it’s been many years since we’ve penned a love letter (if ever) but hopefully, the words to come convey just how important Parcours des Mondes is to us.
Our very dear Parcours des Mondes,
After months of waiting, planning, tests and jabs, of bargaining with our families and assuring them we would be safe, we are finally reunited. We could never stay away for long. The truth is that we love you. We may not say it enough due to ego or pride or the need to been seen as ‘critics’ who only judge and are above judgement but we wanted to write you this letter to express how important you are to us. We want you to know that without you, our love for classic African art could not run as deep as it does. You allow us to make new discoveries, build friendships, and have a laugh and banter in this international clique you created. You give us passion, joy, frustrations, but most importantly, you help us experience African art to its fullest.
Every time we visit you, we feel at home. Nothing compares to the sensation of walking into one of your galleries and discovering a work of art that we’ve never seen before or a themed exhibition so respectfully put together. NORD, a grouping of ten figures from the Ubangi region of Central Africa, exhibited by Bernard Dulon Gallery, so rare that we were left truly speechless. A grouping of abstract simplicity. Or the regarded juxtaposition of contemporary tapestry by Abdoulaye Konaté and a Bamana jo nyéléni female figure — where many force the link between the past and the present, Hommage aux Chasseurs du Mandé at Charles-Wesley Hourdé left us feeling recharged, ready for the hunt. And Kongo x Soulages at Galerie Lucas Ratton where you proved that power can come in small packages. Where power that binds is encapsulated in iron.
Sticky, oozing, crusty, age. Caked and layered offerings, cold reflecting metal, wood carved by the experienced hands of a master, the patina of the art on display in your galleries leave us gasping… every surface precious. Deference.
We still remember our trepidation at our first meeting. Was it a year ago, six years, nearly our twentieth anniversary now? Feeling a mix of excitement, trepidation, and a burning need to see and know more. The anxiety we felt at not knowing anything or anyone. The fear of walking into one of your many galleries and being ‘found out’ as inexperienced. But you held us close. You guided us. You made us feel safe to explore, meander and get lost in your warm streets. That first encounter in 2015 when we saw Fang reliquaries, Yombe figures, Yoruba vessels, Pende, Dan and Yaure masks thrown together in beautiful chaos. That frantic need to see everything, touch everything, share everything. We were smitten from the start.
And even now, you still make us feel safe. Safe to learn, safe to see, to touch, to smell. Safe to reflect on our ignorance and on how much we’ve grown with you.
You take us on a journey through the world…
Now at the end of your second decade, you shine brighter, with the maturity that comes from vetting thousands of artworks from every corner of the world.
You put the work before yourself. You create a space for the object to sing. In the words of Jill Scott, “You woo me, you court me, you tease me, you please me. You school me, give me some things to think about. Ignite me, you invite me.” We are eternally grateful to you.
"You woo me, you court me, you tease me, you please me. You school me, give me some things to think about. Ignite me, you invite me." — Jill Scott, A Long Walk
And once it’s time to leave, once we step back on that train and depart from Gare du Nord, we miss you. Arriving under the grey London sky, we’re depressed to think that we’ll have to wait another year before we come back to you. But we are consoled by the fact that we will indeed meet again. And we have every faith that you will grow from strength to strength.