While working in Africa for 11 years, I went on a legitimacy campaign. Travelling to rural populations, I had the opportunity to connect with several chiefs from a number of different villages to validate the pieces in my collection. I went to a village in Central Bénin and met the elders of the town in a secret house where I found over 100 Yoruba Gelede masks. In exchange for sponsoring the creation of new masks, I was permitted to take 50 of the masks found. The elders were satisfied with the deal because they replace masks every 50 years; they wanted to make the next generation of masks.
In Congo I met the king of the Kuba ethnic group to whom I showed one of my pieces. He validated it and confirmed that it came from his court. I also befriended a Voodoo priest (from Ouida) in Bénin. I travelled with him to a number of villages and bought some items from the Fon tribe.
What types of objects do you collect?
I like everything coming out of Africa but above all I love masks and figures. I have some silver jewellery from Sudan and textiles from Kuba. I have a wide range of items due to my extensive field history in Africa.
What is your favourite piece in your collection?
I have a big Lega collection, of more than 50 items collected from Congo, that’s particularly meaningful to me.
How often do you add to your collection?
A German museum curator and an ethnologist of Freiburg University checked some of my items and told me which ones to give away and which to keep. By the way, the Gelede and other objects were registered in the Yale University Library African art database.
I exchange items from time to time with other collectors but I now rarely buy new pieces. I believe that you must concentrate on what you have and not diversify too much.
How do you live with your collection?
Most items I have are displayed online. I don’t have enough space to display all my items (currently standing at more than 500!), but I do display a select few in my home combining traditional pieces with contemporary artwork.
What are your thoughts on modern / recently created pieces?
I think that some newly sculpted pieces are rather perfect. Figures that correspond to cubism (Picasso, Les demoiselles d`Avignon), dadaism or post-dadaism. Modern pieces have a facility of playing with figures in unusual ways. If you buy an item because you like it, African art is perfect. What I like the most about African art is its combination with traditional concepts; the marriage of Voodoo and modern elements of today.