Congolese art collector Sindika Dokolo wants to return to Africa what belongs to Africa. According to ArtNet, the multi-millionaire is launching a massive campaign to repatriate African works of art currently exhibited in Western institutions or sold on the European or American markets.

But, what is Dokolo targeting, specifically? Works of art appropriated during the colonial era. The collector’s foundation has a team of researchers and specialists that tracks down pieces in personal collections and on the art market. He then offers owners two choices: either they sell the work to Dokolo for the price they paid for it, or risk a lawsuit for theft.

The famous 43-year-old collector’s goal is to return Africa’s artistic heritage to Africa and to exhibit the works in the artists’ home countries. Sindika Dokolo explained his point of view to journalist Raphael Minder in an interview with the New York Times during his exhibition in Portugal. “There are works that disappeared from Africa and are now circulating on the world market based on obvious lies about how they got there.” In his opinion, the already unacceptable situation is made worse by the art market’s disdain for African art. “Sotheby’s and Christie’s mostly capitalize on how important African art has been in the modernization of European art, in terms of its influence on artists like Picasso or Braque”, he said. (See African Contemporary art)

His position is criticized by many art professionals, particularly André Magnin, curator of the Beauté Congo exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. According to the French dealer, Dokolo might be the biggest collector of African art – he owns over 5,000 works – that does not give him the right to decide the fate of African art.

Despite the criticism, the fact remains that Dokolo does have the influence and resources to see his plan through and bring about change. Born into a wealthy family, he married the richest woman in Africa, Angolan businesswoman Isabel dos Santos. Sindika Dokolo has been collecting art since he was 15 and strives to raise awareness of African art around the world. His foundation in Luanda (Angola) was behind the first African pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Upcoming projects include a new exhibition space in Porto, Portugal.

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