Sydney Contemporary


Conversation With Nil Gallery (Paris)

The gallery is located in Paris, can you elaborate on its location and why you chose to open there?
The Gallery is located in Le Marais art district, the heart of Paris, at 38 rue Charlot. We decided to open our gallery in the most artistic district of Paris because there is a charming atmosphere that comes from being in such a historic place. For example, the building is from the 17th century, meaning there is a rustic authenticity found in the little details of the gallery, such as the cobble stones leading up to the entrance, the stone walls in the courtyard, and the natural patina formed overtime. The building itself is full of stories which then creates a dialogue with contemporary works we exhibit. It is both challenging and interesting to bring contemporary art to such an ancient building. We wanted that contrast, instead of the standard perfect modern gallery. As for why we chose Paris, both of us were born in Paris, therefore it was important for us to reflect this identity to our worldwide collectors.

What are some career highlights, or exhibition highlights in the gallery to date?
An early highlight for Nil Gallery is when we first participated in the CODE Copenhagen art fair in 2016. This was a turning point for the gallery because it was the first show that permitted us access another level. There were so many excellent exhibitions and fantastic works at this fair, our curation matched that elevation. It was thanks to this art fair and the success we had there, that we were able to open our gallery in Paris. Shortly after at the 2016 KIAF art fair in Seoul, we exhibited for the first time in Asia. This was so important for us because we represent several artists from Asia and therefore this part of the world, with all its diversity and complexity, is a major construction of the identity of the gallery.

KIAF 2016 allowed us to connect with these roots. In addition, it was very interesting to encounter new cultures and behaviors among our collectors. While we were able to widen our own cultural and artistic spectrum in Seoul, the eclectic selection we brought was also an opportunity for our collectors’ spectrums to be widened. We had a similar, yet different experience when we first exhibited in Africa, at the INVESTEC art fair in 2018. As we represent more and more artists from Africa, to exhibit their work in their continent was such a gratifying occurrence.

A notable exhibition highlight is when Nil Gallery organized a solo show of Ghanaian artist Prince Gyasi in Paris, October 2018. This was a momentous event for both Nil and Prince. It was so rewarding as we discovered him and in such a short amount of time he has now reached worldwide fame. We were proud to introduce him to our French collectors, as we are very moved by his work and happy to give him a platform outside of Ghana.

What was your first exhibition? And why?
Our first expo was entitled When Africa Meets Asia, a conversation between Asian and African artists in Paris in November 2016. We wanted to show that the DNA of Nil Gallery is composed of artists from all around the world. It was important for us to form connections between these two parts of the world, because we are most attracted to the art coming out of those two continents. We had Girma Berta, a photographer from Ethiopia, Chinese artist Zhuang Hong Yi, Korean artist Kim Geun Won, and it was our first time exhibiting with Ivorian artist Yeanzi. There was an interesting contrast between the perfectionism in Zhuang Hong Yi and Kim Geun Won’s techniques with the very raw and rough technique from our African artists. The melted waste on newspaper, the signature style of Yeanzi, juxtaposed with the mathematical almost scientific precision of the folded paper technique of Zhuang Hong Yi, made for an exciting and diverse expo. The variety of techniques in many ways reflected the overall story-telling quality in each style. Our Asian artists from this show had a more reserved style, although there is always intense emotion and sometimes even suffering found embedded in the work. Berta and Yeanzi’s work also revealed the hardships of life, yet in comparison, these hardships are right on the surface and presented with a ludic spontaneity instead of embedded through meticulous layers of meaning. These differences were stimulating making it so that the exhibition roused many questions and debates about cultural and artistic diversity.

Who are you bringing to Sydney Contemporary and why?
We are bringing Ghanaian photographer Prince Gyasi, Chinese artist Zhuang Hong Yi, Mozambican artist Gonçalo Mabunda, and South African artist Banele Khoza.

Prince first and foremost is an artist who emphasizes colors, calling his work therapy through colors. He highlights the subtleties of power and beauty of black bodies, those who are often marginalized and silenced. This is his first time exhibiting in Oceania. We are bringing Zhuang Hong Yi as he is popular in Australasia. He also uses colors as a keystone of his work, creating kinetic works that are as joyful as they are meticulous by folding hundreds of sheets of rice paper to create impeccably detailed color-changing flowerbeds. Next, Gonçalo Mabunda, who transforms former tools of human destruction (AK-47s, grenades, rifles, etc.) into sculptures. He reforms these vestiges of violence, creating works of emotional beauty, fun and even amusement. Mabunda is also currently in the limelight having been a part of the Venice Biennale since 2015. We are excited to bring him to Sydney as this will be his first time exhibiting in Australia. Lastly, Banele Khoza is an important artist for us to exhibit. As an openly gay artist from South Africa, his journey has not been easy as it is extremely difficult to be LGBT in South Africa. We want to try to highlight his work, show his sensitiveness, his different perspective, and give voice to member of the LGBTQIA+ community. In one portrait, you can understand the personality immediately and see a story through the intricacies of form and body. With all artists we are bringing, a profusion of color is an important commonality that links them together, which will bring an overall coherence to our booth.

Prince Gyasi, Fatherhood (detail), 2018, photograph, 61 x 71 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nil Gallery, Paris.
Prince Gyasi, Symbols of Womanhood (detail), 2018, photograph, 76 x 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nil Gallery, Paris.

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