Sindika Dokolo (right) is one of the biggest art collectors in Africa. Having quietly gone about his business for a long period of time, shunning the limelight, he is today shaking things up, as much in the world of art as in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Group Publisher, Omar Ben Yedder, met him in London, in what turned out to be an explosive interview.
When I initially reached out to Sindika Dokolo, it was to have a conversation about African art, the importance of owning our art and our identity and also about the restitution of African art to its rightful owners, a subject that has grabbed headlines since France's President Macron promised to return African artefacts looted during the colonial period.
As I prepared for the interview, I was debating whether I should keep the discussion solely around art or whether I should bring up other issues, given that Dokolo has become more and more vocal in the past year and that he is married to no less a person than Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former President of Angola, and arguably the most renowned business woman on the continent.
Dokolo himself has started a grassroots movement in his native DRC while his wife is being attacked for her business dealings in Angola and for her time at the helm of Sonangol, the national oil company.
As for Sindika, friends and acquaintances I spoke to who know him always reported positively, saying he is a down-to-earth, family guy, someone who is genuine, measured, discreet, intelligent and truly passionate about the arts.
I concluded that I would reassure him by telling him that we wouldn't speak about Angolan politics or the Dos Santos saga; but when we meet, one evening in London, which is where his family is based, he quickly tells me that when he agrees to an interview there is no subject that is off-limits. He is cool and composed, impeccably dressed, offering me a glass of water, and refills my glass throughout our two-hour chat.
The conversation starts off gently, with him talking about his foundation, the museum in Angola where he has a permanent exhibition of his collection.
His passion for art came at an early age, through his parents, he says--his late father, a very successful banker and businessman, was a collector of classical art.
The African-American artist Basquiat, whom Sindika rediscovered in his mid-twenties, had triggered his interest in art, he tells me, which led him to start collecting seriously: "There was something very unique in Basquiat and very strong about African art that came from African classical art. And so, I went back to it and this is when I really started collecting very seriously."
It was a Congolese art dealer in Belgium, Didier Claes, who introduced him to the breadth and range of African art, and more specifically, classical African art.
It is said that Dokolo is the 'single biggest African collector of African art', but it became clear from our discussions that he has strong objections to the way people define art by nationality or race. He calls it anti-artistic'.
Through his foundation, he wants to ensure that African populations can gain access to art and be aware of their heritage and history, without which they cannot truly have "self-worth, dignity and self respect".