Aug 02
August 2, 2013

The Art of Engaging and Empowering Communities in Africa


Co-founded by Gervanne Leridon, African Artists for Development (AAD) funds initiatives that engage contemporary African artists in efforts to increase prosperity and social good across the continent.

In 2012, AAD and Tilder made a CGI Commitment to Action to launch the program Refugees on the Move for displaced populations in camps across Sub-Saharan Africa. The program aims to use dance workshops to spread awareness about AIDS, violence against women, and sanitation, and to generate dialogues between thousands of refugees and the countries in which they reside.

In the following Q&A, Leridon speaks on using contemporary art to reach target communities, feeling inspired by a creative approach to women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and AAD's plan to support socially engaged African artists with the help of CGI.

CGI: How have the arts helped you to address global challenges in your work?

Leridon: Here at AAD, art is the original feature that underlies all of our initiatives because it allows us to overcome barriers and directly touch our target communities. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where we work, artists maintain a strong tradition of being socially active in their communities. In short, they never forget their roots and are active participants at home for life. We therefore work to provide change from the bottom up and use talent, links, energy and ideas that are all already there but just need a little support. We help artists develop their community while promoting their creative take on local culture, be it through dance or any other artistic discipline.

CGI: Is there a particular city or community that you think is doing a great job of using art to build resilience?

Leridon: The women of the village of Makwacha, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been long relegated to a secondary role, as is the case all over the continent. However, these women did something that nobody else did. They picked up an ancestral tradition that had been abandoned and, in forming a collective, began to revive the art of mural painting in the village, one of the few ways they could express their ideas and themselves. This became a huge point of attraction, catching the eye of Congolese contemporary artist and AAD partner Sammy Baloji. In learning about their art, he began to learn about their village life, including their difficulty in procuring clean drinking water. Baloji brought AAD in and soon, a water network was constructed. Having achieved this, the women were able to elevate their position in the community and now possess a strong say, taking the lead in improving educational and other development matters in the village.

CGI: What do you hope to get out of CGI’s Arts & Resilience programming this year?

Leridon: With our specific focus, we hope to find potential partners with whom we can share our expertise and branch out on future collaborations as well. Another important point for us is to also promote the artists at the center of our programs. Every project is carried out with a local artist and local organization, who carry with them a wealth of information but may not be as known to those outside of their regional scope. We want to be able to bring their work and extensive on-the-ground knowledge to a wider and pertinent audience so as to set the stage for innovative pairings and collaborations in the future.

AAD and other leading organizations will continue the conversation on artistic expression and its link to positive change at the 2013 CGI Annual Meeting in September. In a session on storytelling, Annual Meeting participants will examine how to mobilize people around important issues by leveraging film, comics, and other forms of narrative art.

About Gervanne Leridon, co-president of African Artists for Development

Gervanne Leridon holds a degree in business law and a master's degree in history from Paris Sorbonne University. She is also a graduate of the Ecole du Louvre, and received her degree as an auctioneer in 1997. From 1995 to 2002, she organized auctions on behalf of Sotheby's in Paris and other Parisian auction houses in Drouot. Passionate about contemporary African art, she started in 2000 with her husband, Matthias Leridon, a new collection devoted to contemporary African artists, which in 2012, included more than 3,000 pieces. She is also a member of Tate Modern’s African Acquisition Committee in London. In 2009, along with her husband Matthias Leridon, she established the endowment fund African Artists for Development, which she continues to preside over today. Since 2011, she has been the executive director of the family private investment company Compagnie de Trucy.