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ART AFRICA speaks to Lidija Kostic Khachatourian, founder of AKKA Projects and curator of the Mozambican Pavillion at the 58th La Biennale di Venezia

Lidija Kostic Khachatourian. All images courtesy of the AKKA Project.

Suzette Bell-Roberts: You studied and practised federal accounting in Switzerland now you’re the foremost voice in Dubai promoting and dealing in art from the African continent. How and why?

Lidija Kostic Kachatourian: I became weary of the many years of number crunching and deadlines where my work was my world. After meeting my husband Kristian and starting a family, we decided to move to Dubai in 2008, where I could focus on my family for a while. It was here that I fell in love with art.

You were born in Serbia and grew up in Switzerland, and yet you’re drawn to the heartbeat of Africa. These worlds are so disparate? Why then open a gallery focusing on art and projects from Africa?

My husband – and business partner Kristian – had lived and worked in Liberia for about five years. He had been collecting art from Africa since 1990, and so I have always been surrounded by traditional African artefacts. It was a natural progression to explore the continent’s contemporary art scene as well. We travelled Sub-Saharan African countries on holiday, engaging with the artists and building up our private collection.

Getting to know so many of these emerging artists, I felt that their talent should be showcased elsewhere and exposed to a broader collector base. It was then that Kristian and I decided to start – what today is known as AKKA Project – and focus on promoting Contemporary Art from Africa.

Tell us more about AKKA, you have two spaces, one in Dubai and another in Venice.

AKKA Project (A Kostic Khachatourian Art Project) is a space-like-a-gallery, based in both Dubai and Venice. We work closely with artists to curate exhibitions. Our aim is to give a unique experience to our visitors, not only by exhibiting great artworks but also stimulating all their senses by including other aspects, as traditions, culture, music, fashion, food and much more.

Since its opening our space in Dubai in 2014, AKKA Project has organized more than 20 exhibitions, showcasing over 30 artists from 11 countries in Africa.

Last year you curated the National Pavilion of Mozambique at the Biennale Arte di Venezia 2019; tell us more about how you came to achieve this.

To escape the heat of summer in Dubai – and the annual lull in the market at this time – we decided to open a second gallery in Venice with the idea of tapping into the European market. We started working on a series of projects which we intended showing during the Biennale Arte di Venezia with some artists from Africa.

We discussed a project with our friend Gonçalo Mabunda, a Mozambican artist, during his visit to Venice in 2017. We wanted to present some of his works. The idea kept growing, and by the following year, we had found a space and started working seriously on the project. We then engaged with fellow artists – Gonçalo Mabunda, Mauro Pinto, and Filipe Branquinho – who assisted us in presenting the project to the Mozambican Ministry of Culture. With a great effort and help from these artists, we managed to get a positive response from the Minister and to be accepted by La Biennale as the National participation.

For 2021 we are working towards the very first Pan African Pavilion in the Arsenal, one of the most important exhibition spaces in Venice.

You’ve launched a new online platform called Art And About Africa, to what purpose?

It is difficult to gather comprehensive information on “what” events are happening “where” in the arts sector in Africa. The information is there but scattered between different websites.

So I thought of creating a tool, where anybody interested in knowing about art on the African continent could easily access the information. The platform will provide information and locations of art studios, art spaces and events across the continent. Art and About Africa allows everyone to engage directly with artists, museums, art spaces, galleries, curators, NPO’s and Foundations across Africa.

This interactive map will allow the user to save the preferred artists and/or spaces by adding them to a list, easy to download on any device and accessible offline. The platform is free to everyone.

For more information: https://www.artandaboutafrica.com/

Suzette Bell-Roberts, co-founder and publisher of ART AFRICA.

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