“When someone close passes away, we feel that a part of ourselves left together with them. A part of our understanding of the world, a link in our interpersonal network, our previous value judgments and actions in the past have all been misplaced because of the passing of a close friend.”
Ai Weiwei on the passing of a friend and collaborator
Axis Gallery mourns the death of our friend, Dominique Malaquais, a brilliant scholar and curator, whose informal exchanges with our program were integral. We met in the late 1980s, when she and Axis curator Gary van Wyk were both in the Art History Ph.D. program at Columbia University, specializing in African art, and became immediate friends. We viewed art’s power in similar ways; we shared a sense of African Art as politics. We engaged with African art creatively as a critical force for change; through writing, educating, curating, collaborating, and promoting outstanding artists, presenting the public with the “radical difference” in the best of African art. Dominique always did this with great style, panache, and charm.
For us, seeing the world similarly always went well beyond work and aesthetics—we gathered in each other’s homes, we laughed, we went places, our minds moved together.
After she graduated, having written a groundbreaking dissertation on traditional Bamiléké architecture, Dominique taught at American colleges and universities, including Sarah Lawrence, Vassar, Columbia, and Princeton. After Dominique moved to Paris with her husband, Bart Legum, she was appointed a senior researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), and taught at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She was a frequent contributor to and associate editor of the pan-African journal, Chimurenga; she served on the editorial boards for the arts journals SAVVY and Politique Africaine, and was a regular contributor to such other professional journals as African Arts, Cahiers D’études Africaines, and Critique.
During the last two decades, Dominique played a crucial role as a culture broker in France, mediating the reception of African art in the Francophone world through producing, in her spirit of collaboration, influential exhibitions, seminars, and festivals of performance, most recently “Dialogues Across the African World: Performing Politics in Africa and in the Diaspora,” with Christine Douxami, Sarah Fila-Bakabadio, Katja Gentric, and Julie Peghini, with whom she also collaborated on “Afriques: Performative Utopias.”
Her recent publications include Kinshasa Chronicles (2019), which accompanied an exhibition showcasing emerging, experimental Congolese artists, and Afrique-Asie: arts, espaces, pratiques (2016), with Nicole Khouri, to which Gary contributed an article on real and imaginary connections between Asia and Africa.
Dominique’s initiatives with Kadiatou Diallo as SPARCK (Space for Pan-African Research, Creation and Knowledge) included exhibits, interventions, and numerous texts, including, in conjunction with publisher Editions de l’Oeil, the Carnet de la Création series of passport-sized, bilingual monographs on artists from Africa—for many of whom this was their first monograph, and a vital way of introducing them to new audiences. Axis Gallery was delighted to co-sponsor some of these titles. In 2010, at the 17th New York African Film Festival at the New Museum, Axis Gallery co-sponsored with SPARCK to present a compilation of experimental films from Africa, titled “IN/FLUX Mediatrips from the African World,” including Sammy Baloji’s “U.M.H.K.” and, in volume 2, Theo Eshetu’s “Lightning Strikes.”
Dominique Malaquais, Hervé Youmbi, and Axis Gallery’s Gary van Wyk and Lisa Brittan at the installation of “Totems to Haunt our Dreams,” which opened April 29, 2011.
Our first formal collaborative exhibition was in 2011, with Axis Gallery presenting Hervé Youmbi’s American debut exhibition, featuring his installation “Totems to Haunt our Dreams,” which SPARCK had presented in Dakar, Kinshasa, and Johannesburg, among other venues.
After the exhibition opening, the four of us travelled to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in Washington D.C. for a public presentation on Hervé Youmbi’s work. Thirty minutes before it was scheduled to begin, Dominique’s computer crashed. Without missing a beat, Dominique and Hervé seamlessly cobbled together a group of images from our collective working drives, and gave an excellent presentation, with Dominique also simul-translating Herve’s French! NMAfA subsequently acquired “Totems to Haunt our Dreams.”
Dominique supported several artists in Axis Gallery’s program, and contributed insightful and enduring texts about their work. These include, on Hervé Youmbi, “Playing (in) the Market: Hervé Youmbi and the Art World Maze,”Cahiers D’Etudes Africaines, 2016/3 (No. 223), revised and updated in Hervé Youmbi and Beyond (Jean-Françoise Gavoty, & Bret Cyrille, 2019), and, on Kongo Astronauts and Lamyne M, “Anti-Pathos,” in African Arts, Vol. 53, No. 3, Autumn 2020. She selected the work of Gosette Lubondo for the catalog cover of her signal 2019 exhibition, Kinshasa Chroniques (2019), which included texts on Lubondo, Kongo Astronauts, and Sammy Baloji. For Gideon Mendel’s Dzhangal (2016), his project of photographing still lifes in response to the notorious refugee camp in Calais—rather than shooting the refugees—Dominique wrote, “Forensics (photography in the face of failure).”
We will miss Dominique intensely, as will the artists she championed over the years, some of whom leave tributes below.
Apart from the prodigious legacy of Dominique’s writings, the South African philosophy of Ubuntu—that our personhood is through other people—presents a lens to view Dominque’s contribution throughout her life, and how her personhood lives on through others.
TRIBUTE FROM ELÉONORE HELLIO (KONGO ASTRONAUTS) & KALEJ
TRIBUTE FROM HÉRVE YOUMBI
It was with dismay and deep sadness that I learned on Sunday morning of the departure of a very good friend, a strong professional partner. It is thanks to art that I met Dominique Malaquais in 1998, in Douala. A strong friendship developed between us, and as we shared a passion for highlighting the dark spots of history and the facts inherent in politics, she spontaneously produced texts about my artistic achievements—giving them a resounding echo while broadening their fields of understanding. I must admit that every time I read one of these texts, I rediscover my work, because Dominique had the gift of revealing through her words new layers of meaning that enriched her and opened up new horizons in my perception. To date, she has been the person who has produced the most academic texts and given the most lectures on my work around the world. In her brilliant and pleasant company, I have twice had occasion to share with her in the presentation of my work. These exceptional moments I hold in memory as precious relics, privileged slices of life: The first was a face-to-face lecture at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C. on May 3, 2012; and the second was a zoom-in Visio lecture hosted on April 22 of this year by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Maine, United States. How can I forget the warm moments in the company of mutual friends from various backgrounds, my gallerists, and Dominique’s’ husband Bart, to whom my greatest compassion goes?
Dominique, your departure will leave a void that is difficult to fill. It is once again the contemporary creative scene —particularly African Art—that loses a stalwart and brilliant officer.
Sweet and peaceful journey, see you soon my friend.
C’est avec consternation et une profonde tristesse que j’ai appris dimanche matin le départ d’une très bonne amie, un solide partenaire professionnel. C’est grâce à l’art que j’ai rencontré Dominique Malaquais en 1998 à Douala. Une solide amitié s’est liée entre nous et comme nous partagions la passion de la mise en lumières des points d’ombre de l’histoire et des faits inhérents à la politique, elle a spontanément produit des textes sur mes réalisations artistiques. Leurs donnant un écho retentissant tout en élargissant leurs champs de compréhension. A chaque lecture de ses textes, j’avoue avoir redécouvert mon travail. Car elle avait le don de révélé à travers ses mots, de nouvelles couches de sens qui l’enrichissait et ouvraient dans ma perception de nouveaux horizons. Elle a été à ce jour la personne qui a produit le plus grand nombre de textes scientifiques et donnée le plus de conférences sur mon travail à travers le monde. Il m’a été donné l’opportunité de partager la présentation de mon travail en sa brillante et agréable compagnie. Des moments exceptionnels que je garde en mémoire comme de précieuses reliques, des tranches de vie privilégiées. La première fut une conférence donnée en présentielle au Smithsonian National Museum of African Art à Washington DC le 3 mai 2012 et la seconde, une conférence en Visio via zoom initiée le 22 avril de cette année par le Bowdoin College Museum of Art dans le Maine aux USA. Comment oublier les moments chaleureux en compagnies d’amis communs de divers horizons, mes galeristes, son époux Brath vers qui ma plus grande compassion se dirige ?
Dominique, ton départ laissera un vide difficile à combler. C’est une fois de plus la scène de la création contemporaine et surtout Africaine qui perd un solide et brillant officier.
Doux et paisible voyage, A bientôt mon amie.
TRIBUTE FROM LAMYNE M
I met Dodo Malaquais twenty-five years ago in Bonifalé, Cameroon, with the artist Gody Lé. She was a pivotal influence in my life, and one of the reasons why I am an artist today. She was the first person who expressed instant confidence in my work, and featured it in Chimurenga. Later, she guided me toward gallery representation by Axis Gallery. I’m extremely grateful that this past September I took part in one of Dominique’s last projects, being included among many artists in “Performative Utopias,” a three-day festival/symposium at the Cité Internationale des arts, curated by Dominique and Julie Peghini “to reflect on the intersections between performative acts and political contestation.” In our last interactions we were still talking about future projects. We shared a profound interest in environmentalism, and we were working on a “Forest Project & Art Residence” in North Cameroon. Dominique also planned to collaborate on the retrospective of my work in Saint Denis Museum, where she was scheduled to meet the director on the Monday that immediately followed her Sunday passing.
We love her. She will always be with us.
Love u Dodo
TRIBUTE FROM GIDEON MENDEL
I only met Dominique in person once, to discuss the text that she was writing for my book, Dzhangal. In our connection I was deeply impressed by how perceptive, articulate, and sensitive she was in her writing. The short piece that she wrote was an eloquent explanation of the complex reasons why I had come to collect discarded objects, rather than photograph people in the ‘Jungle Camp’ in Calais. The book is now sold out, but her words there live on, along with the many impressions I am sure she made. I was saddened to hear of her passing and would like to pass my condolences to her family and friends.
This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer was the primary cause that Dominque is no longer with us. People often talk about fighting against cancer—a language of violence, of contest. Dominique was an examplar of living with cancer. It was during the last two decades, while living with the worst form of metastatic breast cancer, caused by the BRCA genetic variation, that Dominique accomplished so much, with a positive and determined outlook, profoundly engaged in her professional and personal life, and with pragmatic resignation to taking the medical steps vital to surviving with quality of life. In living and producing with metastatic BRCA, Dominique shared many similarities with our dear departed colleague, Polly Nooter-Roberts, who graduated from the same Ph.D. program in African Art History at Columbia University.
Most forms of breast cancer are eminently more treatable than the BRCA type that Dominique and Polly faced. Today, most cancer patients can live with cancer for many years, and sometimes eliminate it and outlive it. Medical advances continue. So, please take the time this month to update what you know about breast cancer, and inform others—especially the women in your life (though men get breast cancer too!). Take the precaution of regular testing! Early detection improves outcomes.
Many cancer patients confront a painful or lingering process of dying. In these circumstances, the legal right to terminate one’s own life painlessly and quickly should be recognized as a human right, which many countries and states within the United States have now enshrined in law. Dominique was perturbed that France did not offer her this important option. Please consider advocating for this right where you live, if that right is not yet established there. In the United States, we support the organization Compassion & Choices.