Inclusivity has become a bit of a buzzword, but the concept is at the very core of Hakanto Contemporary’s mission.
The independent, non-profit centre, which is in the Ankadimbahoaka district south of Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo, celebrates and supports artistic creativity in Madagascar. It is dedicated to showcasing the richness of contemporary Malagasy art.
The centre, which takes its name from the Malagasy word for “aesthetic”, has been designed, by Mangera Yvars Architects, with inclusivity at its heart. The gallery’s artistic director, Joël Andrianomearisoa, an international artist himself, and Madagascan businessman Hasnaine Yavarhoussen, wanted to create a space that embraced artists working across all fields and disciplines – from painting and performance, to woodwork and writing.
The centre opened in February 2020 but like the majority of cultural and heritage institutions across the world it was forced to close at the onset of the pandemic. Now, with life in Madagascar returning to a semblance of normality, Hakanto has been welcoming local visitors who are curious to discover the creative explosion of the Madagascan art scene. This is being further encouraged by the centre’s residency spaces, which will support young artists eager to break into this burgeoning creative space.
And it is Malagasy artists, from all backgrounds and disciplines, who are now being given a global platform to showcase their rich and varied work through Hakanto’s first international exhibition, Ny Fitiavanay/Our Love/Notre Amour. The exhibition takes its title from Madagascar’s national anthem and explores concepts of nationalism, politics, dependence, independence and interdependence, as the country marks 60 years of independence from France.
Decolonisation led to a re-evaluation of what it means to be Malagasy, and Hakanto is at the forefront of convening artists, audiences and collectors from all backgrounds to further this discussion while affirming the uniqueness of Malagasy culture and art.
How has Covid affected the opening of the exhibition?
Joël Andrianomearisoa: The exhibition was originally meant to open in September 2020 but due to the pandemic we had to act nimbly and adapt our programming, which has meant a delay to opening it. The government was quick to respond to the pandemic. They closed borders in March and suspended almost all international flights. We were hoping to open on 27 February but given the ongoing situation we are now looking to the end of May.
We are, of course, keeping close track of the pandemic in Madagascar and following governmental guidelines. While we are keen to embrace international visitors with a global opening, we will only do so once it is entirely safe. However, our commitment has not changed, and we cannot wait to bring a new art scene to Madagascar and the world.
What were the initial reactions from locals when the gallery opened for residents?
There was very little contemporary art in Madagascar, so when Hakanto Contemporary came to Antananarivo and the scene, it brought something different and fresh. The centre showcases paintings, photographs, collages and installations. This is all very new to the community and so, in a sense, we and they are exploring virgin territory.
When we first opened in February 2020, the public were really surprised because they have had little interaction with the format of an international art space, but they are thrilled and welcome our initiatives dedicated to Malagasy artists.
We were open for only one month and then had to close. We reopened again in December and welcomed school children, art students and the general public.
How will the residency spaces contribute to the Madagascan art and cultural landscape?
We hope to start the residency programme soon. Most artists in Madagascar do not have the luxury of their own studio and so through our residencies we aim to give artists both exposure and a space for them to create and open new dialogues with our audiences.
We aim to host one or two local artists per month, and we would like to facilitate between 16 and 20 residencies per year. This will enable us to create a pool of young Malagasy artists with whom we will have existing relationships. We hope that some of the work created could be included in future exhibitions or handed to collectors.
Another benefit of the residencies is that they create opportunities for young artists to connect with older artists who could help coach them. We want the young artists to learn that being an artist is not just about being alone in the studio, but that to produce the best work they have to go out into the world and be curious as to what is around them, which leads to questioning themselves and questioning society.
We hope that these residencies will push boundaries and help to further Madagascan art on an international level.
How do you see the gallery contributing to the wider pan-African art scene?
When Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960, the first government closed French art schools and galleries. Since then, Madagascar and Malagasy artists have been rebuilding the art landscape.
Hakanto is the first not-for-profit art space to arrive on the Madagascan art scene. The centre was born from two desires: firstly, to support Malagasy artists and secondly, as a space to attract global collectors.
The majority of Malagasy artists are limited in their means to travel and so, by creating this space, we will encourage people to visit the artists here.
As for the exhibition, it is going to be a reflection of what the meaning of independence is. We are inviting 26 young artists – this number is symbolic as it reflects the date of our independence, 26 June. Malagasy people and artists have been working with ideas around nationalism, dependence, independence and interdependence for years. Hakanto, and this exhibition, serve as a platform to showcase and explore these discussions further. We foresee these discussions leading into our future programming too.
The exhibition will comprise a diverse range of media – photographs, paintings, words and sounds. For example, we have invited one of Madagascar’s biggest voices, Môta Soa, to perform.
By exhibiting and platforming Malagasy artists, we look to build on the growing vibrant, contemporary art scene via those who are representing the country’s identity and culture authentically. We want to talk about Madagascar to the world – and we want the world to talk back to Madagascar – and demonstrate that there is so much more to us than just being a small island next to Africa.