Ray Hughes AFRICA
Ray Hughes AFRICA
CATHERINE BENZ & NICK VICKERS Ray Hughes – Africa through the eye of a needle In the early to mid-nineties, Ray Hughes’ irrepressible curiosity led him out of his gallery in Surry Hills, Sydney, through an imaginary portal and into the streets, marketplaces and bazaars of West Africa. His itinerary was, for the most part, a concoction of inspired planning, chance and good fortune. Coincidence collided with that uncanny sense of direction leading him through the eye of a needle into situations that ranged from serene to hair-raising, where art acquisitions required deep pockets and closed wallets. His travelling companions included his devoted son Evan and well-known Australian artists Tom Risley and John Firth-Smith. In our conversations with Ray Hughes, we embarked upon the journeys, the adventures and culinary experiences with a seasoned raconteur whose flamboyant personality brought to life the sights, smells and tastes of Ghana, Togo, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire. The influences that Ray was able to knit together seemed at times disparate and far removed, but the eye of the needle again stitched them together into a series of logical progressions that pulled together Thor Heyerdahl and the Caribbean, a taxi driver called Othello who drove him to a mermaid cult house, the Marist Brother who introduced him to the granddaughter of the last King of Douala, and references to Donald Friend and the King of Yoruba, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré and the mud city of Kano. From all of the aforementioned locations, Ray Hughes transported, shipped and carried vast quantities of artworks back to Sydney where he mounted a series of exhibitions that literally brought Africa to Australia.
The exhibitions that ensued reflected an idiosyncratic aesthetic that became the talk of the town when the doors of 270 Devonshire Street opened to the general public and this is the basis for Ray Hughes’ vision of Africa at Delmar Gallery. In curating this exhibition, we are proud to present a distillation of images from a vast collection that, on one hand, explores a vision that has the logic of a Tintin adventure but, on the other hand, comprises a profoundly sincere collector’s ambition to surround himself with works that reflect his own narrative, his own exploration, but above all, his own passion.
Asafo Flag, Fante, south-central Ghana “We can stand on ant hills and not be harmed”, 105 x 140cm, appliqué on cotton
Asafo Flag, Fante, south-central Ghana “We can even capture the mighty leopard”, 110 x 140cm, appliqué on cotton
Workshop of Kane Kwei (Ghana) Bible Coffin 1995, enamel paint on wood, 42 x 197 x 64cm
Ashanti Region, Ghana Breasted Drum c 1940s, painted wood, hide, natural fibres, 85 x 56 x 48cm
Cyprien Tokoudagba Gbinglo, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 230cm
SEBASTIAN SMEE Ray Hughes had told me about a wonderful small museum of African art in Paris – the Musée Dapper. We met there one day – it’s in the 16th – and walked together through a show about hair in African sculpture. A revelation to me. I remember, on that same trip, Ray taking me to the back room of a dealer to inspect an album of Japanese “shunga,” or erotic prints, and introducing me to his friend André Magnin. Magnin had been one of the organizers of “Magiciens de la Terre,” a mould-breaking 1989 show at the Pompidou that put contemporary art from Africa on the same footing as art from everywhere else. I was living in Paris that winter because my wife, a violinist, had taken a job playing in the orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver. Ray came to the circus, where my wife and I had already fallen under the spell of the head clown, or fool august, an Italian named Fumagalli. Ray liked him too. And before the season was out, he had organized for Joe Furlonger, who had just had a sell-out show at Ray’s gallery in Surry Hills, to go to Paris for a short stint as an unofficial artist-in-residence at the circus. My wife, Fumagalli, and an acrobat we called “spiky man” were among his subjects. Where is this going? Well, that season there was an unforgettable show at the Grand Palais, all about artists’ fascination with the circus and, more specifically, their tendency to identify with clowns. “La Grande Parade,” as it was called, traced this clown-identification from Watteau and Goya through to Picasso and Beckmann, Cindy Sherman and Paul McCarthy. To some of these artists, clowns dramatized the plight of the lonely outsider ignored or mocked by an uncomprehending public — a plight many artists can relate to. (Maybe a few art 19
Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Untitled (L’Arbre de la Perdition Humaine), pencil and ballpoint pen on paper, 19 x 23cm
dealers too.) But the appeal went deeper. It had to do with the pathos great clowns can embody; but even more, with their anarchic energy, their bursts of oblique insight. Ray has functioned in Australia’s art world, you could say, as a kind of clown, in this very best and most fertile sense. His bursts of insights are indeed oblique – none of us could keep up! – and his energy irrepressible. I suspect that part of what he loved about the art he brought to his gallery from Africa was this aspect of clowning, shape-shifting, putting on a performance. Think of the marvellous Gelede dancing masks from Benin, the astonishing and often comical Ghanaian coffins in the guise of cars and bibles, the witty Mami Wata shrine figures from Togo, and the subtle, mischief-filled clowning in the studio portraits of Seydou Keïta. “I’ve never really thought of my African stuff as something separate,” Ray recently told Catherine Benz. “It happened when it happened – and I found Africa in amongst everything else.” The statement speaks to everything that is best and most enlivening about Ray’s sensibility and about the extraordinary world he created around him. Everything was fair game. His appetite for life and for new visual experiences knew – and still knows – no bounds. Togo. Benin. Nigeria. China. Queensland. Germany. PNG. Paris. He was interested, as he said, in how ideas and images move around. And for him, what mattered was “having a bigger curiosity than you have piss-elegant manners.” In this way, he has stimulated more creativity, cast more spells, and triggered more life-enhancing laughter than any clown or shaman I’ve met.
Bodys Isek Kingelez Miami City 1993, cardboard, 59 x 49 x 49cm
MokĂŠ Mama Benz 1998, 140 x 221cm, oil on canvas
RAY HUGHES – RECOLLECTIONS from interviews with Catherine Benz & Nick Vickers, June 2017
Prompted by a chance meeting with a doctor working in Nigeria, a Sydney cab driver from Ghana and a secondhand book he picked up, Ray Hughes travelled to West Africa on three occasions in the 1990s. On the first trip, he travelled with artists Tom Risley and John Firth-Smith, on the way taking in a Matisse retrospective at MOMA, a Picasso still life exhibition at the Grand Palais, and a Patrick Caulfield exhibition at the Serpentine. In London, they chanced upon two shows of African art: “Asafo! African Flags of the Fante” organized by Peter Adler at the Festival Hall and Jean Pigozzi’s contemporary African art collection at the Saatchi Gallery. Hughes described his approach as, “I take my museum information in visually, and you’re stacking things together that maybe not everyone stacks together. When you’re looking at something, it’s surprising what comes up that’s related to it. And what you end up looking at when you’re not looking at what you’re supposed to be there for.” He showed the Asafo flags in association with Peter Adler in his Surry Hills gallery in 1994, and works by some of the same artists from the Pigozzi collection in various thematic exhibitions in the 1990s, notably “Made in Zaire: School of Kinshasa” and “Voodoo”, as well as solo exhibitions. On his 1994 trip to Ghana, with a Sydney cab driver’s brother as his only contact, he commissioned 15 coffins from Kane Kwei’s workshop in Teshie. When they arrived 18 months later, the exhibition “Kane Kwei: Decorative Coffins from Ghana” caused a sensation.
Abidjan. We arrived in Abidjan on the 23rd December, 1992. And we went to the Centre Culturelle Française, and this poor French girl was trying to get out of the place and go and have Christmas. And suddenly these three lumps from Australia turn up, with very bad French and want to know about art in Abidjan. And during that meeting, she sent a runner away, who came back and said, “Frédéric Bruly Bouabré will be at your hotel next Thursday.” And he was. The three lumps were John Firth-Smith, Tom Risley and myself. We kind of talked ourselves into what we were doing in the trip. Like going to Kano. There wasn’t an artistic reason to go to Kano except everything about Kano was an artistic reason. This thousand year old city with a million people, made out of mud. Once you got into the Old Market of Kano, you were actually sitting in the spaces where the black slaves were sold. It was massively intriguing. It was history. Walking through the Kano market, there were the dirt shops. There’d be silver pyrites being sold – a tin tray with a pile of pyrites. Now what was that for? It was for the women to use as eyeshadow... There were balls of blacks – and it was ink. There were shops that were just selling dirt for the whole of people’s lives. You get kind of glib when your favourite coffee shop doesn’t have a custard roll on Tuesday morning, but these folks were living a seriously complex kind of wonderful world. In Douala, we ended up visiting the granddaughter of the last king of Douala. We are going to Bamenda for a big Christmas party, but Bamenda’s under a state of emergency. In our naïve way we thought we’d better go and tell someone that we’re going to Bamenda. No one back home knows. So, we thought, well – we’ll go and see the British Consul.
We go there and we’re walking up the steps and this shock of ginger hair comes running down the steps, “Hey, hey, chaps! What are you up to?” “Oh, we’re going up to see the Consul. We’re going to go to Bamenda.” “Oh Lordy!” he said. “I’m going to Bamenda, do you want a lift?” We said, “Yeah, sure.” And then he came back to talk with the Consul and we were just yakking about everything, that the two artists and myself, we’re looking for art, we’re looking for this, and he said, “Oh, you must meet Princess Douala Bell.”
So he sets up the meeting and we end up having dinner with her. We go to her house and we are sitting on these Ashanti stools, that have words carved in them. And later, you see them in catalogues of museum collections. They are referred to as the royal thrones from Douala. We were sitting on the king’s furniture. And then, on the wall, are these paper drawings, with squares and circles. I’m looking at them, thinking, “Oh, that must be something they made themselves.” I ask, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” The husband of Princess Douala Bell says, “C’est Kazimir Malevich.” And I go, “Kazimir Malevich??” “Oui, quand j’étais au Sorbonne...” What’s the back-up evidence? You go to the Stedelijk and they’ve got massive holdings of Malevich. And the Malevich estate sold things late which is when the Stedelijk bought them and two could have been sold in Paris at the same time. The first trip to Africa was when I met André Magnin. I would have brought back a copy of “Magiciens de la Terre” [exhibition catalogue] on that trip. I flew over to Paris for a day to see Magnin. Got off at the airport, somehow got into town, found Magnin, had a couple of drinks, bought three pictures, and that became the start of a really interesting friendship. When I met Peter Adler on that trip, I had some photographs of the medicine signs that I’d bought from Skanzi [Italian dealer] in Abidjan. And I swapped two of them with two of the flags from Peter Adler. I saw a catalogue of Tivaevae (which are those Cook Island quilts) and suddenly, ‘click’, that goes somewhere in my head with the Asafo flags. I was kind of dreaming about this exhibition I was putting together with Tivaevaes and Asafo flags and Patrick Caulfields – that’s what I was looking at. ~~~ I went to Ghana with Evan [Hughes’ son], when he was ten. We’d been to Madrid to see a Stella show and then we went to Oslo because I wanted to go there in the middle of winter and see what that gloomy light was like. What we found was the Thor Heyerdahl museum – Thor Herydahl proving with the Ra that boats could get from Africa to the Carribean. Now, while we were in Ghana, we went along the Slave Coast and we were inside Cape Coast fort, a big Swedish fort that’s got a museum in it now. There were a lot of Asafo shrines (think back to those Asafo flags) – they made concrete shrines in Animabore. Baoulé, Côte d’Ivoire Slingshots, painted wood, 17 x 8 x 2cm to 12 x 6 x 2cm
LomĂŠ, Togo Mami Wata Shrine Figure (Mermaid) c 1960s, painted wood. 65 x 19 x 25cm
We ended up going to Togo and Benin [in 1996] because I’d bought a copy of Gert Chesi’s book on voodoo at Chris Thorpe’s gallery. And I read the book virtually cover to cover one weekend and by the end of the weekend said to Evan, “D’you think we might go to Togo?” To which he said, “Yeah, why not?” We went to Carl Hammer’s gallery [in Chicago] and I was talking to him, the idea in my head was maybe to do a show of Bill Traylor and Yoakum. We never ended up doing that, but next to Carl Hammer’s gallery was a temporary gallery run by a Haitian girl who had lots of naïve paintings from Haiti that were really just kitsch. But she also had a room of the sequinned banners from Haiti. I ended up buying a couple from her and later picking them up and borrowing 30 – she was kind of horrified but just said yes – for the “Voodoo” show we did. I don’t know whether it was before that trip or after that the Fowler [UCLA] did a massive voodoo show and it was all those banners from Haiti. And when we went to Benin in the town of Ouidah, there were voodoo museums – there were five different sites – one of them was in a Portuguese building down on the port and it had two or three rooms of Haitian banners. So, in Benin, they were already talking about West African animism going to the Caribbean, mixing with Catholicism and coming back to West Africa. Now that’s the sort of stuff that was in our head with the Thor Heyerdahl material. The other thing – it’s history, it’s reading... I’ve always allowed my brain to get confused and mix things up. Like I was telling the story of our coming back from the African trip and dreaming an exhibition. Well you know, those same things were happening all the time. Stuff keeps on coming and nibbling at your ankles. It all keeps on adding up. It’s like an onion, the older it grows the more skins it gets. And so when you’re travelling, the next time you know a little bit more. In New York, I ended up buying some mermaids that are made out of petrol drums – they’re Haitian too. No-one quite gives you the list of where to go but if you have the right shaped nose, you end up there. ~~~
We ended up going from Togo to Benin. And so we crossed the frontier twice which came with lots and lots of rubber stamps in your passport and policemen at the border trying to get you to pay them bribes – and we got to Cotonou, where
LomĂŠ, Togo Mami Wata Shrine Figures, painted wood, 54 x 11 x 24cm to 24 x 17 x 18cm
we had lunch in a restaurant that was basically in a bit of a clearing on the edge of the jungle. Two French colonials were having lunch together with lots of Pastis and Gauloises and African hookers draped all over them. It was a caricature out of Tintin. It was a piece out of Graham Greene. The number more buttons that get pressed if you do something and you have a visual art and literate background – it kind of illustrates your life, besides living it. We asked Othello [taxi driver in Lomé,, Togo] about voodoo cults. He didn’t know where to find them. But the next time we saw him... it’s a bit like, in Melbourne, all the Sudanese cab drivers meet on one rank in Russell St. He just drove downtown to where the other drivers were and asked and someone knew and the next morning we were in the room that was in Gert Chesi’s book. Which is why a number of those objects are in the show [Mami Wata shrine figures]. We’d just done earlier a show of William Robinson’s paintings of Kingscliff – the sea. There was one massive creation series painting of the sea. So I was talking to the people in the mermaid cult house about a painter who saw the sea as a very important force. And, I guess we got some sort of connections going there. Later in the week we ended up back there for a cult celebration with the libations, gin being poured over the blood from the guinea fowl, and the drumming - the constant drumming – for half a day. The women danced until they were just swimming, they were mermaids, and they were completely in a trance.
There were three big lagoons in the middle of Togo and they built cult houses on the edge of the lagoons where the mermaid cults really developed. It’s part of that thing that I’m quite interested in: how ideas travel. It’s like those fezzes with the tanks on them celebrating Saddam in the 1991 Gulf War. The ideas are moving from the Gulf across the Sahara to a town on the edge of the Sahara in the middle of Nigeria. The snakes that are involved in so many of the images from Mami Wata come from Indian images. I guess the Indian traders were trading across the desert, or traders from the desert were buying goods in India, and those deities with snakes in their hair would have been in calendars the traders threw in - and then they suddenly end up in an African town and this has come to them by magic so that it becomes a deity. How do ideas move around, how do images move around? Well, that’s part of the thing that I like.
I own that Olowe of Ise box that was in Donald Friend’s collection. Now I met Friend in his late years in Sydney, and I asked him about his time in Africa. And he told the most hilarious story that he and the King of the Yoruba (Donald in his role as the secretary to the King of the Yoruba) would meet for lunch that was laced with bottles of Cointreau and would finish up with Donald teaching the King how to Charleston while he was playing the records on his portable gramophone. One of the things I’ve done in my life is look at a lot of things. I will say that one of the great problems is, as a nation, we don’t look. Going back to Africa, it’s image that you are looking at and looking for. Finding out why it affected things. I asked Donald Friend, why did he go to Africa? And he said,”Picasso found something in that African stuff and I went there looking for it.” Now he’d have been a kid running around in Africa teaching the King of the Yoruba how to Charleston. The number of artists that went to New York to find out what Clement Greenberg had to say a painting was about: “Put the corners under pressure!”. Donald’s chase for the elusive sounds more like what I think art is about. Collecting art and dealing with art is not a dry affair. It’s not the sort of stuff you do behind a computer. You do it in an armchair, or in the back of a motorcar – you never know when you are going to see things, but when you see things you know you’ve done it. It’s about no fear. And no doubt. And having a bigger curiosity than you have piss-elegant manners. Somewhere, deep down, it’s the spirit of stuff. That is what kept me going for 47 years in running a gallery. And I’m still looking at things.
Olowere, known as Olowe of Ise Okpon (Lidded Bowl) c 1930s, carved wood, 19 x 45cm diameter
Yoruba, Benin Gelede Dancing Masks, painted wood, 55 x 35 x 35cm (left), 46 x 35 x 35cm (right)
Yoruba, Nigeria Chief’s Crown “Ade”, glass beads, cane, cotton, fibre, magic cones, 90 x 38cm diameter
Ejagham, Cross River Region, Nigeria Headcrest, wood, leather, kaolin, natural fibres, metal, 69 x 34 x 22.5cm
Bamana, Mali Boli, wooden armature, cotton, sacrificial materials, dung, blood, 50 x 60 x 23cm
Baninko, Mali Ritual sticks from the Jo cult, wood, dung, organic matter, 76 x 10 x 10cm
Mossi Region, Côte d’Ivoire Standing figure, wood, 62 x 18 x 16cm
Songye, DR Congo Mask (Kifwebe), carved wood, 35 x 20 x 34cm
Songye, DR Congo Mask (Kifwebe), wood, raffia, feathers, pigment, 124 x 18 x 20cm
Lwalwa, DR Congo Mask, wood with patina, raffia twine, 30 x 25 x 25cm
Côte d’Ivoire Medicine Signs enamel on board Baoule, Côte d’Ivoire Slingshots painted wood 17 x 8 x 2cm
Songye, DR Congo Mask (Kifwebe) wood 35 x 20 x 34cm Germany Karl Schmidt-Rotluff Selbstbildnis (Self Portrait) 1914 woodblock 36.5 x 30cm
Lobi, Burkina Faso Headrest wood 9 x 100 x 18cm
Germany Karl Schmidt-Rotluff (1884-1976) Mädchen Aus Decke (Girl from Kovno) 1918 woodblock 50 x 38.5cm
Nigeria Awale (Seed Game) wood, seeds 12 x 51 x 13cm
Benin Divination Boards wood
Dan, Côte d’Ivoire Ceremonial Chair wood 32 x 42 x 24cm
Bamana, Mali Boli wooden armature, cotton, sacrificial materials, dung, blood 50 x 60 x 23cm
Côte d’Ivoire Frederic Bruly Bouabré (1923 - 2014) Adam and Eve pencil and ballpoint pen on paper 19 x 13cm
Mossi, Côte d’Ivoire Standing Figure wood 62 x 18 x 16cm
Lwalwa, DR Congo Mask wood, patina, raffia twine 30 x 25 x 25cm
Côte d’Ivoire Frederic Bruly Bouabré (1923 - 2014) pencil and ballpoint pen on card, 28 works 15 x 10cm
DR Congo Mask (Kifwebe) wood, raffia, feathers, pigment 124 x 18 x 20cm
Dogon, Mali Kanaga or antelope mask wood, pigment, leather 101 x 45 x 13cm
Baninko, Mali Ritual sticks from the Jo cult wood, dung, organic materials 76 x 10 x 10cm Cross River, Efut, Nigeria Headcrest wood, leather, kaolin, natural fibres, metal 69 x 34 x 22.5cm Australia Donald Friend (1915 - 1989) Drawing of lid of “okpon” 1938 ink and wash 22 x 34cm Yoruba, Nigeria Olowere, known as Olowe of Ise (c1875- 1938) Okpon (lidded bowl) 1930s carved wood 19 x 45cm Purchased from the estate of Donald Friend Cross River, Ejagham, Nigeria Janus-faced headcrest leather, wood, pigment 56 x 90 x 23cm Yombe, DR Congo Nikondi base is 18 x 17cm painted wood, glass, nails, cloth, organic materials 57 x 31 x 30cm
Mali Seydou Keïta (1921 - 2001) Family portrait printed 2000 silver gelatin print 60 x 40cm Mali Seydou Keïta (1921 - 2001) Woman wearing a “Grand Dakar” dress printed 2000 silver gelatin print 60 x 40cm Mali Seydou Keïta (1921 - 2001) Two friends wearing matching ‘safari suits’ printed 2000 silver gelatin print 60 x 40cm Mali Seydou Keïta (1921 - 2001) Two men wearing traditional dress printed 2000 silver gelatin print 60 x 40cm Yoruba, Nigeria Twins wood Nigeria J. D. `Okhai Ojeikere (1930-2014) Star Koroba 1971 silver gelatin print 60 x 50cm
Nigeria J. D. `Okhai Ojeikere (1930-2014) Round About 1974 silver gelatin print 60 x 50cm Yoruba, Benin Gelede dancing masks wood, paint Ghana Workshop of Kane Kwei Coffin (Bible) enamel paint on wood 70 x 220 x 90cm Ghana Workshop of Kane Kwei Coffin (Mercedes Benz) enamel paint on wood 42 x 197 x 64cm Abomey, Benin Asen (iron shrines) iron, steel Togo / Benin Cyprien Tokoudagba (1939 - 2012) Denou Legba acrylic on canvas 160 x 230cm Togo / Benin Cyprien Tokoudagba (1939 - 2012) Gbinglo acrylic on canvas 150 x 230cm
Benin Prestige Stool wood 39 x 55 x 25cm Ashanti, Ghana Breasted Drum c1940 wood, leather, paint, natural fibres 86 x 56 x 48cm Zaire / DR Congo Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948 - 2015) Miami City 1993 cardboard 59 x 49 x 49cm Yoruba, Nigeria Opa Orisha Oko (staff) iron, leather, wood 150 x 4 x 4cm Togo Workshop of Agbagli Kossi Mami Wata Shrine Figures 1960s - 1980s painted wood 24 x 17 x 18cm Zaire / DR Congo Moke (1950 - 2001) Mama Benz 1998 oil on canvas 140 x 221cm Yoruba, Nigeria Chief’s Crowns “Ade” late 19th century glass beads, cane, cotton, fibre, magic cones
Nigeria Fez [First Gulf War] cotton, canvas/calico, embroidered with images from the Gulf War
Fante, Animabore, Ghana “We can even capture the mighty leopard” (and protect our domestic animals from predators) cotton appliqué 110 x 140cm
Fante, Animabore, Ghana “When the fruits begin to ripen, birds and frogs will not be a rare sight” cotton appliqué 95 x 138cm
Fante, Animabore, Ghana “We can stand on ant hills and not be harmed” The three red circles are stylised ant hills (driver ants were feared and respected by the Asafo for their organisation and destructive powers) and this flag is a boast of infinite strength cotton appliqué 86 x 145cm
Fante, Animabore, Ghana The offering of palm wine is a gesture of friendship and also identifies the Asafo company as a provider with limitless resources as in the proverb, “The palm wine pot is never empty” cotton appliqué 114 x 135cm Fante, Animabore, Ghana “We can defeat you (at draughts) one thousand times a day.” The draught board was used as a symbol of the battlefield. cotton appliqué 84 x 139cm Fante, Animabore, Ghana An Asafo captain standing over a barrel of gunpowder. A boast of military ‘firepower’ cotton appliqué 94 x 158cm
All works from the private collection of Ray Hughes.
Published by Delmar Gallery, Sydney Ray Hughes; AFRICA 2 - 30 July 2017 Curated by Catherine Benz and Nick Vickers Copyright remains with the authors. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.
DELMAR GALLERY Trinity Grammar School 144 Victoria St Ashfield NSW 2131 Australia trinity.nsw.edu.au/delmar-gallery firstname.lastname@example.org Curator: Catherine Benz Exhibitions Assistant: Priscilla Bourne Front cover image: Cyprien Tokoudagba, Gbinglo (detail), acrylic on canvas, 150 x 230cm Images pp2-4, 50-51: Interior, Ray Hughesâ€™ flat, April 2017 Photography by Silversalt
Published on Jul 28, 2017
An exhibition of West and Central African art drawn from the private collection of art dealer Ray Hughes. Held at Delmar Gallery, Sydney, J...