Catherine Lieman’s Gazzambo Gallery in Madrid is an oasis of African art. For the Luxury Investments Edition of Knight Frank's The Wealth Report, Catherine (pictured, right) shares her love of the continent with Andrew Shirley, and explains why it is important for galleries to support artists and their communities
You specialise in Kenyan and Zimbabwean art. How did you become connected to Africa and those countries in particular, and why are you so passionate about their artists?
I became connected to the continent through my husband, a filmmaker who produced a documentary about African tribes, and thus began our love for Africa. The Kenyan episode started in 1977, and Mombasa became our home.
I got involved straight away with many artists from Nairobi, but Richard Kimathi’s art caught my eye. I love the dynamic exchange between his obsession with colour and his necessity to express the deepness of his own interpretation.
My love for Zimbabwe started a bit later, in 1998. I was immediately hooked by the natural beauty of soapstone and by the sculptors of Shona art. This was a discovery, a new experience, both visual and spiritual. This grew into a passion for stone sculpture.
Dominic Benhura is considered a leader of the second generation of carvers. He endows his sculptures with sensibility, minimizing any features and attaining a universal appeal. Joe Mutasa, another recognized artist, treats female figures and emotions in a classic and modern way.
The economic and political travails of eastern and southern Africa, especially Zimbabwe, are well known. How difficult is it to make your way as a successful artist there?
It is quite difficult due to the severity of the political and socioeconomic situation that still exists in many parts of the continent. Artists in general are struggling because of a lack of materials like canvas and paints. However, it is impressive how they continue to express their own points of view through their powerful work.
As a gallery owner, is it important for you to help your artists, and their communities, beyond just buying their pictures and sculptures?
Definitely, it is very important for me to support the artists. I am a collector who has become a gallerist; that’s why I consider myself an 'eclectic gallerist’. My dedication to Africa makes it very easy to promote and help the artists who are so authentic and so talented. I help provide artists with materials and support their families with school fees and other financial help.
My husband and I also financially support the Tengenenge Art Centre in Zimbabwe, which is one of the original hubs for the Shona art movement and is managed by Dominic Benhura, who provides encouragement for many aspiring artists. My attachment to African contemporary art is a significant part of my life.
A number of the works of art that you sell are created with waste materials and scrap. Presumably, that was originally due to cost, but now the world has become more environmentally conscious. Is the circularity element of art becoming more important?
I believe that upcycling and art are a question of responsibility. Through art, we can create an impact that helps in converting junk with the aim of preserving the health and sustainability of our planet. Zimbabwean artist Johnson Zuze is working with pre-existing materials with the purpose of transforming them into a creative interpretation.
Since you set up your gallery in 2009, have you seen attitudes towards contemporary African art change?
A huge change! There was not much interest in contemporary African art when we opened in 2009. But I am glad to say that many collectors have now started to buy and become interested in these artists.