Angola is the latest African country to announce a major new art institution for homegrown artists with the opening of the Nesr Art Foundation, a philanthropic enterprise dedicated to Angolan art.
The foundation, situated in Luanda, the Angolan capital, is funded by Wissam Nesr and his wife, Hiba Nesr, members of the Lebanese-Belgian family behind the African multi-national Webcor Group. One of the largest companies in Angola, it specialises in the import and distribution of food products.
“The foundation hopes to add an important, internationally facing space to the contemporary art landscape in Angola,” Wissam Nesr, the CEO of Webcor, tells The Art Newspaper.
The foundation will open with a residency programme; the Angolan artist Pamina Sebastião and the Angolan artist Osvaldo Ferreira will be the first artists to take part.
Angola is the third-largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a population of almost 33 million people. More than a third of the country's population live in Luanda, making it the most populous Portuguese-speaking capital city in the world outside of Brazil. Several artists born in the country now boast international pedigree, including Nelo Teixeira, Francisco Vidal, Délio Jasse, Binelde Hyrcan and António Ole. Angola hosted a pavilion at the Venice Biennale for the first time in 2013.
Yet infrastructure for artists remains scant in the country. Angola has made headlines in the art community as the headquarters of the Sindika Dokolo Foundation, founded by the late Sindika Dokolo and his wife Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s longtime former president and for a time considered the richest woman in Africa, worth an estimated $3.5bn. But, in 2020, an Angolan court found Dos Santos had acquired much of her wealth through embezzlement, money laundering and corruption at the expense of the Angolan state. Traditionally, the country has at times struggled to develop native artists in Angola, with many searching for opportunities abroad. The demise of the Sindika Dokolo Foundation has left even more of a gulf.
Nesr has watched as other private and philanthropic artistic ventures flourished elsewhere on the continent, with fellow Lebanese businessman Marwan Zakhem gaining increasing international acclaim for his work with Ghanian artists in Accra at Gallery 1957, as well as the success of Adenrele Sonariwo in Lagos, Nigeria, whose Rele Gallery recently opened a space in Los Angeles after launching the careers of Nigerian artists at home. Nesr hopes to achieve something similar with Angolan artists.
“There are few institutions besides the galleries and very few spaces dealing with contemporary practices and offering facilities and opportunities to artists,” Nesr says. “African art, and particularly Angolan art, remains under-represented worldwide. But a new generation of contemporary artists from the continent are becoming increasingly visible internationally, with several Angolan artists pivotal to this shift.”
The residency programme will provide studio and living space for eight artists per year, working in pairs, in four sessions lasting three months each. Artists receive a fully furnished studio and living space, as well as a monthly stipend and production grant, before seeing their work exhibited at the foundation. The space will also display Nesr’s private collection of Angolan and African art.
“The residency programme is open to all Angolan emerging artists and the selection is made by a committee of local and international arts professionals following an open call for applications,” the foundation says in a statement. “Applications are open to any emerging artist based in Angola—Angolan or not. Artists who have not benefited from international exhibitions and institutional support will be prioritised in the selection process.”
The Nesr Foundation is led by an artistic committee chaired by the Angolan curator Paula Nascimento, alongside Fernanda Brenner, the founder and artistic director of Pivo art centre in Sao Paulo. Tandazani Dhlakama, the assistant curator at Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, and Azu Nwagbogu, the founder of the African Artists' Foundation and Lagos Photo Festival.
The Webcor group was founded in the 1970s in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by Wissam’s father Ali Nehme Nesr, and is still present in Congo and Mozambique. Most of its African revenues now come from within Angola. The group, which is headquartered in Switzerland, has a turnover in excess of $1bn.