Alain Nsiona Defise
Congolese art has always been central to Kinshasa-born Alain. Yet, over the past four years, what started out as a simple passion quickly evolved into a personal commitment: to support emerging Congolese artists on their journey to international recognition.
In November of 2021, Alain was involved in organising the London-based exhibition, Breaking The Mould: New Signatures from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The show featured 12 emerging artists, predominantly former students of the Academy of Fine Arts of Kinshasa. For Alain, the goal has always been simple – exposure. “This is the first exhibition for many of them. The beauty now is that African art scene is blossoming. And that's why it's important for these unknown young talents to bridge the international gap immediately. They just need to be exposed. Apart from that, nothing can stop them. So, I'm really excited.”
The beginning of this love story traces back to Alain’s early life, living in the vibrant and creative landscape of Kinshasa. “There was no one distinct place to see art at the time. It's not like here in Europe where you must go to a gallery to experience art. In Kinshasa, you’re surrounded by it. It's everywhere.”
Since Alain can remember, he has collected bits and pieces of art from the heart of Kinshasa and across Africa, all of which have travelled with him during his life endeavours. These artistic emblems of African culture allowed him to maintain and express his Congolese identity after moving to Europe at the age of 10. “When I moved to Belgium, I had a little bit of nostalgia. What helped me connect with my home country were all the art pieces that my family and I brought with us.”
Yet, Alain’s appreciation for African art officially consolidated four years ago when a friend introduced him to Yetu Arts Management, an organisation which contributes to the promotion of Congolese artists. Unsurprisingly, it was their work with emerging artists which really caught his attention. “African art is still nascent in the international art space. And a lot of these young artists could definitely make a better living if they had greater access to it.”
Even at work, Alain makes a point to promote this art. “In my study, I always have a different piece of art hanging behind me to showcase different artists to my colleagues during my video calls.” It is through this exposure and active promotion that Alain believes positive change can happen. Indeed, testament to this belief, is the anecdote he proudly shares of a recent co-worker who purchased one of the art pieces he had noticed during a video call.
For Alain, the true driving force behind this support lies in the ability it can have to transform lives. One of the 12 artists was able to pay for his wedding back in Kinshasa thanks to having sold a painting during the London exhibition. For Alain, these moments are illustrative of the wider impact he wishes to have both in the art space and on the artists’ lives: “When this art is exposed, it makes a difference in the here and now.”
“A message in a bottle” – he says. Beyond the success that the artists can achieve, there is a sense of socio-political empowerment that their art transmits both within and outside the DRC. To those back home “you give a message that there are other ways to succeed and that creativity can get you anywhere.” In the same guise, beyond the aesthetic of the artworks, it allows the artists to tell their story through a creative medium. These emotions transcend the art, such that anyone can feel “the pain…the frustrations. Yet, instead of seeing it through a lens of negativity, we see it through creativity.” As such, the political message told through art “is framed into something which is actually beautiful. And I believe the message is more powerful like that.”
Alain is hopeful for the upcoming projects of these emerging Congolese artists. His excitement for the future is palpable as he scrolls on his phone to find images sent by his friends to demonstrate the new artwork blossoming in Kinshasa.
His greatest wish for the near future? “If two or three of these artists could make a name for themselves. To have this international recognition. To get to a point where I can't afford their pieces. That would make me very happy.”
When Alain isn't busy supporting these talented artists, he is Pictet Asset Management’s Head of Emerging Markets – Corporate.