INTERVIEW OF ALEXANDRE LATOUR, FOUNDER OF AYITI GALLERY
By Nina Velez-Troya, RedIvory (April 2019)
Alexandre Latour is a social entrepreneur, fine art dealer and founder of AYITI Gallery. Alexandre has worked 15 years as emergency manager and adviser for International organizations but in 2010 his life changed when he survived the massive earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince (Haiti). Profoundly charmed by the magic of Haitian art, he started in 2016 to help few highly talented Haitian artists get wider exposure. He brought over 200 original artworks, participated and curated successfully 15 exhibitions in London, and raised the visibility of these artists. Alexandre is now looking beyond Haiti. His vision is to build a more inclusive and interactive art world by connecting the new wave of International inspirational artists and aspiring masters to the new generation of socially responsible patrons, and by merging traditional fine art with the new tech to enrich lives here and there.
I know that you have worked in social subjects and now you have an ethical fine art company. Can you explain to us why are you always involved on this kind of works?
I believe we all have a duty to help each other. I don’t see the point to live greedy. I worked 15 years in humanitarian settings helping communities face disasters. I wanted to contribute to alleviate their sufferings. In 2007, I got a job with the Red Cross in Haiti where I stayed 5 years. There I managed disaster preparedness and response programmes in the field. Hurricanes, floods, earthquake, cholera. My life literally changed. While there I fell in love with the Haitian culture, its music, its art, its people. Frustrated by the humanitarian system I decided to quit and started to invest in one of Haiti’s richness: its artists. I brought their works here, curated few exhibitions and raised awareness not only to share their story but also to help them sell their amazing art. Despite their undeniable talent and sense of creativity Haitian artists have limited opportunities to access the International art market, show their works and live from their art. They are remote in Haiti with no financial means and no connexion. I found this really unfair for the artists and also a missed opportunity for people for not seeing this meaningful art, so I decided to devote my time and my money to support and reveal these artists. The world is changing. Starting from Haiti I want to build a more inclusive market and facilitate the discovery of new art worlds. As humanity is awakening this is the perfect timing.
What is the difference between your gallery and the traditional?
There are very few galleries or art dealers who would take the risk to support non-conventional unknown artists from a stigmatised country and pay for everything from studio costs to shipping to marketing to exhibiting costs. Mostly, galleries play it safe. And try to please their clients’ taste. So they bring commercial art. Or they ask the artists to pay for being represented or for displaying the art. I didn’t, because I believe in their art and I know their economic situation. It’s how the market becomes elitist. Ethical means that you care about the artists no matter their origin, their background, their status, their renown or their connexion. Ethical means that the purchase of an artwork or the patronage of an artist has a social impact on his/her life and consequently on his/her family and community as we dedicate a percentage of a sale to run local art projects. I’ve signed up for the long run making sure that our artists gain their independency through a reliable network of patrons.
How many artists do you manage?
At the moment 7 Haitian artists are part of our roster. I want to establish strong foundations before expanding so it takes more time. At the start I covered all costs to bring and show the art. Now I’m looking for alternative solutions like sponsorship and patronage. The demand for their art is rapidly increasing because it’s new, fresh and highly inventive. I’m starting with Haiti and Haitian artists because that is a culture I am passionate about but considering the big picture of a fairer art world I will expand to artists from countries and cultures who endure long-lasting hardship.
How do you promote them?
I promote the works through pop-up exhibitions and artfairs. I am now looking at associates and sponsors to participate in more established artfairs in Europe and to curate more powerful exhibitions dragging a savvier crowd of collectors, investors and mindful people. I found also that having a central location helps so I’m currently looking to have a permanent showroom in London and in Paris. Instagram is also a good platform to showcase the art and I’ll soon be posting again more extensively.
Can you tell us something about each artist?
I chose the artists according to their ability to exceed our own consciousness. They are all visionary artists. They have this incredible imagination that is not fantasy but that is connected to the real and the spiritual. These artists have the ability to invent and dig deep into new realms. They expand the narrative of art. Historically Haiti has been isolated for two centuries as a consequence of their independence in 1804, being the first black colony that rejected the western colonialism. Since then Haiti has become a land of artists. Through arts its people has created and idealised a better world. Haitian art has become a mix of African, European and Amerindian cultures integrating its Christian, Voodoo and Freemasonry beliefs and practices. I consider our artists as messengers of influential and meaningful narrative useful to the whole humanity. Despite their isolation their language is universal. In their paintings they talk about their identity, their connection with the spiritual world, their attachment to nature, the sense of being human and being connected with one another. They understand that life is not about fighting or being greedy. Life is about sharing, caring, being, creating. All our artists are self-taught artists. They haven’t received any art education nor been influenced by any major art trend. But what is really impressive is that their works are sometimes compared to Basquiat, Dali, Picasso, Bosch… That their works are sometimes classified as part of surrealism, cubism, fauvism, primitivism… Some will probably be the masters of tomorrow. What we need to understand is that these Haitian artists, especially those who have not yet been greatly exposed to the west, have developed a unique and authentic style.
Ethical art can be the future of art?
I think yes and beyond that. I think it is the future of our world. Now that we are more conscious about who we are and how fragile we are, being more ethical is imperative. How come some galleries or dealers can do money and enrich themselves on the back of the artists? There should be a fair share. But then art can also trigger social change. Art is underexploited. Millions and billions of pounds are spent for just one single painting, often from dead artists. The money that is circulating in the art market at the moment serves individuals. Why not should it serve the collective? Why not creating a pool or a fund from the auctions that would help communities to thrive? The art market is elitist and conservative. It promotes the duplication of art and artists. Artists are rewarded based on their ability to market themselves, be connected or suit a particular trend. Instead their fame should be based on their talent, originality, creativity, the deepness and pureness of their inspiration. Ethical means that fair opportunities should be given to any talented artists no matter who they are and where they come from. Ethical art means that the art isn’t created to please but rather as a call from the inner soul. There is still a long way to go but through more conscientisation the art world can understand that it has a major role to shape the future of humanity as it holds its common language.
How can people be involved in this kind of galleries?
In different ways but first I think it’s by researching the meaning and the purpose of the gallery. Why was it found? How the artists are being included? What social impact it has? If you really want to make a difference in people’s life then try to help the gallery to be more connected either through social media and through human interaction; find sponsorships and create partnerships to bring, exhibit and sell the art; write articles in blogs and magazines. For instance I’m always up to explore collaboration to build cultural bridges to expose the artists’ works and also allow artists to come here and share their story. AYITI Gallery is an independent gallery, self-funded, so I’m always keen to hear about dedicated people who want to share their skills, network and means with us. The door is wide open because the task is huge, and the impact can be massive. Haiti is our entry point but then we’ll expand to other countries and have a stronger presence online so support in that sense is highly relevant.
Some nice suggestions to help your painters?
Become a patron. My aim is to build a supportive network of patrons for the artists so they can be freed and live from their art. Patronage comes through different ways: buy or commission an artwork; support the costs of the artist like studio, exhibitions, residencies, travel, marketing…; or introduce the artist to your network to leverage cultural and commercial partnership opportunities. Patrons become part of their creative and transformative journey. They enrich their own life and the artists’ life. They not only contribute to the rise of emerging talents and the discovery of hidden treasures, but they also make an impact at the local level because most of the artists run community projects mostly with children. So helping these artists is a way to shape a better future for humanity.