Set up in Amsterdam, in 1983, at the instigation of its current President, Michel Leveau, the Olfert Dapper Foundation takes its name from a xviith-century Dutch humanist who, despite never leaving his native country, wrote an encyclopaedic Description of Africa, first published in 1668.
The purpose of this private non-profit organisation is to raise the profile of sub-Saharan Africa’s artistic heritage and contribute to its conservation, by staging exhibitions and awarding research bursaries.
The Musée Dapper
In May 1986, the Foundation opened its own moseum in Paris, the Musée Dapper, directed by Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau. This event was marked by the simultaneous staging of three exhibitions: Ouvertures sur l’art africain at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, and Cabinets de curiosités au xviie siècle and Figures de reliquaire dites kota in its own exhibition space at 50 Avenue Victor Hugo (16th arrondissement) ‑ a mansion built in 1901 by the architect Charles Plumet.
Between 1986 and 1998, the Musée Dapper held thirty themed exhibitions, most of them designed and curated by Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau. These featured works selected from the Foundation’s own holdings, as well as ones loaned from private collections and museums all over the world. Highlights included Fang, Dogon, “Magies”, Corps sublimes, Réceptacles and Chasseurs et guerriers.
These exhibitions were accompanied by prestigious, but reasonably priced publications from Éditions Dapper. These collective, multidisciplinary works, all abundantly and thoughtfully illustrated, brought together articles by some of the world’s foremost historians, art historians, anthropologists and ethnologists. This publishing activity has since diversified into the literature of Africa, the Caribbean and their diaspora, with an emphasis on books for younger readers.
An artistic and cultural space for Africa, the Caribbean and their diasporas
Two years of careful reflection and preparation led to the opening of new premises in Paris (35 bis, rue Paul Valéry, 16th arrondissement), very close to the previous site but far better suited to the museum’s growing ambitions. The modern layout offers a unique venue for showcasing the creative arts of Africa as well as of the Caribbean, African-American and mixed-race communities of Europe, Latin America and the Indian Ocean.
Also the live arts now occupy a place alongside the plastic arts, both traditional and contemporary.
Located next to the museum shop, the pleasant café-restaurant adds to the friendly atmosphere.
The new Musée Dapper was inaugurated on November 30th 2000, with the staging of the Arts d’Afrique exhibition. This brought together one hundred and fifty outstanding examples of traditional arts, some on loan from major foreign museums. The book accompanying the exhibition was published jointly by Gallimard and Dapper.
Celebrations continued into 2001, with the presentation of three early bronzes by the eminent Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow and the Lam métis exhibition devoted to Wifredo Lam, who was a close friend of Picasso, Breton and Césaire. Paintings by this Cuban artist were juxtaposed with ancient sculptures from Africa and Oceania. Subsequent highlights in the period 2001-2007 included Afrique secrète (ninety major pieces from the Dapper collection), Le Geste kôngo, Signes du corps, Brésil, l’héritage africain, Sénégal contemporain and Gabon, présence des esprits.
This deliberate combining of old and new, African and mixed-race, has now been extended to cover not only the plastic arts but the performing arts too, thanks to the opening of a 190-seat auditorium. This is the venue for numerous events:
- dance, with choreographers such as Josiane Antourel (Martinique), Tchekpo Dan Agbetou (Bénin) and Irène Tassembedo (Burkina Faso);
- concerts, with musicians such as Guem (Algeria/Niger), Ballaké Sissoko (Mali), Omar Sosa (Cuba), So Kalmery (DRC), Mariann Matheus (Guadeloupe), Jeff Baillard and the group Xtrem’Jam (Martinique);
- plays, including Atterrissage (Kangni Alem), directed by Denis Mpunga, and Les Enfants de la mer, an adaptation by the Martinique playwright José Exélis of the work by Edwidge Danticat;
- children’s shows (storytelling, circus, puppet shows), including Histoires du monde, performed by Naïf Théâtre, and Golotoé ou la gourde divine, by Danaye Kalanfeï;
- seminars, bringing together anthropologists and ethnologists to discuss themes relating to the current exhibition, or writers to debate literary topics.
In January 2005, the Musée Dapper started up an African Film Club, in partnership with RFI. Film screenings every third Friday of the month provide an opportunity to tackle a range of issues relevant to African societies.
Mémoire partagée is another annual highlight on the calendar. Since 2006, May 10th has been the official date for commemorating slavery, the Atlantic slave trade and their abolition, and to mark this occasion, the Musée Dapper holds a series of themed events, including concerts, discussions and a film festival.
The Musée Dapper is particularly keen to develop its relations with social and community centres, in order to allow young people from all backgrounds to learn more about Africa and its diaspora and gain access to their heritage, through shows, guided tours and interventions by artists.s
Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau is the Director of the Musée Dapper
Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau was born in French Guiana, but
moved to France at the age of three.
She studied French language and literature at the University of Paris-X Nanterre, attending lectures by Maryse Condé and Jacques Chevrier on Black-African literature.
The subject of her master’s degree in literature was the Griot character in French-language Black-African drama.
Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau spent three years working as an advertising assistant for the Éditions Masson publishing house.
From 1979 to 1983, she worked as a journalist specializing in French-language African literature for Radio France Internationale and a variety of magazines.
In December 1983, she and her husband Michel Leveau founded the Dapper Foundation. She subsequently wrote Supports de rêve (1989) and Corps Sublimes (1994).
As well as curating many exhibitions, Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau has co-written most of the accompanying publications, including Arts d'Afrique (winner of the 2001 SNA Art Book Award), published jointly with Gallimard, and is also the author of Kalita, a children’s picture book illustrated by Philippe Davaine (Éditions Dapper, autumn 2005).
Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau was on the Musée du quai Branly steering committee from 1999 to the end of 2004 and is a member of the Committee for the Memory of Slavery (CPME), set up on January 5th 2004.