• Passing on a heritage: a passion, a duty

    BLUSH Editions is delighted to meet Serge Hié, an Ivorian businessman and former soldier in the French army, who has fallen madly in love with ethnographic art. As a true expert in the field, and the head of one of the world's most impressive collections, Serge Hié unravels the thread of a passion, a collection, a heritage - both singular and collective - of which he is now the protector. Passing on this heritage is also - and perhaps above all - passing on a history. 

    Mr Hié, can you tell us how your passion for ethnographic art came about? 

    I was born into a family of collectors. My uncle was one of the greatest collectors here in Côte d’Ivoire; he introduced me to the art. I decided to build up my own collection twenty years ago. As for the family collection, it has been built up over more than sixty-five years. When I inherited it, I had to structure it, even if it meant discarding certain pieces at times, with the aim of making it a major collection.

  • HIE Collection_Art Premier

    HIE Collection_Art Premier

  • How would you define this art? What are its characteristics?

    First of all, you have to understand that ethnographic art is closely linked to functional, religious and spiritual practices. In my opinion, it is also at the root of art in general - many of its influences can be found in contemporary art, in Picasso’s or Renoir’s work, for example. This is a very fine art, which laid the foundations for stylisation and introduced abstract motifs. Ethnographic art speaks of our customs, of the gods: women who could not give birth, for instance, had to touch a maternity mask. It was through masks that we expressed ourselves. When people wanted to confide in someone, they did so through masks. So this art form has a symbolic significance, but also a functional and ritual dimension that is not found elsewhere. There was so little transmission of ethnographic art in Africa because its spiritual nature crystallised many taboos. When Westerners arrived in Africa, in the context of colonisation, they didn't take this sacred dimension into account and saw in the pieces only an aesthetic side.

    This is an art form that has survived the passage of time, with some pieces dating back to before our era. Everything in the Bura system dates back to the 4th century. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Léga art appeared in the 14th century. Works frequently found on the market are more recent, dating from the 18th or 19th centuries. Another distinctive feature of ethnographic art is that the pieces are not signed, and their production has been very sustained over the centuries. It is also a very diverse art: there is a type of ethnographic art specific to West Africa and another specific to Central Africa. It's not the same thing.

  • What is the mission of your collection? What are the challenges that go with it? 

    Through these pieces, I hope above all to pass on a heritage, a knowledge and a passion. It has to be said that Africans people are not interested in ethnographic art. Only 2% of experts are African, the rest being European and American. Yet this art is a history - our history. If we don't take care of it, if we don't preserve it, we run the risk of losing it. I feel it is my duty, as an African expert, to take all this into account, to be part of a process of transmission and to talk about what I know. Some experts in ethnographic art have never set foot in Africa, and yet they are the authorities on the ethnographic art market. That's why I insist on this duty of transmission. In Africa, our museums are perfectly capable of certifying pieces, but the market is elsewhere: you have to go all the way to Paris or Brussels to establish the value of our works. On the one hand, the West has contributed to the development and recognition of ethnographic art, but what place does Africa have in the processes that are shaping its future?

    What ambitions do you have for your collection? What projects are on the horizon?

    My ambition extends above all to my African brothers and sisters: I'm trying to encourage them to take an interest in this art, while continuity will take shape harmoniously in the West.
    We are in the process of setting up meetings and events in Geneva, Monaco and Luxembourg. The aim is to get closer to enthusiasts - of ethnographic art or of art in the broadest sense - to meet them and present part of our collection. I want these meetings to be about conversation and sharing. We'd like to lend our pieces, organise exhibitions in private galleries and reach out to people who, like me, have made ethnographic art a real passion. What's more, I want to inspire people who may know little about it to discover this art form, people who may not think they have the sensitivity to appreciate it, and who, in the end, let themselves be touched by it. 

    We'll be keeping a close eye on these encounters as we move through the issues of BLUSH

    By Eduardo Costerg

    Adresse / Site web : www.collectionhie.art

    Contact : claudia@collectionhie.art

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