Robert SÈVE et Clément-Marie BIAZIN
"A long fight for the emergence and the recognition of a Contemporary African Art"
It is Bangui (Republic of Central Africa-RCA), towards the end of 1966, that Robert SÈVE first has the chance to meet the african Painter and Story-teller Clément-Marie BIAZIN, who tells him about his eighteen years of "educative travels" in the heart of Africa and his ambition to paint and write "The Great Book of African History".
BIAZIN at the same time admits to him his total lack of financial means to realise such a vast project.
Robert SÈVE immediately offers him these means : BIAZIN can at last realise his "Great Work of Art", and this is just the beginning of a deep friendship between SÈVE and BIAZIN, which only comes to an end with the death of the latter in January 1981.
He records the first of a long series of interviews with SÈVE : between 1967 and the end of 1980 dozens of hours have been recorded working together.
BIAZIN tells SÈVE his life-story, recounting each step and the roots of his work, explaining each detail of his paintings about the African tradition and culture. He philosophises and often shows a great sense of humour.
These interviews with Robert SÈVE were to be completed by those at the hospital "La Pitié-Salpétrière" in Paris in 1977 with Professor Jean LAUDE (Professor of History of Contemporary Art at Department of Arts and Archeology, Director of the "Center of Historical Researchs on the Artistic Relations between Cultures" at the University of PARIS 1 in Panthéon-Sorbonne, author of a lot of monographies of major artists, but mainly "poet").
On his return to France in 1968, Robert SÈVE endeavors to interest the Cooperation (with Africa) French Ministry in BIAZIN's work. This attempt with the French Governamental Authorities proves to be a failure.
Not discouraged by this, Robert SÈVE perseveres between 1968 and the end of the eighties in his sollicitation of all the French Cultural Institutions ( Cooperation, Foreign Affairs, Culture, Televisions, Museums, CNRS "national scientific research center", Foundations, NATIONAL LIBRARY, UNESCO ), with the unique aim of promoting BIAZIN and his work. All to no avail.
Owing to this generalised disinterest, Robert SÈVE was to remain the sole financial supporter of his friend BIAZIN until the death of the artist in 1981.
SÈVE perseveres with the focal-point of his work by systematically documenting the interviews recorded and, more often than not, filmed as well.
1972 : Robert SÈVE realised "CLEMENT-MARIE BIAZIN, African Painter and Story-teller", a film which was to receive several awards.
SÈVE signs a contract to distribute his film by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a diffusion which is only authorised for the French Cultural Centers in Africa, in the aim that the "work of translating in paintings the oral traditional history of Africa" of his friend BIAZIN can be viewed on a large scale by the younger generations of Africans.. which was always the artist's intention.
August 1973 : Robert SÈVE travels to Bangui to show his film to his friend BIAZIN.
It is at this point that he learns the sad news that BIAZIN has leprosy.
SÈVE tries to organise BIAZIN's life so that he might receive all the medical help he needs, and in 1974, he purchases a small house with running water for his friend in Bangui, not far from the hospital where he is beeing treated.
Soon SÈVE realises that his friend BIAZIN can't receive the necessary treatment in Bangui ; so in 1975, he decides to bring him to France, whatever the cost, and despite the new restricted laws against imigration.
He decides to approach Michel LEIRIS ( ethnologist, writer, poet, Director at the MANKING MUSEUM "Musée de l'Homme" in Paris ), whom he meets on several occasions.
Michel LEIRIS declares that : "aesthetically speaking, BIAZIN's work, in its own way, is a real work of Art. Furthermore it constitutes the most important discovery in the field of African Art over the second half of the 20th century, and indeed since the discovery of Negro Art". (interviews between Robert SÈVE and Michel LEIRIS recorded in 1975)
Michel LEIRIS writes :
" The artist has made an excellent job as chroniker in succeeding in expressing himself through pictures in a way which, by using a system of compartments, evokes the ancient CODEX… BIAZIN's art amazes us by its unconstestable originality".
Michel LEIRIS ensures SÈVE of his utmost support in any steps he might take to promote BIAZIN and his art : as it turned out, he was not to let him down in this promise.
In 1977, SÈVE finding ways "around" the authorities__ finally manages to bring his friend BIAZIN to France, as a simple tourist, where Professor Marc GENTILLINI (now Président of the French "Red Cross" "Croix Rouge") would look after him over a long period at the "La Pitié-Salpétrière" hospital in Paris.
BIAZIN is then settled into a specialized medical institution, not far from Paris, where he was to spend his last years peacefully with the best medical attention possible.
In this way, SÈVE can pay him regular visits and be his guide around Paris, visiting the cathedrals, zoos and museums that BIAZIN is so fond of.
These precisions are given to put an end, once and for all, to the rumour (wrongly spread by misinformed journalists) according to which BIAZIN supposedly died "in the blackist misery".
1977 : Michel LEIRIS invites Robert SÈVE to present BIAZIN's work at his International Seminary at the Sorbonne University.
From February 1978 to April 1979, the prestigious STEDELIJK MUSEUM in AMSTERDAM consecrates a big exhibition to BIAZIN, presenting 50 paintings from the Robert SÈVE collection.
The Museum asks Robert SÈVE to write the text for the exhibition plaque, and the Dutch version of SÈVE's film about BIAZIN is continually projected before the visitors.
This exhibitioin proves to be a great success and holds an important place in the press.
By 1978, Clément-Marie BIAZIN is thus the very first modern African Artist to have his work shown in an exhibitioin__ entirely consecrated to him__ in a major occidental museum.
He is the first black contemporary artist to be appreciated and recognised unanimously by both the public and the critics.
E.De WILDE, Headkeeper of the STEDELIJK MUSEUM writes :
"BIAZIN's work has impressed me enormously. It is a unique example of the so-called "art of naive stories expressed in pictures" wich, and this is what I find so remarkable, reveals a feeling of deep sensitivity as so far as colour and composition are concerned".
The Professor BURSSENS of the University of GAND declares :
"BIAZIN's work is extraordinary, not only by his spontaneous vision of people, of nature, of animals and all things, but reveals itself through a remarkable artistic quality which goes beyond the anecdote : his paintings are the best example of the transposition of an artistic feeling, which is both secular and inborn, not to mention the creative talent of the Black African Continent".
E.R.WYLE, Programme Director of the CRAFT AND FOLK ART MUSEUM of LOS ANGELESwrites to SÈVE :
"We were extremely impressed by the paintings, the fact that it is unique and gives such an "inside" picture of the history and culture of contemporary Africa as well".
All, thus, justify the title that BIAZIN had already confidentially awarded himself, in 1967, of "First Pioneer of the Modern African Art".
In the January and February of 1980, the Museum of Modern Art of DUSSELDORF (Städtische Kunsthalle Dusseldorf) puts on an exhibition entitled "BIAZIN", presenting 76 paintings from the Robert SÈVE collection .
Publication of a catalogue including a more complete text by Robert SÈVE.
Robert SÈVE publishes, in German, the article written by Eugène M'BAGA in "TERRE AFRICAINE" on the occasion of BIAZIN's first exhibition in BANGUI in 1967.
This exhibition is coupled with the big exhibition of paintings by MAIAKOVSKY organised in the same location by this Museum.
Jürgen HARTEN, his Director, is determined to couple this presentation of paintings by MAIAKOVSKY (which leave the USSR for the first time) and those of BIAZIN, because, he says :
"These two styles of paintings have one thing in common : their creators painted them not for Museums, but for their people.
Aesthetically, they proceed in a similar way, in that the narration and the texts inscribed in the paintings are clearly defined__ not only as far as the narrative is concerned, but also and moreover__ to act in the construction of the paintings".
Thus__ in his self-portrait with the Globe__ BIAZIN, the "African Vagabond in Sandals of Wind", joins the intellectual legendary poet of the Russian Revolution.
January 1981 : Clément-Marie BIAZIN dies in France.
One month earlier, he had expressed his wish to his close friend SÈVE to return home to BANGUI. His ticket had already been bought by SÈVE.
The INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE consecrates a whole-page article to BIAZIN on the 23 May 1981, entitled "BIAZIN, Recorder of a Vanishing Africa".
ARTNEWS, in New-York, also consecrates a page to BIAZIN in November 1981 in its"Vasari Diary" under the title of "I was destined to be a traveller and a story-teller".
AT the end of 1982, the Professor Jean LAUDE invites Robert SÈVE to give his conference on "BIAZIN and the emergence of an African Contemporary Art" on the occasion of the University Seminary in Grenoble which treats of the cultural and colonial relationships between the Northern European Civilazations and the Southern African Civilizations.
In April 1983, the SAN FRANCISCO ART INSTITUTE invites SÈVE to give his conference on "BIAZIN and the emergence of an African Contemporary Art", in English, in SAN FRANCISCO.
Author Jean KENNEDY listen with great interest to SÈVE's conference about this emergence of an African Contemporary Art. She has a lot of discussions, on this occasion, with Robert SÈVE in SAN FRANCISCO on this topic.
In 1992, Jean KENNEDY consecrates a chapter to BIAZIN in "New Currents, Ancient Rivers / Between the Natural and the Supernatural" published by the SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE (look at the SMITHSONIAN'S WEBSITE).
In 1994, the French Cooperation Ministry (thanks to the enthusiasm of Antoine POUILLIEUTE, head of the Ministry's cabinet) provides Robert SÈVE with the means to organise "The BIAZIN Exhibition" (of which he has been dreaming since 1967) at the MAAO (MUSEUM FOR AFRICAN AND OCEANIC ARTS in PARIS).
The French Cooperation Ministry also provides SÈVE the means to publish the text__ erudite and poetic__ by Jean LAUDE "OUTLINES FOR A BIAZINE ENCYCLOPEDIA".
This book includes__ apart from an introduction by Michel LEIRIS__ interviews with BIAZIN and Jean LAUDE, and also with Robert SÈVE.
On this occasion, Robert SÈVE creates the Association "TIERS MONDES/ARTS MAJEURS" ("THIRD WORLDS/MAJOR ARTS"), of which he is the founder and the President.
BIAZIN's paintings in the exhibition are documented by numerous African objects, and african story-tellers and musicians perform in the center of the exhibition itself.
This is exactly what SÈVE had dreamed of doing for the exhibition in the STEDELIJK MUSEUM in AMSTERDAM in 1978.
During the exhibition, the three films on Africa by Robert SÈVE are continuously shown :"LE MUSEE BOGANDA", "L'ARC MUSICAL N'GBAKA" et "CLEMENT-MARIE BIAZIN, AFRICAN PAINTER AND STORY-TELLER" .
This exhibitioin proves to be an enormous success, and is prolonged in consequence.
It also gives rise to some particularly important press articles, both on the French and the International side (Germany, Italy, Japan,…).
Historically, he was to be the first, black, African artist to produce a piece of art of such importance.
Historically, he was to be the first, black,African artist to be the centerpoint of a film ("CLEMENT-MARIE BIAZIN, African Painter and Story-teller" by Robert SÈVE,1967), and of a very complete monography ("OUTLINES FOR A BIAZINE ENCYCLOPEDIA"by Jean LAUDE,1977).
Historically, he was to be the first, black, African artist to have his work shown in "personal exhibitioins" in some of the most prestigious European Museums : the STEDELIJK MUSEUM of AMSTERDAM in 1978, the MUSEUM OF MODERN ART of DUSSELDORF (Städtische Kunsthalle Dusseldorf) in 1980, the MAAO (MUSEUM FOR AFRICAN AND OCEANIC ARTS) of PARIS in 1994.
From 1966 onwards, Robert SÈVE film-maker and man of "vision" was to be the first to recognise the exceptional quality of Clément-Marie BIAZIN's project.
He was to be the first to believe in and to imagine the new perspectives opened up by these authentic African paintings.
From 1966 to this day, SÈVE have fought, without concession, for the recognition of the existence and emergence of BIAZINs Art, which has been a major cultural achievement giving the Black Continent new nobility.
Contemporary African Art can now class itself equal with the Art of the Occident, which so often claimed or recuperated it.
All texts, paintings and pictures : copyright Robert SÈVE