Interview with African Art Gallery Owner Nelly Wandji
Updated: May 29, 2019
Nelly Wandji is the owner and consultant for Nelly Wandji, an art gallery dedicated to showcasing the luxury of African craftsmanship. Located at 93 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, the art gallery is housed in the prestigious neighbourhood of Paris, home to major luxury brands and high-end art galleries. As an African passionate about art, craft and design, Nelly Wandji found an avenue to express her heritage by creating a gallery to showcase the beauty and luxuriousness of African creativity and talent.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do?
A: "I am a distribution consultant and creator of the Moonlook, an online international platform that is dedicated to the promotion of creatives on the African continent. I also own a gallery here in Paris where I showcase the work of African creatives through art, fashion and craft. The idea is to show African craftsmanship in a more luxurious way."
Q: How did you get started with what you do?
A: "I got started with what I do through what I would call a revelation. After my studies, I worked for one of the largest jewellery conglomerates as a marketing assistant. I was responsible for looking at the artisans of the luxury division of the group and in charge of the development of the company in France and through out Europe. During one of my trips to Milan, I came across the store of a stylist who had wax print fabric in the window display of her store, that’s when the revelation hit. I realized that there is so much talent and creativity on the African continent and there is a demand for African craftsmanship, but there wasn’t really a way for creatives to connect and share their work on a more international level. So with that realization and through some of my work experiences and connections, I decided leave my job and started an online platform ‘Moon Look’ that would give creatives on the continent the opportunity to share, connect and show their work."
Q: What made you decide to start a gallery?
A: "Well, after launching the online platform, I was also doing a lot of pop up with pieces and designs that I had collected from my travels to Africa. These items were selling very well and that’s when I thought it would be a good idea to have some form of a physical space to showcase these items. A place where people to see, feel and touch the items."
Q: How did you manage to get a space in this location for your gallery?
A: "After almost 8 months of research and searching for a good location in Paris. I was able to come across this location here in the 8th arrondissement. A location that attracts people from all over and is home to many major fashion houses and big art galleries. I wanted a space that would serve the purpose of my vision and this space fit just that with have 3 areas that all serve each other. In the front is the gallery to display art, the back is a cabinet of curiosity where you can find clothes, bags, jewellery and magazines, and downstairs is a sort of showroom and cozy lounge."
Q: How do you find the work to showcase in the gallery?
"I am well known among creatives and through my interactions and word of mouth, I am able to come across work to show. I travel a lot around the continent and attend tradeshows and art shows where I also come across a lot of other creative people who also know other creatives and introduce them to me. So through my network and interactions, that is how I am able to connect with people and get items."
Q: Was this the career path you always imagined to have from a young age? What educational path did you take to get to where you are now other than your working experiences?
A: "Not at all, it’s just something that I realized I had to do because no one was really doing it. I realized there was a need for it and tapped into the market. As far as my education, when I moved to Paris from Cameroon, I studied international trades and specialized in luxury."
Q: How long have you been operating the gallery and what other plans do you have outside of the gallery and your online platform to keep supporting your initiative?
A: "The gallery has been here for two and half, almost 3 years, but I am considering closing the gallery and launching a program for creatives on the continent. I am Pivoting towards an agency that will help consult creatives with how to share their work on a more international scale but also within the continent."
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time when you are not handling the business of owning a gallery?
A: "When I use to have spare time, now I just sleep because I am just too tired. When I used to have spare time, I love visiting galleries, exhibitions, watching movies and travelling; although I already travel a lot for work. I used to also have a band, a jazz band in which I used to sing in, but this was all back when I had spare time."
Q: What type of art do you like?
"I am most attracted to work of material- I love beautiful things. One part of the human being that we don’t highlight enough the capacity to transform material into art, turn something very raw and unpolished into something very beautiful. I love the work and craftsmanship of artisans and fine craft and of course African art. I am also learning to have an appreciation for contemporary art but most importantly, what I love about art is the story that it tells. I want to look at an art piece and really feel connected and understand the story behind the artist behind the piece of art, that is what touches me."
Q: What is the most fulfilling part about what you do?
"To see that every action even if it may seem insignificant at the time can actually impact somebody’s life. I am very strict on the way I see things and it’s a very satisfying feeling knowing that someone can take something from what I say even if it may seem a bit harsh at the time and later on be able to see the value in what they took away from it and how my advise has positively helped them in their endeavours."
Q: What is the most challenging part about what you do?
"Trying to change people’s mind-set in how they perceive African fashion and art. I want them to be able to expand and evolve their perception to understand that African craftsmanship is not just unique, but something of value that can be luxury as well."
Q: What advice would you give someone trying to do what you do?
"Be authentic, don’t follow the crowd, bring your voice, do what seems good from your standpoint, be innovative and bring something new to the table. Every body has something very significant to offer, so don’t be afraid to go for it."
Photo Sources: Jeune Afrique, WANACorp, Sortia Paris, Facebook, Timeout, Nelly Wandji.