Memory Timeline

I was born in Paris in 1953, to a French father and Gabonese mother. At the age of six I moved to Gabon, where my home faced the Atlantic Ocean, and the beach was my limitless garden. I had the best childhood and the most loving parents that a child could wish for. I ran, swam and climbed trees with my brothers, Paul and Gilbert, and my sister, Jeanne; I hunted, fished and played football with the local boys. My boundaries were formed only by instinct, and a child’s sense of good and evil. There was no crime or violence, and the people who surrounded me were uncomplicated and kind. I awoke when the sun rose, slept when it set, and felt that I was in communion with Nature.

In 1960, President Léon M’ba visited my mother and father in France, and spoke of the construction of a new world order. Following the death of my French grandmother, Jeanne, my father accepted the President’s invitation to live in Africa, and we moved to Libreville, the capital of Gabon. This was an exciting time, as Africa was emerging from colonial control, and was full of hope and expectation. As the daughter of a humanist father and a Gabonese mother who rejoiced in the decolonisation of Africa, I was raised with the vision of a world with no limits.

My Gabonese grandmother, Agnorogoulé, who smoked a pipe, drank rum and taught me to dance, soon became very special to me. She had a pure heart and soul and, though physically blind, saw further than most. From her I inherited a sense of the invisible and an awareness of life’s magical qualities.

During these early years, I attended L’Ecole Sainte Anne and L’Ecole Mixte. My friends called me ‘Café au Lait’ because of the colour of my skin, or ‘Mamiwata’ because of my long curly hair. I was intensely aware that I was of their world and of another world... simultaneously one but different.

In 1964, during the coup d’état against M’ba’s regime, my father was injured by rebel forces. We were immediately placed under the protection of the French military, and returned to France until the crisis was over. I was reminded, again, of the disparate cultures that formed my identity, and of the fundamental sense in which I blurred those boundaries.

I always adored my father, and listened for the sound of his car each evening, before running to meet him. We shared a love of reading, and spent many hours choosing and discussing books. When he died, I experienced an acute sense of emptiness, and shared with my mother the violence of the loss. My sense of grief and separation were profound. Years later, while in the care of nuns at my missionary school, I began to question the purpose of existence: ‘Who are we?’ ‘What are we?’ ‘Where are we going?’

Following a year at school on the Ivory Coast, I returned to Libreville, but soon had to leave secondary education, as money was lacking. At the age of seventeen, I became the first air hostess for Transgabon Airlines, now known as Air Gabon. This was an exciting entry into the world of work, as it fulfilled my desire to explore the planet and meet its people.

A year later, I left Gabon for England, and then moved to Madrid, where I studied philosophy at the Catholic Institute of Paris. At the same time, I embarked on a successful business career.

While living in Madrid, I formed a friendship with the talented Spanish artist, architect, musician and poet, Fernando Higueras, who was to radically change the course of my life. For three years, I lived within the community of artists and intellectuals that surrounded him, including Antonio López, Ricardo Vásquez, César Manrique and Lucio Muñoz. As my own artistic spirit was awakened, I became disillusioned with the world of business, and felt as though a new door had been opened.

Now, in 2009, I am exhibiting my latest work in the Pavilion of the Republic of Gabon, at the 53rd Venice Biennale. The curator is Fernando Francés, Director of the Contemporary Art Centre of Málaga (CAC Málaga), and the theme of the Biennale is ‘Making Worlds’. When I told Fernando that I saw myself as a visual storyteller, he helped me to articulate the evolution of my work, and to visualise its African heritage more clearly. He could perceive, without doubt, the return to my mother, and the role of Africa in my vision of the world. He flicked a switch on the Lighthouse of Memory, and led me to the image of the African tree house. Suddenly the pieces fitted together. The photographs and signposts and light-boxes and slide shows combine to tell a story of love and creation and humanity and hope.