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ART AFRICA CHATS TO ROBERT KELTY - DIRECTOR OF AMREF

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Robert Kelty with Esther Mahlangu
 
Amref Health Africa is a wonderful and pretty essential organization, particularly in providing vital health services to African communities who need it most. What made you decide to run an art auction to raise funds, how did this project evolve? Why the focus on artists from the continent only.

We decided to hold a benefit art auction because of the rise in popularity of African contemporary art in the United States. We felt it would resonate with audiences here, in terms of bringing them unique, contemporary art pieces to invest in, while showcasing the diversity and talent from all regions across Africa. Being an African based health development NGO, we also wanted to raise more awareness of our ability to mobilize the incredible creativity of Africa. 

You know that expression, ‘Africa is Not a Country’? Well, we really wanted to bring that home – because, as you know, it’s a continent made up 54 countries. Artists from 17 countries donated to ArtBall this year. From Ghana to Kenya, South Africa to Morocco, we have received the most unique pieces from passionate artists who are all united by their desire to give back to a cause that is meaningful to them – and that is the basic right to health.  And, for the artists who are attending the event, it’s a win-win for them and for Amref – they’re helping us fundraise, while we’re able to provide them a platform to exhibit their artwork in the U.S. Some artists have even generously created special pieces with a specific focus on health, so as to really connect with our vision of lasting health change in Africa.

 Tell us more about the award please.

The award we are presenting El Anatsui is called the Rees Visionary Award. Named after Dr. Tom Rees, the founder of Amref Health Africa, we wanted to recognize the way in which Anatsui’s work facilitates environmental advocacy, while elevating contemporary African art beyond Ghana and into a global cross-cultural exchange. El Anatsui has always had a deep commitment to the health space as well, with a commitment to improving the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital in Eastern Ghana, which services 200,000 people. He has been known to make numerous contributions to the most vulnerable in society and is considered 'an inspiration to his birth country Ghana and the resourceful continent of Africa.' This fits into our larger theme for the event, ‘Visionaries’.  

El Anatsui recipient of the Rees Visionary Award.

How long was it in the planning and how did you make contact with the artists and El Anatsui, Wangetchi?

We started planning for ArtBall 2017 right after the inaugural event ended last year, mainly because of the momentum and buzz generated after our first year doing the event. The sheer energy, excitement and passion for ArtBall was the impetus behind making ArtBall 2017 even bigger, and better than before. We made contact with the artists through our curator, Atim Annette Oton, as well as through other connections such as Dr. Barry T. Malin of Burning in Water gallery. The event simply just grew from there. Wangechi Mutu, contemporary artist of Kenyan decent, also has supported Amref Health Africa’s work in the past, and is doing so again this year with a donated piece for our live auction.

How have you drummed up support for this project, What has the reception been, support from art buyers/ art patrons etc?

The support has been absolutely amazing. From people who have generously donated their time and creative services to our Patron for the event, Dr. Massimiliano del Ninno and Honorary Host, Jack Shainman, we couldn’t have asked for a better team or response to ArtBall. It’s inspiring to witness artists donate so generously of their time and talent, and who want to give back to a cause that will really have an impact for years to come.

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