The artist-run organization Les Ateliers Sahm is hiding in plain sight. Founded in 2012 by artist and writer Bill Kouélany, it is located in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo – a country whose arts scene remains fairly unknown to the wider world. I have never visited the organization but, since its founding, I have received its newsletters. As I read through them, I am taken by the quantity, quality and diversity of the programmes that happen in a context where government support is minuscule or, in most cases, non-existent. I am more familiar with Kouélany’s work as a visual artist; in 2007, she became the first African woman artist living and working on the continent to participate in documenta. Over the past six years, Les Ateliers Sahm has galvanized the local art scene through exhibitions, workshops, residencies and more. In addition to bringing international art professionals to Brazzaville, Kouélany presents an ambitious exhibition every two years, as part of the OFF programme of the Dakar Biennale in Senegal, increasing visibility for artists such as Boris Anje, Eddy Kamuga and Paul Alden Mvoutoukoulou. More importantly, Les Ateliers Sahm has created a space of inclusion in a patriarchal art scene in which the visibility of female practitioners was minimal. It is making an important contribution to the nascent cultural ecosystem in Brazzaville as well as across the continent.
First published in Issue 200