2022 Byenal Sesel |14 September 2022
Sponsors explain reasons for their support
The Seychelles Biennale of Contemporary Art, which closed at the end of last month, saw an unprecedented number of visitors view exhibitions by more than 50 artists (main Biennale shows plus sideshows). When the visitor numbers for Praslin venues and the Mahé sideshow exhibitions are added to the tally kept by custodians at the three main Mahé venues we note that a record 10,250 people – locals and tourists – experienced the largest exhibition of art ever staged in Seychelles.
Our prior article highlighted the crucial role that sponsorship from the private sector has played in realising this event and today we carry three more interviews with key representatives of sponsoring companies – Ms Amanda Bernstein from Absa Bank Seychelles; Mr Guillaume Albert, CEO of Creole Travel Services; and Mr Alfred Fourcroy, CEO and partner of ISPC Seychelles. Once again, we are pleased to provide an insight into why these particular sponsors chose to support the Biennale and how their companies support wider initiatives in Seychelles.
Interview with Amanda Bernstein, Absa bank
The bank sponsored the two catalogues published to coincide with the opening and closing of the Biennale, thus supporting the archiving of the event for future reference.
Q: Why do you think it is important for a major bank such as Absa to support cultural initiatives such as the 2022 Byenal Sesel? How does this support complement other projects which the bank is committed to?
A: We are part of a more than 60-year legacy in Seychelles. During this time the organisation has grown and diversified to include and support important cultural and artistic initiatives such as the Festival Kreol, Biennale and L’Atelier. At Absa, we believe in supporting the communities in which we operate, as well as lending support to dynamic, inspiring and emerging artists across the continent. We are committed to shining the spotlight on works by young African artists to bring their possibilities to life.
We also believe that art is something everyone should have access to. And that’s why the Absa Group introduced virtual art events via live webinars and other digital art initiatives that allow you to truly experience art in a new way. Anyone can visit our website www.absa.africa/absaafrica/absa-art-portfolio/ to check out some of the Art Masterclasses on offer as well as the latest African art from across the continent.
Q: The Biennale is a major exhibition of international character. How important is it for you to support events where Seychellois artists hold their own with highly regarded international peers?
A: Art is in our DNA. Although banking is not something you traditionally associate with art, Absa Group’s corporate art collection is one of the largest in Africa and in the top 10 globally. Our corporate and regional buildings are filled with art from our collection, some of which were specially commissioned by local artists including Charles Dodo, Michael Adams, Nigel Henri, George Camille and Allen Ernesta.
In addition to this, Absa Seychelles has sponsored the Biennale competition twice, helping to encourage Seychellois artists to create out-of-the-box, stunning works of art that showcase radically different but thought-provoking concepts. To note, Absa Group is also the sponsor for the international L’Atelier art competition, one of Africa’s most prestigious art competitions. This competition, which has been running for 36 years, is hosted annually by Absa in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA). Every year dynamic, inspirational young visual artists from across Africa, including Seychelles, are given the opportunity to develop their talents abroad through the Absa L’Atelier. Additionally, the competition offers them a platform to explore themes and contemporary issues that will bring their possibilities to life.
Q: Having seen the Biennale exhibition what is your opinion of the work on display? Has the show met the expectations held by you when agreeing to sponsor the event?
A: Yes, I believe the exhibition far exceeded our expectations. It was a spectacular display of both local and international artists being challenged to express themselves in the ways that they did. There were some powerful symbols on display, which moved the viewers to form their own opinions as well as reflect on the theme of ‘Lost and Found’.
Q: Why do you think art is important in a society – what do you consider to be its principal social values?
A: As a society, art helps us to understand the inner workings of our minds and allows us to get in touch with emotions that we perhaps don’t have access to when focused on the daily bustle of life. Many works of art have challenged moral, political and social issues that societies of their time have grappled with – and the 21st Century is no exception.
I think that growing awareness and understanding of the value of issues such as global warming and the slow decline of culture among small island states allows artists to really reach deep into their psyche to create works that will both inspire fear and generate hope for the future. Artists are revolutionaries and are often the ones to spark conversations around real world issues.
Q: ABSA has provided exceptional support for the production of two Biennale catalogues, which will serve as archival records of this event for years to come. How important do you feel it is for events such as this to be fully documented for future generations of Seychellois artists, students and art lovers?
A: A nation’s historical records often depict times of socio-economic rise and fall. I believe it’s the same for art and cultural pieces. Documenting these events will give future generations of Seychellois artists a glimpse of what drove the creativity of their predecessors.
Art as both an emotional and mental canvas will allow these future artists to understand the cultural climate of our time as well as what ideas the artists pushed forward to provoke important conversations and decisions among the upper echelons, as well as what roles the artists played in re-shaping current affairs into what it will be in the future.
Q: And finally – this Biennale is supported by an education pack and teacher training. This has led to a significant number of school students visiting the exhibition. How does Absa support educational initiatives in Seychelles in addition to this specific event?
A: Absa as a whole has prioritised education and skills development, and we are partnering with leading specialists to empower young people with the training and tools they need for employment and entrepreneurship in the workplace of the future. This is done by:
• Funding access to innovative education financing solutions;
• Advancing digital, technical and vocational skills development through artisanship, alternative qualification and skills development pathways and specialised academies, and
• Promoting women and youth entrepreneurship
In Seychelles, our country’s young people face a rapidly changing world and it’s with this in mind that we have made a very clear strategic commitment to the development of our youth. Young people need skills that will help them to transition from education to work. ReadytoWork, an educational initiative created by Absa, supports them in this by providing the training, support and learning they need to enhance their employment or self-employment prospects. To date, we have over 550 students registered to our ReadytoWork platform and App and we have conducted in-person sessions with post-secondary students across the country.
Part of this this same pillar focuses on the development of the technical, vocational, social and digital skills required to support the country’s growth sectors, for example through engaging with Amazon Web Service Academy (AWS) to facilitate training for SIT students in Cloud computing – an increasingly essential field of study – as data analytics, artificial intelligence and other capabilities become more common services in Seychelles.
Last year, Absa Seychelles began a series of financial literacy sessions and distributed ‘Things I Wish a Bank had Told Me – A Guide to Personal Finances’ booklet to S5 students. So far, the bank has conducted a number of financial literacy sessions, including at Anse Boileau, English River, Plaisance and Beau Vallon secondary schools. The visits form part of the bank’s commitment to boost financial education and our mission to act as a Force for Good and give back to the communities in which we operate.
Interview with Guillaume Albert, CEO, Creole Travel Services, Seychelles
The company sponsored the prize for Best Personal Artistic Development as well as transfers of artists and judges to and from Praslin.
Much is being spoken about the need to diversify the tourism sector in Seychelles and increase the range of experiences and activities offered to tourists. Do you believe that cultural tourism can make a strong contribution here, and if so in what way?
I absolutely believe that cultural tourism has its rightful place among the main “highlights” of our destination here. A country’s identity derives from and is mostly expressed through its art and cultural heritage.
When it comes to this, Seychelles, in spite of being a relatively young nation, already has a lot to tell.
Q: CTS has, over the years, sponsored a great number of initiatives, mainly educational and cultural. The company also has a reputation for supporting initiatives which promote Seychelles and the Creole way of life. Why is this important to you?
A: I do believe that here in Seychelles we are a truly unique and colourful Creole nation and we must embrace and be proud of this distinctiveness. But we must also work hard at preserving it as it is.
The name of our company is as much of a testimony as it is a commitment to this cause.
Sadly, we see too much of our historical legacy being already forgotten or not given the attention it deserves.
We do not have the most attractive prices here in Seychelles and the natural beauty of our country cannot always justify, by itself, these prices.
Our biodiversity is unparalleled, but I believe what can also set us apart from the competition is the essence of our people and their culture.You see the efforts made in countries like Bhutan, where the authorities’ priority is to preserve the richness of their culture while running an essentially sustainable tourism industry on the side. It is the direction that Seychelles must take before it is too late and we fall prey to mass and dull tourism.
This can only be achieved by positively promoting, preserving and passing on the best of our values and traditions down to the younger generation, and inspiring them to do the same in time.
Q: Having seen the Biennale exhibition what is your opinion of the work on display? Has the show met the expectations held by you when agreeing to sponsor the event, especially the Barry Gertrude installation, which won the special CTS prize for personal development?
A: One interesting aspect of contemporary art is that it can be expressed in many different forms and shapes. There is usually more emphasis on its visual impact. There have been some ambitious set pieces, themes and concepts on display during the Biennale.
Some of them were thought-provoking and it was truly thrilling to see an event of this magnitude hosted for the first time in the Seychelles. Uniting artists from around the world with our local ones here in the Seychelles was a beautiful initiative, one which I am sure both introduced some of our people to Art and also brought exposure and inspiration to our local artists. This event and its positive competitive nature have also given our artists the opportunity to step up and show their talent and worth. It was a proud moment to hand our Personal Development prize to Barry Gertrude on the occasion of this international event. I do hope it will encourage more local artists’ development here in the Seychelles.
Q: Why do you think art is important in a society – what do you consider to be its principal social and economic value?
A: Art carries with it a lot of information relating to a society, not only about its present but also its history, as it eventually becomes a legacy in time. The same way we appreciate today the arts from the older days and the stories they tell.
It is no surprise that one prefers to remember the times of the Renaissance, or the Age of Enlightenment throughout Europe from the pages of history books where Art and Literature prevailed, rather than the dark times of war.
Interview with Alfred Fourcroy, partner and CEO, ISPC Seychelles
The company sponsored the shipping of fabrication materials from Sweden required to create the ‘ice sphere’ installation at the National History Museum. The company also carried out the creation of the ice spheres in its freezing centre.
Q: ISPC has been instrumental in enabling the biennale to include Ola Sivhed’s extraordinary ‘4 Elements’ installation, which features, among other things, a large sphere of solid ice. Why did you decide to sponsor this particular work, which has been technically and logistically extremely challenging?
A: We were seduced and intrigued by Ola Sivhed’s concept when it was explained to us by the curator of the biennale, Martin Kennedy, and obviously, when we consider the Seychelles climate, this project appeared as a challenge. And we love challenges at ISPC Seychelles.
Q: ISPC has, over the years, sponsored a great number of initiatives, culinary, educational and now cultural. Why?
A: We believe that the private sector has to support the local life and communities of Seychelles. We are a commercial company bringing fun and pleasure for the table to the country and, within this context, we believe that gastronomy is a form of art. But we do also appreciate art and artists within a more conventional definition. We are proud to support different forms of art and, at the same time, support educational initiatives.
Q: Having seen the Biennale exhibition what is your opinion of the work on display? Has the show met the expectations held by you when agreeing to sponsor the event, especially the Sivhed exhibition at the museum?
A: Yes, definitely. Especially Ola’s work. It was amazingly conceived and well exposed and I believe it attracted a lot of visitors. We really were convinced by the power of the pro-environment message through Ola’s ice sculpture and the synchronised video installations which accompanied it.
Q: Why do you think art is important in a society – what do you consider to be its principal social and economic value?
A: Art makes society evolve. Through art people renew themselves and their work. Art is similar to scientific research in a way, but also comes to us with another purpose – to entertain.