The contemporary African art world has just lost one of its most fervent actors in the person of the Belgian Henri Vergon. Since 1995, this passionate of African visual arts, works to promote African artists and their works on the international scene through his gallery Afronova, which he ran with his wife. He passed away on May 15, 2020, at the age of 51.
A lover of Africa
After successful graduate studies at EDHEC in Lille, Henri Vergon spent a short stay in the United States. Upon his return to France, he worked for a few years in the cultural sector before flying to South Africa a few days after the end of apartheid. Established in the economic capital Johannesburg, Vergon for a few years as a cultural agent at the Institut Français d’Afrique du Sud (IFAS). But as his contract came to an end and a return to Europe loomed on the horizon, he chose to stay permanently on the continent, embracing his love for contemporary African art.
In 1995, he decided to settle permanently in South Africa. At that time, the country had just experienced its first democratic elections and was experiencing a real artistic and intellectual effervescence.
Afronova, contemporary African and modern art
After 10 years of creating urban projects, festivals and exhibitions in the city of Johannesburg, Henri Vergon decided, in 2005, to launch the Afronova Gallery. It is established in the Newton district, and more precisely in front of the legendary Market Theatre. A choice borrowed from symbolism, and a way for man to pay tribute to the major moments of the artistic struggle that took place there in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
The young gallery has enjoyed rapid success, exhibiting great names in contemporary African art, such as Gera Mawi Mazgabu in 2005, Malick Sidibé in 2007, and Ricardo Rangel and Gerard Sekoto in 2008. Afronova has also enabled young talents to reveal themselves to the general public. Among these artists who are now among the most prominent on the continent are Malawian Billie Zanguewa, Beninese Dominique Zinkpè and Mozambican Mauro Pinto.
Henri will be joined in 2007 by Emilie Demon. Equally passionate about contemporary African art, the woman who will become his companion will play a major role in his exploration of new territories. In 2012, the couple decided to set up a business model putting the interests of the artists first. They choose to work with a limited number of artists in order to establish a personal relationship with each of them.
Afronova has been presenting African visual art for several years on international platforms such as Art Paris, The Armory Show, Contemporary African Art Fair, and the prestigious 1-54 fair. This year, Henri Vergon and Emilie Demon selected paintings, sculptures and photographs by six African artists for the 1-54 fair. At the announcement of his sudden death, the organizers of the fair paid tribute to him through a tweet.
Collectors Gervanne and Matthias Leridon present Henri as a storyteller who knows how to “take his interlocutors on the trail of the works he presented”. Thanks to him, they met artists such as Mary Sibandé, Lawrence Lemaona, Billy Zamgewa and many others. Like many other cultural actors, Jean-Michel Champault evokes professionalism, commitment, benevolence, humor and seriousness. Art Times particularly underlines the visionary side of the art lover and his many exploits. The South African magazine notably evokes the gallery’s “ability to represent its artists at offbeat fairs and to place their works in reference collections, including the Walther Collection, and in Jean Pigozzi’s collection devoted to contemporary African art.
The editorial staff of On Art salutes the memory of Henri Vergon who will forever remain one of the heroes of the promotion of African visual arts. Hail the artist!