What I Buy and Why: Cameroonian Collector Diane Audrey Ngako on How a Garage Sale Sparked Her Passion for Collecting

We caught up with collector Diane Audrey Ngako on how she spots emerging African artists and the Kehinde Wiley work she covets most.

Diane Audrey Ngako with works by Marc Padeu and Joana Choumali in her exhibition at the Institut Français in Douala.

Thirty-year-old art collector and creative entrepreneur Diane Audrey Ngako got her start in arts media in Paris, working for the radio program Africa N°1, and writing for Roots Magazine, Le Monde, and TV5 Monde Africa.

Today, she has settled in Cameroon, and divides her time working as managing director of her Akwa- and Abidjan-based communications agency Omenkart, and her publishing house, Baköu. All the while, she has remained a passionate supporter of contemporary art, acquiring work by James Barnor, Amadou Sanogo, Malick Sidibe,  Jean David Nkot, and Joana Choumali, for which she calls the Voodart Collection.

Ngako founded the Douala Art Fair in 2018 with the goal of fostering like-minded generation of African buyers to ensure the artwork being created on the continent is appreciated there too. It was no surprise then, that she was included in Forbes Afrique’s list of 30 young entrepreneurs under the age of 30 back in 2016.

We caught up with the collector at her home, while she was preparing for an exhibition of her collection at the Institut Français in Douala (on view through February 4).

Diane Audrey Ngako’s personal collection.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?
My first purchase was an original work bought during a garage sale in France. It was by a certain painter, a Mr. Diallo, who had called it The Art of War. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew it was mine. That was in 2008 and I still have it with me. However, as the name is common in West Africa, I have never been able to find the full identity of the painter. The work cost me $3; I believe the owners just wanted to get rid of it.

What was your most recent purchase?
Actually, I bought two works at the same time. A photograph from the “Reconnaissance” series by Angèle Etoundi Essamba, and a “Near” painting by Naïla Opiangah, a young Gabonese artist who lives between L.A. and Accra. I met her in 2016 when she was studying architecture and I am delighted to know that like her mentor Amoako Boafo, she brilliantly expresses her sensitivity through painting. I think she will have a great and beautiful career.

Carine Mansan, Fatima en Adetutu (2021). Courtesy Diane Audrey Ngako.

Carine Mansan, Fatima en Adetutu (2021). Courtesy Diane Audrey Ngako.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
I’m really interested by the work of Lunga Ntila, Ayanfe Olarinde, Moke, Omar Viktor Diop, Joël Andrianomearisoa, Mous Lamrabat, and Emo de Medeiros.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

A painting by Amadou Sanogo bought a year ago. It’s a representation of one of my inspirations, Muhammad Ali.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

Galleries, auctions and directly from artist studios.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

In 2018, I found myself with a few works that no longer suited me and I separated from them. Today, I live in perfect harmony with all the works I have.

Diane Audrey Ngako with her collection at home.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?

Above my sofa, I have two amazing pieces works acquired last year by one of my favorite artists, Elladj Lincy Deloumeaux. He is represented by Cécile Fakhoury Gallery (Paris, Abidjan, Dakar). In my bathroom, you will find two pieces, one by the French artist Guy Ferrer, and one by Hervé Yamguen, another of my favorite artists and a poet.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

A huge sculpture by artist Ajarb Bernard. It’s not always easy to install it in my apartment—at the moment, it is with my father.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

I have a very good eye and I often detect talent very quickly. For example, I could have had in my collection Ludovic Nkoth, Tiffany Alfonseca, Isshaq Ismail, Chidinma Nnoli, or even Ymane Chabi-Gara…

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Kehinde Wiley’s Femme piquée par un Serpent (2008). It’s in the Dean Collection [formed by producer and rapper Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and his wife musician Alicia Keys].

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