Sindika Dokolo, Crusader for Return of African Art, Dies at 48

Sindika Dokolo, a wealthy Congolese art collector who crusaded for the return of African art removed during the colonial era by Western museums, art dealers and auction houses, but who became embroiled this year in investigations into how his Angolan wife had acquired her riches, died on Oct. 29 in Dubai. He was 48.

His family announced his death on his Twitter account. According to news media reports, he died in a diving accident off the coast of Dubai.

“Works that used to be clearly in African museums must absolutely return to Africa,” Mr. Dokolo told The New York Times in 2015. “There are works that disappeared from Africa and are now circulating on the world market based on obvious lies about how they got there.”

Mr. Dokolo, who amassed a 5,000-piece collection of contemporary African art, established a foundation in 2013 that uses a network of dealers, researchers and lawyers working in Brussels and London to monitor the art market and scour archives for African art that might be repatriated.

When a stolen piece is tracked down, Mr. Dokolo told Artnet News last year, “we confront the current owner and we offer them two options: Either we go to court based on the evidence that we have, which means reputational damage, or we pay an indemnity, which is not the current market price, but the price they paid when they acquired it.”

His foundation has so far located 17 artworks and returned 12 to their rightful places. “If I have to spend a large deal of money and five years in court, I will do it,” Mr. Dokolo told The African Report in 2016.

His early recoveries include ancestral female masks and a male statue of the Chokwe people of central and southern Africa. They had been looted from the Dundo Museum in Angola during the Angolan civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 2002.

Mr. Dokolo had money aplenty to repatriate purloined African art. His father founded the Bank of Kinshasa in Congo during the dictatorial reign of Mobutu Sese Seko, and Mr. Dokolo was married to Isabel dos Santos, a daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who was the president of Angola from 1979 to 2017. A billionaire, Ms. dos Santos is said to be Africa’s richest woman.

In January, the Angolan authorities charged Ms. dos Santos with money laundering and embezzlement. Investigations by the International Coalition of Investigative Journalists and 36 media partners, including The New York Times, showed how Western financial firms, consultants, lawyers and accountants had helped her profit from her father’s rule of Angola and move hundreds of millions of dollars in public money out of the country. The journalists were aided by 715,000 documents, called the Luanda Leaks, which were provided by a whistle-blower.

Ms. dos Santos’ assets, as well as Mr. Dokolo’s, were frozen in Angola, then in Portugal and the Netherlands, where they had business interests. The Angolan government is trying to recover about $1 billion in assets from the couple.

Mr. Dokolo had said that he and wife were scapegoats of the Angolan government, which is now led by President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço.

“It does not attack the agents of public companies accused of embezzlement, just a family operating in the private sector,” Mr. Dokolo told Radio France Internationale in January.

Sindika Dokolo was born on May 16, 1972, in Kinshasa, Zaire (the former name of the Democratic Republic of Congo). His father, Augustin Dokolo Sanu, inspired his son to collect African art; his mother, Hanne (Kruse) Dokolo, was born in Denmark and moved to Congo in 1966 to oversee the Danish Red Cross dispensary there. She married Augustin Dokolo in 1968.

Sindika was raised in France and Belgium with his two sisters and a brother, attended the Lycée Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague in Paris and studied economics, commerce and foreign languages at the Pierre and Marie Curie University of Paris. According to his online biography, he left France in 1995 to be with his father and pursue family investments.

Mr. Dokolo and Ms. dos Santos married in 2002, bringing him to Angola, a Congo neighbor. Information about his survivors other than his wife was not immediately available.

Mr. Dokolo’s vast African collection includes works by the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare and the South Africans Zanele Muholi and William Kentridge. He helped African artists show their work at Western events, lent some of his collection to the Venice Biennale in 2007 and gave 340,000 euros, through his foundation, to 17 artists who exhibited at Documenta, the German art event, in 2017.

But he seemed most passionate about bringing stolen art back to Africa, with a focus on his adopted homeland. Announcing the purchase of a Chokwe mask from a French dealer in 2016, he said, “Now is the time for all of Angola’s lost cultural treasures to return home, where they can play their role to the full; a role that will help strengthen Angola’s culture and knowledge.”




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