From the collector
The story of this catalogue began at a Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul on September 12th, 2021. A woman asked me, in English, if the seat next to me was free. Go ahead and speak Russian, I answered. We got talking. Her name was Tanya Vasilenko, and she turned out to be an artist from Kyiv who was flying to an exhibition of hers in New York. Myself, I was en route to Niamey, Niger. It became clear that we both loved art – Tanya as an artist, and I as a collector. She was impressed by the photos of my paintings on Facebook and the stories behind them. You’ve got to make an exhibition, she said; people have to see this art and read about it. It’ll be interesting.

This is not a typical electronic art gallery; it’s a launch pad of sorts for a planned future exhibition of paintings and stories from the traveller who bought them. Like any tourist, I’ve had the urge to buy souvenirs, which are an established and lucrative business in most countries. Initially they were plates on my wall. I quickly ran out of space and I turned my focus to smaller plates. But this, naturally, did not fix the situation. I can pinpoint two reasons for my chaotic acquisition of folk art – either that I really liked the art, or as an act of support for the local people, for whom the sale of crafts and paintings is often their only source of income.

It was 2014 in Central America that I met Angelina Quic, a Guatemalan artist who makes bird’s eye view paintings. One work of hers caught my eye, and I bought it. It was then taken down from its frame, rolled up and packed away – I thus learned that paintings were fairly easy to transport.
At Angelina Quic’s gallery, Guatemala
Buying paintings was not a goal of mine in the years following this, and I thus did not bring art back from most of the countries I visited – something I now, of course, regret. The next turning point was May of 2017, when I met the Tanzanian artist Charinda and bought his work Albinos. From that point on, my primary criteria for buying, a piece of art became the story it told. What’s going on in the picture?

If it’s not clear what’s going on, or it’s clear but requires a bit of explanation, that’s exactly what I’m after; landscape paintings and architectural masterpieces have never really interested me. When I happened, by chance, upon a work of Charinda’s at the British Museum, I was in shock. I couldn’t fathom how the primitive or naive art that I bought could end up in a museum of that calibre!
At Charinda’s workshop
The painting at the British Museum
There’s a story attached to every painting. This might be the story of how I acquired it, a description of the painting in the artist’s own words, or my own interpretation. Sometimes, in order to figure out what was being depicted in a particular picture, I had to ask around in the local community and occasionally even track down the original artist to ask them. If you click the link to Facebook, you can read about this research under the question “What will the reader say?” The comments often provide additional details or alternative theories about a piece of art, and sometimes they’ll make you smile – for example, someone commented “This is my last chance to get married” under a post about a Gerowol ritual from the Wodaabe tribe. The page also features photos from many different countries that are connected, in one way or another, to the subject of a painting. Feel free to leave a comment – I will be sure to respond. It’ll be a sort of interactive gallery in that way.
Purchasing works of art in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Ivory Coast
And one final question that I ask myself: what am I making this catalogue and exhibition for? Friends and acquaintances also ask me that, and the answer is the same: “What did you forget in North Korea or South Sudan?”

Nothing, because I haven’t been there. What interests me most are things that I haven’t seen or done yet!