The Plurality of Mademoiselle Solange Mallett
By Janine B Castillo
A love for African Art and her culture is the inspiration behind Mlle Mallet’s African Plural Art Gallery. Located in the diverse district of Fillmore, San Francisco, it is yet another cultural thread woven into the rich diversity of the area. Through carefully chosen objets d’art, tribal artifacts, and exquisite hand crafted items show-cased in her gallery, we are invited to experience the beauty of Africa, specifically West Africa, where magnificent Cote d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) is located. Through her collection, we sense a certain kind of narrative that ties her diverse pieces together. They evoke images of real persons behind every piece created, of hands with a sense of purpose shaping every form. Unlike many galleries, African Plural Art Gallery is not merely a cold repository, sheltering an inventory of art work and artifacts that may at times seem disembodied from current human experience. On the contrary, it does quite the opposite. The gallery space evokes a warmth and sensitivity of spirit, a sense of cultural community. I believe such qualities are a reflection of the owner herself, who, with her warm and sensitive nature and her beauty, will charm and mystify you with everything that is Africa. In her own words below, Mlle Mallet shares with us her love for African art, her journey, as well as her hopes and ideals.
1. Please relate to us how this desire to collect and showcase African art and artifact began for you.
My desire to collect and showcase African art began in Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), West Africa. Here, in my day-to-day life as a young girl, I was always in the presence of artisans and tradespeople. This rich blend of culture, art and images instilled in me a deep love and passion for African art.
2. Tell us about your early influences as a child with regards to your love for African Art.
My earliest influences started as a child in the Ivory Coast where I was strongly influenced by my parents. My mother was a creative entrepreneur who used her talents to create hand-crafted pottery, while my father played and created beautiful and powerful melodies – often on the balafon – for special occasions and ceremonies for the local villagers.
3. Describe to us the journey from the place of your birth, the Ivory Coast, all the way to San Francisco Bay Area.
From my early experiences in the Ivory Coast, I was fortunate to live in Madagascar, a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa opposite Mozambique. Here, I worked with a non-profit organization in partnership with a women’s cooperative, promoting the talents of Madagascan women artisans. A few years later, while living in France in 2011, I was introduced to an art dealer and it was then that I developed a deeper knowledge about the history of African art, which led me to start my first gallery in Paris - African Plural Art. This later evolved into the founding of my second gallery in San Francisco, some years later.
4. What qualities about the Fillmore district in SF attracted you and eventually helped shape the decision to open your gallery in that area?
The Fillmore district is vibrant and rich in culture - from its historical roots of jazz music and entertainment, to its incredible mix of restaurants and unique stores, to its diverse community. I fell in love with the neighborhood and its creative energy, and knew that the Fillmore district was the perfect home for my gallery.
5. Give us a general description of your process of choosing the items that you display in the gallery. Are there any particular or distinct qualities in the chosen object that distinguishes it as show-worthy.
The art pieces that I showcase in African Plural Art originate primarily from West Africa, where I have established a trusted network of contacts. In my travels back and forth to Africa, I visit local artists, villages and collectives, with each item being personally chosen either by myself or by a carefully chosen network of knowledgeable, trusted colleagues. This ensures the highest quality - each piece is unique and highly charged with emotion. On occasion, some pieces may have what could be perceived as slight imperfections - repaired by the villagers - but, rather than detract from the aesthetic, this adds to the uniqueness and beauty of each piece.
6. What qualities in African culture would you like to high-light in your art pieces? How is the African experience embodied in the pieces that you choose?
I look for art that has character, and that invokes a visceral reaction and emotion. African art has a history - a story - but most of all it has a heart and a soul. Much of African art is rich in symbolism – from the rituals and ceremonies that take place in villages where people come together and celebrate. Each piece is a labor of love - uniquely hand-crafted works of art, designed and shaped by artisans who devote their life to their craft.
7. Are there any artists that influence you or that you admire right now, contemporary or otherwise?
Well, I have to confess that it’s always difficult for me to name specific artists because I love art and all of its genres. It is this deep passion which influenced me in founding African Plural Art. But if I was forced to name one, it would be Ousmane Sow,talented sculptor from Senegal. He was a true genius who epitomized the essence and spirit of art.
8. What are your favorite museums
Wow. I have visited so many incredible museums throughout my travels. But a couple of favorites that come to mind are Musee du quai Branly and Musee Rodin in Paris. And one more - Musee national du costume de Grand-Bassam, in my home town, the Ivory Coast.
9. Having had the opportunity to meet and chat with you, I am impressed with your sense of personal fashion style. Who are your favorite fashion designers?
For me style is a personal feeling. The designer who I admire the most was Coco Chanel. Her history and journey have inspired me throughout my life – her independence and her courage stand out to me. Also, my mother is my personal hero - she helped shaped my sense of fashion as a young girl in the Ivory Coast.
10. As an African woman, what strong message would you like to give to the world in general about your roots and your culture?
That’s a very interesting question. As an African woman, I believe that message is reflected in what I’m doing with my business. I want the world to know that Africa has a rich culture, and we should be proud to show all of its beauty - its art, fashion and history. With today’s tendency to focus on technology and what’s new, I strive to look around me and take something and give it a subtle touch or twist that is African. Whether it’s a pattern, a symbolism, or an ethnic African touch. This is how we can keep African history alive – and not to always follow or conform.