What I’m Buying and Why: Avatar star CCH Pounder on building a collection of more than 500 works by Caribbean and African diaspora artists

When award-winning actress CCH Pounder is not in front of the camera, she can often be found in artists’ studios, art fairs and biennials around the world playing her other favorite role: the art collector.

Pounder has received critical acclaim for her performances as Dr. Obtained Loretta Wade NCIS: New OrleansClaudette Wyms on the cop drama The shieldand as the spiritual leader Mo’at in James Cameron’s blockbuster film avatar (a role she will reprise for upcoming sequels avatar 2 and avatar 3).

In her free time, the Guyanese-American actress has cultivated her passion for the visual arts as a patron, philanthropist and curator. she has even made her own paintings and jewelry over the years. With her late husband, Boubacar Koné, she began to build an impressive collection of contemporary art, focused on Caribbean, African and African Diaspora artists. In 1992, the couple founded and built the Musée Boribana, the first privately owned contemporary museum in Dakar, Senegal, which they donated to the nation in 2014.

Today, Pounder’s personal collection includes more than 500 works, which she has loaned for exhibitions at Xavier University in New Orleans, Somerset House in England, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. Earlier this year she curated the group show Abstracting Reality at Band of Vices in Los Angeles in support of the philanthropic organization African Millennium Foundation.

Greg Bailey, Postcolonial paraphernalia (2021). Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

We spoke to the actress about what works she desires the most and why she thinks she can fall in love with a work of art over and over again.

What was your last art purchase?
I recently acquired a work by Kaloki Nyamai, whose art was featured at both the Venice and Dakar Biennials this year.

Kaloki Nyamai, Kenya, Motoi Ya Kwa (My Neighbor) (2022).  Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

Kaloki Nyamai, Motoi Ya Kwa (My Neighbor) (2022). Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

When did you first start collecting? Do you remember the first work you bought?
Maybe I was still painting when I bought my first work, so I probably made an exchange. I’d have to look at some very old pictures to see what I had on the walls, but I know I’ve had a print by Egon Schiele for a very long time, as well as some posters of exotic places with people of color.

Where do you buy art most often: galleries, artists directly, auctions…?
Very rarely do I buy a work without interacting with the artists. The pandemic months have improved my internet skills and now I correspond with and have textual relationships with artists around the world that I collect, such as: Alex Peter Idoko, who lives and works in Nigeria.

Alex Peter Idoko, Idilowo (restriction) (2022).  Courtesy of the artist.

Alex Peter Idoko, Idilowo (Restriction) (2022). Courtesy of the artist.

What works or artists would you like to add to your collection this year?
I looked at the work of Egyptian artist Soad Abdel Rassoul and New York-based artist Tunji Adeniyi Jones. It would be my great pleasure to add works by my fellow Guyanan Frank Bowling, Victor Davson, and Carl E. Hazlewood. These artists work in abstract and landscape styles that I’m trying to grow into.

Why do you like collecting?
More than collecting, I am fascinated by an artist’s point of view. A work of art is an interpretation of life from an emotional or intellectual or ancient or spiritual inspiration, transferred to canvas or carved in wood, bent in steel, blown in glass, beaded or collaged. Being able to delight the eyes in these gestures is why I collect and share with those who may only see…an image.

Leila Fanner, Peace of Grace (2020).  Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

Leila Fanner, peace of grace (2020). Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

What is the most expensive piece of art you own?
The most expensive piece of art I own and own is me! Even then, I only have a long-term lease until my manufacturer delivers me.

William Villalongo, Odalisque Was a Slave (2016).  Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

William Villalongo, Odalisque was a slave (2016). Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

Is there a work that you regret buying?
Fortunately, I have enough works that I regret having little or no time to hang! Once I’ve loved it, there’s always a chance that love will be renewed again.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa?
Above the sofa is artist William Villalongo’s mixed media piece titled Odalisque was a slavebased on the painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Odalisque with slave (1839).

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Odalisque with Slave (1839).  Collection of the Harvard Art Museum.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres Odalisque with slave (1839). Collection of the Harvard Art Museum.

Do you have a specific way you like to shop? Instantly? Go home and sleep on it? Do you need to meet the artist etc.?

Love meeting the artists but all of the above. I’m particularly tough on galleries that treat potential clients with a sense of superiority and exclusivity that is entirely unnecessary and rude.

If you could steal an artwork without getting caught, what would it be?
Almost every piece of metal from El Anatsui.

What does art mean to you?
Joy.

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