What I Buy and Why: Avatar Star CCH Pounder on Building a Collection of Over 500 Works by Caribbean and African Diaspora Artists

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

Publicly, Pounder received acclaim for her performances as Dr. Loretta Wade on NCIS: New OrleansClaudette Wyms on the crime drama The shieldand as spiritual leader Mo’at in James Cameron’s hit film Avatar (a role she will reprise for future sequels Avatar 2 and Avatar 3).

Privately, the Guyanese-American actress has developed a passion for the visual arts, as a patron, philanthropist and curator. She has even created her own paintings and jewelry over the years. With her late husband, Boubacar Koné, she began building an impressive collection of contemporary art focused on Caribbean and African artists and artists from the African diaspora. In 1992, the couple founded and built the Boribana Museum, the first private contemporary museum in Dakar, Senegal, which they donated to the nation in 2014.

Today, Pounder’s personal collection includes more than 500 works that she loaned to 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 collective exhibition “Abstracting Reality” at Band of Vices in Los Angeles in support of the philanthropic organization African Millennium Foundation.

Greg Bailey, Post-colonial accessories (2021). Courtesy of the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection.

We spoke with the actress about which works she most hopes to acquire and why she thinks she can fall in love with a work again and again.

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

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 start collecting? Do you remember the first work you bought?
I may have been still painting when I acquired my first work, in which case I probably traded. I would have to look at some really old photos to see what I had on the walls, but I know I’ve had a print of Egon Schiele for a very long time as well as posters of exotic places with people of color.

Where do you most often buy art: galleries, live artists, auctions…?
I very rarely buy a work without some interaction with the artists. The pandemic months have improved my internet skills and now I correspond and maintain 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 (Constraint) (2022).  Courtesy of the artist.

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

What works or artists do you hope to add to your collection this year?
I looked at works by Egyptian artist Soad Abdel Rassoul and New York artist Tunji Adeniyi Jones. A major delight for me would be to add works by my fellow Guyanese Frank Bowling, Victor Davson and Carl E. Hazlewood. These artists work in abstract and landscape styles that I try to grow into.

Why do you like to collect?
More than collecting, the gaze of an artist fascinates me. A work of art is an interpretation of life from emotional or intellectual or ancestral or spiritual inspiration that is translated onto canvas, or carved into wood, bent into steel, blown into glass, beaded or glued. Being able to enjoy 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’m just on a long term lease until my manufacturer reports me.

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

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

Is there a work you regret buying?
Fortunately, I have enough works that I regret having little or no time to hang! If I loved him once, there is always a chance that this love will be renewed.

What artwork have you hung above your couch?
Above the sofa is the mixed media work by artist William Villalongo, titled Odalisque was a slavewhich is based on the painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Odalisque to the slave (1839).

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Odalisque with slave (1839).  Harvard Art Museums Collection.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Odalisque to the slave (1839). Harvard Art Museums Collection.

Do you have a particular way of buying? Right away? Coming home and sleeping on it? Do you have to meet the artist, etc?

I love meeting artists, but all of the above. I’m especially hard on galleries that treat potential clients with a completely unnecessary and rude sense of superiority and exclusivity.

If you could steal one piece of art without getting caught, what would it be?
Almost all metal parts of El Anatsui.

What does art represent for you?
Joy.

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