On 22 July, Robert Loder, the collector, philanthropist, and co-founder of the Triangle Network, passed away. In this in memoriam, Danda Jaroljmek, the director Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi, retells the most memorable moments they spent traveling across Africa and how he changed her life forever.
I was lucky enough to meet Robert Loder during Africa ’95, the major exhibition of African culture, in London whilst I was still at art school. He went on to change the direction of my life, as he did so many others. He gave me work and drew me into the Triangle Arts Trust, an international network that supports emerging artists, with his enviable way of making us agree with him and follow his vision. He brought together a family of artists from across Africa and later on in India, China, Russia, the Caribbean, Europe, USA and South America. Each location had different contexts but common goals and these networks helped create a new generation of artists. These artists suddenly had opportunities to travel across continents within the Triangle network and build their practices and careers under the guidance and support of other artists.
Robert’s strength was that he always put artists first and asked their advice on whom to send to workshops and residencies in the 15 countries in Africa that had created a Triangle space. He helped put decisions into the hands of the artists and this was the backbone of the network – power lay not with a few curators, institutions and dealers but with artists – to support, recommend and teach other artists.
I worked with Robert for more than 15 years, meeting in many different countries across Africa. We were always with artists and often ended up on a dance floor after intense conversations, studio visits and dinners, he always outlasted me. Robert loved artists, everything he did was artist-led and focused on cross-cultural exchange between them. He bought three spaces that were developed into artists’ studios and traveled extensively into his late 70s and early 80s. I was lucky enough to travel with him to Tanzania, Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa and probably other places I have forgotten. He never seemed to forget anyone and photographed each trip and kept a diary at all times. He was much loved by all of us in the network and had boundless energy and clarity of purpose that I have always tried to emulate.
Much of the Triangle network exists in countries that lack art schools or any form of art training. These spaces quickly became crucial, being the only places for artists to come together and collaborate. For more than 15 years with Robert, Anna Kindersley and Alessio Antoniolli, I visited Thapong Art Centre in Botswana, Tulipamwe Workshop in Namibia, Bata Pata in Zimbabwe, Insaka in Zambia, Partage in Mauritius as well as spaces and occasional workshops in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Egypt and Mozambique. I worked closely with Jill Trappler, Zenzele Chulu, Krishna Luchoomun, Jo Rogge, Koulla Xinisteris, Reginald Bakwena, Rose Kirumira, Jacob Jari and Atta Kwami who I am sure are missing Robert as much as myself. We gathered every few years in one of the permanent spaces in South Africa; the Bag Factory and Greatmore Studios and later Kuona Trust in Nairobi for moral support, to plan and to catch up with each other but especially with Robert.
Places like Kuona Trust and the Wasanii workshops in Kenya introduced Kenyan artists to a wider dialogue and new ways of making art. Connections forged in the 90s have developed into long term friendships across the world, how would this have happened without Robert; Kenyan artists going to Hong Kong and Pakistan, Indian and Jamaican artists coming to Kenya and sometimes more importantly pan-African exchange, Ghanaian artists going to Zambia, Zimbabwean artists in Uganda, a web of artists moving across countries and continents with Triangle’s help.
Robert kept a close eye on the activities in all these networks and visited regularly. He was an avid collector, amassing an enormous art collection from artists he loved and whose work he admired. I had a chance to root through the racks in his storeroom at the Gasworks and his collection was unusual and diverse and is described in his book Making Art in Africa 1960-2010 which was published in 2014.
Emails, phone calls and social media messages have been flooding the network since we heard of his death on Saturday 22 July 2017. Everyone whose life he touched wants to tell stories about him. We will have a party here in Nairobi to reminisce and celebrate him. Robert’s legacy and the impact he had on thousands of artists will live on in our memories, the art spaces he helped build and in the successful careers of many artists who benefited from the opportunities he worked so hard to create.
Danda Jaroljmek is the director of Circle Art Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya.