Back in the day, you would have had a much harder time locating Villa Vassilieff, tucked away as it is down an alley off the Avenue du Maine. Now, all you have to do is get yourself to the foot of Paris’ tallest, and in some people’s view ugliest, building and you’re pretty much there. The structure is made from materials left over from the Exposition Universelle in 1900 and, though the exact date when Marie Vassilieff moved into her studio is unknown (it was sometime between 1908 and 1911), the address really started to gain attention during the First World War, when she opened her canteen for struggling artists. While the rest of the city’s bars and clubs were subdued by a government curfew, her studio was filled with life and laughter late into the night.
It is this conviviality that Villa Vassilieff has preserved, which is owned by the City of Paris and run by Bétonsalon – Center for Art and Research, creating a space where people can come together, enjoy a drink and meet with artists to learn more about their work. The artists whose acquaintance you are most likely to make are those deserving enough to have been selected for a Pernod Ricard Fellowship. Each year, four international artists, curators or researchers are selected to take up a three-month residency program at Villa Vassilieff, during which they can tap into an incredible artistic network and put on their own solo exhibition.
Among the 2017 cohort is Ndidi Dike, who was the artist-in-residence between June and August this year and whose In The Guise of Resource Control was the first solo exhibition to have taken place since Villa Vassilieff opened in February 2016. Dike was born in London in 1960 and obtained her BA in painting, majoring in mixed media painting, from the University of Nigeria Nsukka in 1984. Since then, her body of work has also included installation, sculpture and, more recently, lens-based media and video. Her latest exhibition delineates stories related to pre- and post-colonial policies of control of natural and human resources in Africa, with specific reference to the Democratic Republic of Congo, from the reign of terror of King Leopold II of Belgium to the more recent exploitations of diamonds and coltan.
‘I feel that my Pernod Ricard Fellowship residency at Villa Vassilieff has definitely opened the possibilities and expectations regarding the extension of my career,’ Dike told Culture Trip, adding that it has been ‘full of engaging exposure and interaction within the highly sophisticated arts and culture dynamics in Paris.’
During her residency, she has had the chance to converse with professionals, academics, historians, critics, and other contemporary artists and extensively research topics like natural resources extraction industries, human resources, identity, citizenship, immigration, migration, refugeeism, dispersals, and pre-, post- and neo-colonialist agitation at the city’s internationally renowned museums and galleries. This has culminated in the view that ‘[p]olitically, the world and its continents are fractured, and perhaps there needs to be a discourse around uncomfortable realities.’
Dike is well aware of her new place in Montparnasse’s artistic heritage. ‘I would say that this space has a kind of spirituality that has sent me back in time,’ she said. ‘I can imagine how vibrant and resilient this area had been, and how it had instilled a sense of purpose in the lives and works of artists such as Marie Vassilieff, Matisse or Picasso.’
Thanks to Villa Vassilieff and artists like Ndidi Dike, this corner of Paris is once again an essential destination for every art lover.