"I collect impressions not in the form of photos on an iPhone" A businessman from Dnipro has been traveling around the countries of the African continent for about ten years, buying paintings from local artists and bringing them to Ukraine

© Леонид Хохлович
Leonid Khokhlovich is not an ordinary collector from Ukraine. He does not buy paintings at auctions and does not chase "promising" artists who can be sold at a higher price in the future. Leonid travels thousands of kilometers on his own to find original artists who realistically reflect life on the African continent. Together with the paintings, he brings a part of the culture and customs, which in many ways differ from those familiar to us, but at the same time, according to the collector, they provide answers to many questions.
— In the summer of 2022, a charity auction was held in Dnipro to raise funds for the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine. The painting you provided became the most expensive lot and earned $10 000. Tell us about this auction and what painting did you donate?
— The auction was organized by the fund "Talent Foundation". Its founder, Valery Shamotiy, invited me to participate in order to help the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine. I agreed without hesitation, because it is important for the victory of Ukraine.
During the event, I made a small presentation of the painting, told the story of the purchase. It's called "Mama Tanzania" and was bought by me from a Tanzanian artist named Mohammed Charinda. It so happened that the painting became the most expensive lot of the auction, which inspired and pleased me a lot.
Painting by Mohammed Charinda "Mama Tanzania" at a charity auction.
© talentfoundation.com.ua
— Do you know what exactly the proceeds from the auction went for?
— All proceeds from the auction were used to buy drones. I know it for sure. A representative of the Special Operations Forces was invited to the event, he spoke about their importance in carrying out special tasks. There were also designers who assemble similar drones.
— And who bought the painting?
— It was bought by an agro-entrepreneur from the Dnieper Serhiy Kisil.
— Tell us about who Mohammed Charinda is and why did you give his painting to a charity auction?
— When I visited Tanzania in 2017, I already had a passion for painting the African continent. I asked the guide to take me to the studio of some local artist. When he brought me to Charinda's workshop, I realized that I couldn't leave without a purchase. I was interested in his original style of painting, which I later learned is called tingatinga. And also the fact that in each of his works there is a plot mystery. When I ask my acquaintances what is happening, for example, in the picture "Albinos", almost all assumptions turn out to be wrong. But the plot is not fiction, because almost all artists in African countries depict what they see around them, without inventing anything.
Mohammed Charinda with Leonid Khokhlovich in his workshop.
© Леонид Хохлович
Painting by Mohammed Charinda "Albinos".
© Леонид Хохлович
There are wild beliefs in some African countries that the limbs of albinos (white Africans — ed.) bring healing. To do this, they are cut off. It shocked me. Charinda captured a police operation to arrest traffickers in albino body parts.
I bought three paintings from Mohammed, including "Mama Tanzania", which I gave up for auction. I chose it because it is the most understandable, unlike the other two of his paintings. This is a portrait of a Tanzanian woman with her daily worries in her head. Unlike plots with African practices and beliefs, the everyday affairs of a woman will be close and understandable to people from Europe.
If today I could go back to the day of my meeting with Charinda, I would buy more paintings from him. Because he died, and his art is very close to me. By the way, I saw his picture even in the British Museum in London.
Painting by Mohammed Charinda in the British Museum.
© Леонид Хохлович
— You spoke about the passion for painting the African continent. Do you collect it?
— When I built my business to work without me, I began to travel with the goal of visiting all the countries of the world. But at first there was no goal or even an idea to collect paintings - I just collected impressions. When I had North and South America closed (visited all countries on these continents — ed.), I switched to African countries. I was struck by the originality of people, their way of life, their view of the world. It was there that the idea arose to collect paintings as part of that culture, customs and way of life. The first painting in the collection was "Mayan Market", bought in Guatemala in 2014.
Painting "Mayan Market".
© Леонид Хохлович
It is important for me not to buy a painting on the Internet or a gallery, but to "obtain" myself. Go, find, talk to the artist, find out what's going on and choose a plot that contains a riddle...
— And all the paintings are "obtained" in this way?
— Both mined and brought personally by me. Otherwise it's not interesting! Perhaps collectors who seek out artists to make money act differently. But for me, a painting is not just a canvas and a stretcher - it is part of the culture of the place where I was. And I saved it not as a photo on an iPhone, but as a work of art.
— How many paintings are in your collection now?
— About fifty. I wrote a story about almost every one — my personal impressions, plot interpretation or something from communication with the author. I posted all this in the virtual gallery Leoart.gallery.
The collection includes paintings from Guinea-Bissau, Nepal, Myanmar, Mali, Central African Republic, Guatemala, Ghana, South Sudan... In total, approximately 40 countries.
— Why don't you have, for example, artists from Europe in your collection?
— African culture is distinctive. It did not intersect with the European almost until the end of the 19th century. All contacts between the inhabitants of the African continent and the European colonialists were mainly on the coast. Civilization is gradually changing the face of deep Africa, so you need to have time to see these people while we live with them on the same planet. And save something from their culture.
African artists depict what they see in everyday life - this is their main difference from artists from Europe, who primarily express their feelings and emotions. Therefore, the painting of Africa is closer to me.
Here in front of me hangs a painting from Côte d'Ivoire "On this day, luck was not on their side". The artist is very peculiar, dear. The studio where he works and sells his paintings is regularly visited by the police for tribute. That is, he simply appropriates a part of his work, to which he has nothing to do. He hates these police officers so much that in one of his paintings he decided to "smash" them against a pole in their own car. "They feel like the kings of life, but on this day they were not lucky", the author told me.
Kouadio Moussa, the author of the painting "On this day, luck was not on their side" in his studio.
© Леонид Хохлович
The painting "On this day, luck was not on their side".
© Леонид Хохлович
And pay attention. To crash a car so badly, you have to drive at high speed, which is impossible on a small street. But the artist ignored this, "dispersing" them as much as possible. And he added an inscription in French in the background, which translates as "Healing in the name of Christ on the spot".
— What do you value most in your collection?
— There is no such! All paintings are unique and expensive in their own way. Dear by the fact that I personally was in the place where they were created, talked with the author, saw reflected in the picture in real life.
By the way, there was an interesting case about communication with the author. As a rule, I do not buy paintings without a signature. And in the Congo I saw a picture that interested me very much. The author told me that he depicted dissatisfaction with the current government in the fictional country of Gonduan. Despite the fact that the action takes place in a non-existent country, he was still afraid to sign the picture. I asked him: "Are you not afraid that the painting is for sale in your studio and it says "president is a jerk" on it?” He replied: "There is no my signature on it, let them prove that I drew it ..."
Most African countries are dictatorships. People who protest or are dissatisfied with the authorities are treated in the same way as in modern Russia.
Painting "They Called The Wrong Country Gonduana".
© Леонид Хохлович
— The website Leoart.gallery says that the paintings are not for sale. Have you decided to make an exception for charity?
— I don’t even consider it a sale — it is a contribution to the victory of Ukraine. Yes, I do not sell my paintings, but digital copies can be purchased at as NFT on OpenSea. And also help the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
— What, besides painting, attracts you to these countries and people?
— Almost everything. When you live three days in a tent next to them, it changes your perception of the world. You plunge into a completely different, unusual life for you and see that there are people on the planet with completely different values. People don't need to know how old they are or when they were born.
For example, the Mundari tribe in South Sudan, all of whose members live right next to the cows. I would even say that they live for cows. In the morning they take the cows to the pastures, then clean the dung, burn it and cover the ground with ashes so that when the cows return, everything around will be clean. And so every day! This is despite the fact that cows are not a source of milk for them, since they give only a liter per day. They are also not slaughtered for food. Cows for them are money and status! You can buy a wife for them. A nondescript, by local standards, wife costs 40 cows. And tall and strong — all 80. And this is the only way to get married in this tribe. It just amazed me. After all, you need to work very hard just to get married. But they are proud of their cows in the evenings and sing songs about them: "Here is my cow. She has very beautiful horns. I'm so happy". And the more curled horns a cow has, the more it is valued.
© Леонид Хохлович
Mundari tribe.
© Леонид Хохлович
After this, many of our problems become conditional.
— Where is the place for art in such conditions?
— Maslow's hierarchy works the same everywhere. When a person is full, he has a clean cow, a roof over his head and a beautiful wife, he has a need to write a song, paint a picture, create an ornament. The base layers of this pyramid are different from ours, but it works in exactly the same way.
At the same time, they know well what Western culture is. It is important for them that the tourist gets a good impression and leaves money. A good guide works to ensure that other tourists come after me and turn to him. Although local guides can be called a stretch — they are rather fixers. They negotiate with the police for a smaller bribe, make sure no one robs...
In Swahili, European tourists are called "mzungu". As one local told me: "Mzungu should be paid money because he is a mzungu". And our culture is not very interesting to them, they live their own lives. About which, by the way, despite the large number of documentaries and reports, we really know practically nothing. For example, in Mali I had a guide who had 40 slaves. I was very surprised how this is possible.
— Now? In the 21st century?
— Yes! And they do not want to become free and independent. After all, the owner must feed them, clothe them, provide housing and provide them with work. Yes, they work for him, but he is responsible for them. If they marry, he must pay for the wedding.
The authorities in Mauritania, where slavery is even more widespread, are fighting it by simply forbidding the use of the word. It's one-on-one like with the word "war" in Russia.
— Now we know where Russia borrows methods from. What are your plans for the collection?
— Firstly, to replenish it with paintings from those countries in which I have not yet been. Secondly, after the victory of Ukraine, hold an offline exhibition.