Leesfragment: Contemporary African art Since 1980

27 november 2015 , door Okwui Enwezor, Chika Okeke-Agulu
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Moderne Afrikaanse kunst, hoe staat het daarmee? Die bloeit, zeggen Okwui Enwezor en Chika Okeke-Agulu, in Contemporary African art Since 1980, dat afgelopen najaar verscheen bij de Italiaanse uitgever Damiani. Ter gelegenheid van het bezoek van Enwezor aan Nederland en zijn lezing aanstaande donderdag voor het Prins Claus Fonds in Felix Meritis, mogen we hier het voorwoord publiceren.

Preface

Contemporary African art is flourishing. Shifts in the production, distribution, institutions, and publics of contemporary art have contributed to its expansion into the networks of global artistic practice. As a consequence, it is now playing a significant role in revising the outmoded models of discursive control, whereby a limited number of centers enjoyed disproportionate power in determining and shaping the contours of advanced artistic debates. Today the mechanisms and the geography of contemporary art are global. This marks a radically new condition for the reception of art. The development of contemporary African art over this period has been part of this transformation, and in some measure has contributed to shaping the complex artistic landscape to which it belongs. This has engendered new debates about its critical disposition within the broader global landscape and the role of African artists in the expanded artistic networks of transnational production. Like its audiences, the critical discourses of contemporary African art have also been part of recent attempts to recast the theoretical and historical arguments pertaining to contemporary art in general. From exhibitions to publications, museum collections to university art departments, curatorial methodologies to academic research, attention has been focused on the work of contemporary African artists, thereby enlarging their transnational and global links. These moments of reassessment and vigorous engagement have been crucial to the historical understanding of the canons of art in the twenty-first century. It is now commonplace to find the work of African artists featured in the evolving discussions of contemporary art worldwide, especially in the context of globalization. In addition, several significant exhibitions such as Africa Remix 1 (Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf), The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–19942 (Museum Villa Stuck, Munich), Africa Hoy (Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderna, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1991), Seven Stories About Modern African Art (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1995), Looking Both Ways: Art of Contemporary African Diaspora (Museum of African Art, New York, 2004), Fiction of Authenticity: Contemporary Africa Abroad (Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, 2003), Flow (Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2008) — have played important roles in brokering the expansion of the knowledge of the field. One downside to this proliferation of interest, however, is that almost all of these exhibitions have occurred primarily in Europe and the United States. Nonetheless, contemporary art events in Africa — such as Dak’Art Biennial, Cairo Biennial, Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine Biennial, Johannesburg Biennial, CICIBA: Bantu Biennial, Luanda Triennial, and Cape Africa — have become important zones of convergence for artistic production and sites of critical debates on the status of contemporary African art.

More recently, the efforts of a new generation of curators and artists — such as Bisi Silva in Lagos, Bassam El Baroni and Mona Marzouk in Alexandria, Maha Maamoun in Cairo, Abdellah Karroum in Rabat, Meskrem Assegued in Addis Ababa, Koyo Kouoh in Dakar, Fernando Alvim in Luanda, Yto Barrada in Tangier, Gabi Ngcobo in Cape Town and many others across the continent — have yielded new independent artistic structures, thereby producing another layer of public dissemination and mechanisms for the development of curatorial practice and artistic production. What has evolved from these new efforts are spaces such as the Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos; Zoma Contemporary Art Center, Addis Ababa; Town House Gallery and Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo; Appartement 22, Rabat; CAPE Africa, Cape Town; Alexandria Contemporary Art Forum, Alexandria; Cinémathèque de Tanger, Tangiers; and Gugulective in Cape Town. In the context of the art market, the launch of the Johannesburg Art Fair and an emergent network of galleries, together with auction houses focusing on the work of African artists, signal a growing confidence in the development of contemporary art in Africa.

Significantly, the last few years have also witnessed a shift from comprehensive group exhibitions to an increasing recognition of African artists’ individual accomplishments by way of large monographic surveys mounted in major museums around the world. These include surveys of the work of South African artist William Kentridge at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. A mid-career retrospective of Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE, has toured internationally, from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, to the Brooklyn Museum, New York; American-Nigerian painter Kehinde Wiley’s The World Stage: Africa, Lagos-Dakar was recently presented at The Studio Museum in Harlem. A major retrospective of the sculptures of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui is planned to open at Museum for African Art, New York, and the National Museum for African Art, Washington, D.C.; while a mid-career survey of the Nigerian-British painter Chris Ofili will open at Tate Britain, London; and Beninois artist Meschac Gaba at the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel. Contemporary African artists have been featured regularly in major international biennials in Venice, Istanbul, Havana, Gwangju, Sydney, São Paulo, but also at Documenta and in art fairs, among many such venues.

This expansion of the visibility of contemporary African art across every segment of global artistic networks presents the occasion for critical reflection that goes beyond the celebration of the successes of these artists. Rather, such an occasion leads us to explore the mechanisms of the diverse forms of mediation and diffusion of the work of contemporary African artists. Contemporary African Art since 1980 therefore seeks to address not only the boundaries of the art in question, but also the socio-cultural-political-historical issues that surround the development of the field. However, we must caution the reader that this is by no means designed as a standard art-historical account. Instead, we propose a series of arguments grounded around complex issues of periodization, definition, identification, and thematization that have emerged in the course of the period covered in the book.

We pursue a line of inquiry that seeks to map out certain phases of the discourse. This analysis is shaped by the postcolonial turn of the 1960s, but extends beyond it to encompass the decade of crisis of the 1980s, the mass migration of the ’90s, and the globalization of the present era. The book is divided into three sections with seven chapters. Part one comprises three chapters and deals broadly with definitions, periodizations, networks, politics, institutions, and frames of reference of contemporary African art. In part two of the book, four chapters focus on the exploration of strategies, theories, and themes in contemporary Africa art. These chapters address such issues as the function of political critique; the role of the archive, documentary, and mnemonic systems in the structures of artistic practice; the confluence of abstraction and figuration as motors for a new subjectivity in aesthetic concepts; and, finally, artists’ responses to biopolitical paradigms as related to ideas about the body, gender, and sexuality. In the third part of the book we provide an extensive compilation that organizes pertinent information relevant to contemporary African art, such as events, movements, and institutions; and a detailed bibliography that, we hope, will help readers to construct their own research into this expanding and expansive field. A note about the works and images: while the seven chapters are divided according to a thematic plan, the sequence of images is organized chronologically, although subdivided into three blocks covering each decade in the past thirty years. When we first set out to work on this book, we never realized how difficult it would be to track down many of the images and artists, but we were equally amazed and gratified by the depth and richness of what became increasingly obvious: namely the important creative force of African artists, many of whom have labored in obscurity and outside the spotlight, but have nevertheless continued to produce important work. The evidence of their imagination is all too apparent across the pages of this book. A book of this nature would not be possible without the kindness, support, friendship, and collegiality of many people who, from the onset of this project, have helped and accommodated us beyond what we thought possible. There is not enough room to extend our gratitude to everyone who has been instrumental to the finalization of the book, so we apologize in advance if we have omitted any names. First we want to thank the publisher of Damiani Editore, Andrea Albertini, for inviting us to write this book and for granting us complete autonomy in shaping its content. During the years of this book’s planning — between teaching, curating, writing, and domestic obligations — Andrea was a model of patience and understanding. Without his forbearance and encouragement, the book might not have seen the bright light of the sun. We also thank the entire team at Damiani, especially our editorial liaison Enrico Costanza and his predecessor Marcella Manni, Eleonora Pasqui, and Lorenzo Tugnoli who have worked with us to toward an outstanding result. We also wish to thank Alex Galan at D.A.P. In the course of preparing the manuscript we incurred many debts of gratitude, but none more so than for the research assistance and tireless support provided by Bukola Gbadegesin and Luz Gyalui. We extend our deepest appreciation to Bukky and Luz for their commitment and professionalism, and for helping us organize the bibliography, the sources, the images, and the copyrights. We thank, as well, our many friends and colleagues, especially Pier Luigi Sacco, Carlos Basualdo, and Francesco Bonami who provided us the conduit to Damiani; Terry Smith for the lively discussions on contemporary art and contemporaneity; Obiora Udechukwu, Salah Hassan, The Getty Research Institute; the San Francisco Art Institute; and the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. The shape of the final manuscript would not have been what it is without the professional care of our copyeditor Monica Rumsey; we thank her immensely for her efficiency and rigor. We also thank Emily Salmon for her assistance with editing the bibliography and index. Finally, we want to dedicate this book to three of the most demanding critics and delightful enthusiasts of what we do every day, our three beautiful children: Arinzechukwu and Ngozichukwu Okeke-Agulu and Uchenna Soraya Enwezor.

© Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu

 

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