Friday, February 12, 2016

Seminar with Claudette Schreuders @ Princeton

Seminar class (l-r): Robia Amjad, Zeena Mubarak, Claudette Schreuders, Zach Feig, Jessica Lu, Fitsum Petros, Vincent Karuri. All photos: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Yesterday, the South African artist Claudette Schreuders, whose latest exhibition, Note to Self, opened last week at Jack Shainman Gallery, in New York City, participated as a guest in my "Art and Politics in Postcolonial Africa" undergraduate seminar. Previous guests have included Ibrahim El Salahi, Jerry Buhari, El Anatsui, Wangechi Mutu, Julie Mehretu, Ghada Amer, and Paul Stopforth, Next week, Victor Ekpuk, and in April, Lara Baladi. The idea of having these caliber of artists, whose work I could never learn enough about, in a small, intimate seminar with undergraduate students, is one of the reasons teaching still makes sense to me. And this is all thanks to the artists for accepting my invitation. Anyways, here are some pictures from yesterday:












Saturday, February 6, 2016

CAA 2016 Award Ceremony photos

The Award Ceremony of the 104th College Art Association Annual Conference took place at the Marriott Wardman Park, in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. Of course I am biased, but it was a great evening--a night when scholars, curators, and artists are acknowledged and celebrated for their work by their peers. For me, the event was an opportunity to express my gratitude to some of the people who in different ways contributed to my work and career: Obiora Udechukwu and El Anatsui (my teachers in art school who instilled in me the idea of art making as an intellectual journey); Lagos-based journalists Toyin Akinosho and Kunle Ajibade (who gave me my first opportunities to write art criticism in Lagos in the early 1990s); the poet Ada Udechukwu, and art historians Sidney Kasfir and James Meyer who made me a better writer; Hal Foster, who remains my model as a critic-art historian; and especially my two brothers and co-travelers Okwui Enwezor and Salah Hassan, with whom I began the critical journey in 1993 when Okwui convened a group of us to establish Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. They kept faith with that dream, particularly through the difficult years. Finally, the award for me is a celebration of the memory of the legendary artist Uche Okeke (1933-2016), a key subject of my book, who died in Nigeria on Jan. 5, the same day my award was announced. Opening up his archive to me made my book possible.

Anyways, here as some photos from the night.
Krista Thompson of Northwestern University, who won the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, at the afternoon reception hosted by Linda Downs, the CAA Executive President

Krista with Dewitt Godfrey, CAA President

Linda Downs (r), with a CAA member

CAA Fellows

Krista receiving her award

From right: Artist Victor Ekpuk, moi, Cornell University's Salah Hassan, and artist Tania Bruguera who gave the keynote lecture

Eminent art historian and Columbia University professor, Rosalind Krauss, who received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement for Writing on Art award

Audience at the reception

Selfie with Tania

From Left: Victor, Salah, art historians Terry Smith (University of Pittsburgh), and Frieda High Tesfagiorgis (formerly of University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Art historians, Eddie Chambers (University of Texas-Austin) and Anna Arabindan-Kesson (Princeton)

Salah and Terry

Selfie with Krista 

Selfie with Terry

Salah, moi, Victor

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Claudette Schreuders opening at Jack Shainman Gallery, NYC

Claudette Schreuders
Note to Self
February 4 - March 12, 2016
Opening reception for the exhibition: Thursday, February 4th, 6-8pm
524 West 24th Street
Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to present Claudette Schreuders’ fifth solo exhibition with the gallery, whose intimately scaled lithographs and sculptures speak to the ambiguities of the search for a South African identity in the post-apartheid era. Featuring a new group of painted and carved busts, Note to Self reflects the artist’s diverse trove of personal and creative touchstones. The resulting body of work is both a tribute to these influences, as well as an opportunity to explore the uncanny intricacies of portraiture in wood.
The titular work of the exhibition depicts the artist standing, a paint-splattered apron tied around her waist, a sketchbook and pencil in hand. Her face looks out past the viewer, as if to pause between thoughts or summon inspiration from the well of individuals behind her, which include the musician Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, the painters Alice Neel, Balthus, and Paula Modersohn Becker, and several family members. Note to Self, 2015 is grounded firmly on the floor, while the menagerie of faces float on pedestals of varying heights, a retinue of inspiration made manifest from the annals of memory and creativity.
Balthus’ presence in the exhibition extends beyond the wooden likeness of him. Known for depicting domestic interiors and dreamlike nudes, he is a clear artistic predecessor, infusing Scheuders’ soft lines and delicate portraits. The 20th-century French painter’s presence is perhaps most explicitly felt in representations of full figures. The diminutive Loved Ones, 2012, a girl, nude except for a blue school uniform skirt and grey sandals, formally alludes to Balthus’ painting, Young Girl with White Skirt, 1955, while her big brown eyes reveal an inner complexity. Lithographs (such as Mirror, 2015, a take on Balthus’ Nude Before a Mirror, 1955) document poignant bodies, dense and round. Their unselfconscious imperfection renders them vulnerable.
The appearance of fellow South Africans, Marlene Dumas, Bessie Head, Anton Kannemeyer, Nelson Mandela, and Brett Murray, shed further light on the genesis of the artist’s unique biography, born to Dutch parents in Pretoria. The amalgam of individuals underscores a long-held interest in how the fabric of a place shapes a person:
It's portraiture, but it's a vehicle for telling a particular story, or the way in which society makes people who they are, or the group against the individual. As soon as you make a figure, it has an identity…
For Schreuders, a single portrait alludes to the particular web of individuals who impact the person represented. If the staggered installation of wood figures brings to mind the famous exaltation, “be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” the exhibition as a whole is a deeply personal portrait of the artist, annotated with the people and relationships that made the physical work in the gallery space possible. Note to Self encourages us to cite our influences proudly, and most importantly, to keep them close. 
Born in 1973 in Pretoria, South Africa, Claudette Schreuders now lives and works in Cape Town. Her work is featured in collections around the world, with a strong presence in major New York City institutions, including both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, where a suite of her lithographs were part of Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now in 2011.
Schreuders has shown extensively in international exhibitions that address themes of childhood, intimacy, and lingering tensions in a post-colonial world, such as Disturbing Innocence, The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, New York (2015), Prose/Re-Prose: Figurative Works Then and Now, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia (2012), The Rainbow Nation, The Museum Beelden aan Zee, The Hague, Netherlands (2012), and Artist in Residence: Claudette Schreuders at LUX Art Institute, Encinitas, California (2011).
Concurrently on view is Of a Different Nature, featuring the work of El Anatsui, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Maya Lin at 513 West 20th Street and a group exhibition, Winter in America, at The School in Kinderhook, NY. Upcoming exhibitions include Barkley L. Hendricks at our 24th Street gallery and Malick Sidibé at 20th Street, both opening March 17, 2016. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm. For additional information and photographic material, please contact the gallery at info@jackshainman.com.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gazbia Sirry: A painter's journey

Gazbia Sirry, Untitled (Hope), 2013. Courtesy, Zamalek Art Gallery, Cairo
Yesterday, as I was looking at recent paintings by the Egyptian artist Gazbia Sirry (b. 1925), I could  not get over the mesmerizing impact of her painterly gestures. For an artist who in the 1940s and 50s trained and painted in a rigorous academic style, before she, like her other peers in the famed Group of Modern Art, explore the combined lessons of Parisian modernism and with depiction of an Egyptian national character, her journey has been as remarkable as it has been long. And as these late paintings show, she has come close to that point only few artists are privileged to reach: that moment when the hand, mind and paint engage in a mystical dance, a spare dance along the edges of the imagination. There is something effortless, yet powerfully restrained; loquacious, yet meditative about her handling of paint in these canvases. It is as if, I am standing before an oracle the utterance of which is laced with arcane proverbs and turns of phrase the meaning of which I must unravel to make sense of my world.
Gazbia Sirry, Untitled (Hope), 2012. Courtesy, Zamalek Art Gallery, Cairo
In the late 1960s, following the 1967 Arab-Isreali War (aka Six-Day War) that bruised the Egyptian national spirit, Sirry's previously well-formed figures and landscapes--reflecting the certainty of hope in the wake of the 1952 Gamal Abdel Nasser-led Revolution--began to dissolve. The earlier pictorial realism incrementally gave way abstract forms; houses became human forms became houses. Painting became, it seems, a process of meditation about the nature of the human, and about the imagined community. Now, as these recent works suggest, painting for Sirry is, as never before, a resolutely potent medium for pondering the nature of being, of time and fate. Each and every mark she makes now come across as, not simply an exercise in manipulation of paint or of composing pictorial space, but an act of opening the window of the imagination to allow us feel the inchoate order that existed and still exists before and beyond the world we know.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards: Call for Applications

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS
AFRICAN CRITICAL INQUIRY PROGRAMME
IVAN KARP DOCTORAL RESEARCH AWARDS
FOR AFRICAN STUDENTS ENROLLED IN
SOUTH AFRICAN Ph.D. PROGRAMS
Closing Date: Monday 2 May 2016

    The African Critical Inquiry Programme is pleased to announce the 2016 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards to support African doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who are enrolled at South African universities and conducting dissertation research on relevant topics. Grant amounts vary depending on research plans, with a maximum award of ZAR 40,000.
    The African Critical Inquiry Programme (ACIP) seeks to advance inquiry and debate about the roles and practice of public culture, public cultural institutions and public scholarship in shaping identities and society in Africa. The Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards are open to African postgraduate students (regardless of citizenship) in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Applicants must be currently registered in a Ph.D. programme in a South African university and be working on topics related to ACIP’s focus. Awards will support doctoral research projects focused on topics such as institutions of public culture, particular aspects of museums and exhibitions, forms and practices of public scholarship, culture and communication, and the theories, histories and systems of thought that shape and illuminate public culture and public scholarship. Awards are open to proposals working with a range of methodologies in the humanities and humanistic social sciences, including research in archives and collections, fieldwork, interviews, surveys, and quantitative data collection.
    For full information about this opportunity and how to apply, see the Call for Applications listed under “ACIP Opportunities” on our website:http://www.gs.emory.edu/about/special/acip.html.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jelili Atiku: Performing the Ineffable


Jelili Atiku, Okokojiya, 2011 (performance with Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Ejigbo, Lagos)
Photo courtesy the artist
The artist Jelili Atiku (b. 1968, Ejigbo, Lagos) has built a substantial reputation in the past decade as, arguably, the leading performance artist working in Nigeria today. Trained at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Lagos where he respectively earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sculpture, Atiku began enacting politically-charged public performances in 2004, in Zaria and Lagos to wide popular acclaim. In doing this work, he has faced tremendous personal risk and has, for years, received little support and acknowledgment from the Nigerian art world. In more recent years, however, his performances, have received increasing critical acclaim and have taken him to major events, festival and exhibitions in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. In Nigeria’s fraught socio-economic and political environment, Atiku’s performances are nothing but unprecedented radical interventions and artistic statements. His art is motivated by the ethic of speaking truth to power at the local and national levels, which in turn explains his willingness to take his work to the unknown but ever present dangers of the Lagos streets, even as he champions the cause of performance as an artistic genre in Nigeria.

Jelili Atiku, Red Light (In the Red series #06) performance at the Fine Arts Department / Community market, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2009
Photo: Jerry Buhari
It is important to emphasize the fact that in describing Atiku as a performance artist, we must understand that his work transcends that genre, which has normatively been limited to the sanitized, elitist space of the gallery or the museum—controlled environments where the artist and his audience are united in their mutual investment in the integrity and autonomy of the work of art. When Atiku takes his performances to the busy and densely populated Ejigbo section of Lagos, he submits himself and his art to the vagaries of the uncontrolled public space. In doing this, he is compelled by an inner urge to directly interact with his neighbors and strangers about particular local, national and international socio-political events or issues that impact their lives and the body politic. According to the artist, he puts his work “at service of the prevailing concerns of our times; especially those issues threatening our collective existence and the sustenance of our universe.” Thus, one of his most recognizable works, The Red Series, draws attention to the state of insecurity and wasting of lives in Nigeria by criminal and state agents, while other projects, including his multimedia installations, have engaged political assassinations, environmental degradation and traumas of the postcolonial condition.

But these enactments, because they combine an inventive range of costume, and intense dramatic action, constitute in themselves an inspired expression of the ineffable. And it is here that one sees the artistic inspiration for Atiku’s performance in the masking and ritual drama of the Yoruba and other African peoples rather than in the existentialist utopianism of, say, the Situationist International and performance artists inspired by them in Europe and the United States. For as in Yoruba masking, Atiku’s work thrives on the charged, organic, symbiotic relationship between the performer and his heterogeneous public—an interaction that can lead to ritual and aesthetic catharsis, but also sometimes to violence and bodily harm. It is the unpredictability of the public’s response and his vulnerability in the shadow of ever-present security agents that give his performance art its psychological and aesthetic charge.