Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Memoriam: Dennis Brutus (1924-2009)

Farewell firebrand
and lyrical daredevil
whose campfire burned
Apartheid's homestead

Go well, insolent poet
and radical prisoner
who hurled words
at the world's insanity

Safe journey!
transcendent traveler
incandescent light
in heaven's conscience

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the Failed Christmay-day Terrorist

Until yesterday, Nigerians like me used to argue that despite my fellow compatriots' involvement in Advance Fee Fraud (aka 419) and Medicare Insurance Fraud, there was no reason to associate Nigeria with Al Qaeda-style terrorism. With the frightening news yesterday of a botched attempt by a Nigerian citizen to detonate an explosive device on a Detroit-bound Delta flight, my country and its citizens have now joined that inglorious list of terrorists' homelands.

While details of this incident are still fuzzy, information from Nigerian media, reveals a very disturbing reality. According to This Day, the father of the alleged failed bomber--a wealthy banker and former minister--had in fact contacted the "American authorities about his son's radical Islamism, and that "a source close to him said he was surprised that after his reports to the US authorities, the young man was allowed to travel to the United States."

While the authorities in Nigeria and the US try to unravel this Christmas-day bombing attempt, it sure bothers me that a young man whose father claims to have warned the American government about the activities of his son-- a fellow who had, according to news reports, moved to Egypt, and later Dubai from where he denounced his family (a sure sign of the extent of his radicalization)--was given a visa to travel to the US, when my 65-year old mother is denied visa to visit her grandchildren in the US, many respected Nigerian colleagues routinely refused entry to attend conferences. The pertinent question is why a character like Mr. Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab to enter the US, given what the authorities must have known about him; or is it because of the fact that he, unlike my mother and my fellow Nigerian scholars, are part of the Nigerian wealthy, political class?

I wonder if it now means that I have to go through routine secondary screening at the airport (or occasional ejection from the airport) like colleagues of mine who have the singular misfortune of holding passports issued by countries associated with terrorism. In any case I thank God that failed in his terrible mission.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Contemporary African Art Since 1980, in the web media

Our new book, Contemporary African Art Since 1980, has received some worthy mention in two influential web sites:

It has just been listed no. 2 in the Daily Beast's 20 "Best Art Books of 2009." See the entire list here

Also, Xena Jardin, a founding partner of and regular contributor to, wrote a blog on the book. Click here

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Extra-Judicial killings in Enugu, Nigeria

If you follow news from Nigeria closely, you must by now be completely sated by stories of constant, imponderable acts of violence levied on the citizenry by the state police and security forces. Even more than during the years of military dictatorships, the scale of extra-judicial murders taking place in Nigeria today calls for international condemnation, since the Nigerian government appears unwilling to pay serious attention to this terrible phenomenon.

Earlier in the year, the Nigeria army was drafted in to quell the violent uprising by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in North Eastern Nigeria. How did it end? Well, the leader of the sect Mohammad Yusuf was arrested, paraded in front of the media and later handed over to the police. The next thing we saw was his dead body. The police initially said he was killed in a gun battle, until an army officer controverted the police account by asserting that Yusuf was handed over to the police alive and healthy (save for some minor injuries he sustained during the uprising). Photographs of him in hand cuffs in police custody surfaced. The police changed its story: he was killed while trying to escape from custody. When human rights groups complained the Minister of Information, sulkingly stated that the man's death will be thoroughly investigated. That was it. Yusuf's father-in-law, a so-called financier of the sect, was executed illegally by soldiers, in front of cameras. (Watch with caution!)

Now both the BBC and some national newspapers are reporting the recent mass burial of more than 70 bodies lodged at the mortuary of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, the former capital of Eastern Nigeria. Bodies apparently deposited by the police since the past 6 months. The police has once again come up with its usual mantra: these bodies, we are told, were casualties from gunfire exchange between police and armed robbers. But media reports indicate that 6 of the bodies are of young men the police had paraded in public alive recently as a gang of kidnappers. They were never prosecuted. But their bodies turned up in the mortuary. In another instance the police claims that one of the dead bodies belonged to a teenager SUSPECTED of armed robbery.

These stories leave me cold. It makes me wonder what bloody nation--I know it is a leap to think of Nigeria as a "nation"--thinks so little of the lives of its citizens. Someone has to account for these wasted lives. Someone must be responsible for the apparent brutality of these so-called security agents.

What rankles me is that the Nigerian Ministry of Information is busy buying image launderers to help "Re-brand" Nigeria. The least the Ministry can do for my fellow citizens is investigate and let the world know how those piles of bodies at the UNTH mortuary came about. The families of some of the "disappeared" men are pleading for help, and if it is indeed true that the human rights of these Nigerians have been so violently violated, no amount of re-branding will help the image of our country.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Life Objects, etc on Princeton's Webpage

The Princeton University website has just published a featured story on Life Objects: Art and Life Cycle in Africa, the exhibition I organized for the Princeton University Art Museum. Read more here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Trouble with Art Restoration in Nigeria

This past weekend, in The Guardian on Sunday’s “Artsville” column by my friend Toyin Akinosho—without doubt the most important arts and culture columnist in the history of Nigerian print media—I read with profound sadness about another incident of “restoration” of a legendary Nigerian artist’s work. Months ago, in “Art/World”, my erstwhile column in NEXT newspaper, I had called attention to the troubling decision by the owners of the National Theatre, Lagos to “rehabilitate” Erhabor Emokpae’s sculptural frieze on the Theatre building. This present case is no less distressing. According to Artsville, Engineer Yemisi Shyllon—an art patron whose collection of modern and contemporary Nigerian art is among the most impressive anywhere—had seen a “deteriorating” 1952 painting by Ben Enwonwu in an office at the University of Ibadan. According to him: “I went ahead to commission one of the very best of Nigeria’s restorers, Mr. Oyerinde Olotu, to restore the work at a whooping cost of N1million… After three weeks of arduous restoration and conservation work, the painting is now fully transformed…”
In a different age and on a different subject I would be the first to send a note of appreciation to the art patron, for doing something in country where no one cares about the maintenance of everything from human lives, to basic infrastructure and, yes, art. Yes, Engineer Shyllon has done a tremendous lot to support art and artists. But on this matter I feel differently. Because it is inexcusable for people to assume and perhaps believe that all it takes to restore works of art worth anything is to have another good artist touch them up with paint. The business of restoring and conserving works of art is not quite the job of just competent artists. The model of art restoration and conservation in today’s Nigeria, as the National Theatre and now Enwonwu cases make one terribly aware, is reminiscent of the age when Popes, Cardinals and collectors routinely hired artists to take care of deteriorating or “immodest” works, and we know what that did to, say, Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The question is why Nigerians have to make the same mistakes all over again.
I can understand the dilemma of someone who cares about art, and who is passionate about doing something about the sorry condition of works by important Nigerian artists. But the place to begin is not by simply having artists do the so-called restoration and conservation work, without I am sure the kind of exacting examination of the condition of the original canvas, sizing, paint, varnish, etc, before appropriate conservation and restoration can be done by trained hands. The truth is that the kind of intervention visited on the Enwonwu painting has more than likely caused more long-term damage to the original work that all the dust and humidity in that Ibadan office.
It seems to me that the Nigerian modern and contemporary art industry has grown sufficiently big for there to exist somewhere in the country a conservation and restoration laboratory. This very important work cannot simply be left in the hands of amateurs, which is what studio artists, no matter how talented, are. I would go so far as to suggest that invaluable works by an artist of Enwonwu’s stature must never be subjected to the so-called restoration, even by their current “owners.” We just cannot afford to let those who will come after us to wonder how come we were so damn ignorant, or uncaring about the long-term effects of our actions on works of art.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Conference update...Ugiomoh made it!

Dr. Ugiomoh spent six days in Lagos (hundreds of miles away from his home in Port Harcourt), and was finally given the visa by 3:00PM on Friday. Which meant that he left for the airport from the Embassy. So, the conference organizers were relieved to see him Saturday morning. This afternoon he gave his paper "African art history after Hegel," which raised many questions about writing African art history. Dr. Gerhard Wolf of the Art History Institute in Florence gave a fitting bi-lingual lecture on "Art Histories or Art History?" to end the deliberations, which if anything showed once more--as did James Elkins's book Is Art History Global?--the multitudinous nature of this discipline today. The fact that these conversations are taking place at all says so much about the extent to which things have changed inside art history. Pfisterer and his team at LMU ought to be proud to have joined the leading front of the discussion.

Dr. Frank Ugiomoh taking a question from the audience after his presentation (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Dr. Gerhard Wolf giving his presentation (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Conference on Global Art History @ LMU, Munich

A section of the audience in the massive LMU auditorium where Hans Belting gave the Keynote lecture Nov. 12 (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Yesterday, was the opening of the conference on global art history, "Horizonte: Principles and Terms of Global Art History," organized by a team of art historians led by Professor Ulrich Pfisterer, who holds a Chair at Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. The uber-art historian Hans Belting gave a keynote lecture that, I understand, set the grounds for the knotty issues tackled by panels that started today and continuing tomorrow. Bottomline is that there is no good news, perhaps not anytime soon, about the value of global art history, and I am not saying this because my paper was titled "Art History, Globalization and the Specter of Difference"! Two noteworthy things that have happened here: first, at the end of Professor Belting's lecture, during the reception that must have had a million people jostling to make new acquaintances while grabbing snacks and drinks, he wondered why I looked so despondent during his lecture (I was seated at the front!). I was struggling to keep jet-lag at bay, I informed him, and moreover, I did not understand a word of his talk and failed woefully to follow him through the slides presentation. I must have sprouted more gray hairs trying to understand the part of his lecture that dealt with contemporary African art! His lecture was in German and no translator was at hand! It got even worse for me (the only speaker in the conference who did not have German as first/second/or third language) in the morning panel today, which had all panelists delivering papers in German. Of course, I said to myself, I should have learned some German in graduate school. But, well, I didn't. And I don't have immediate plans to do so! Traveling from my native Igbo to English and a little French is all that I can take. The paradox of course is that a conference examining the question of global art history reinforces the boundaries of linguistic differences and the pressures these put on the possibilities of a global art history, or even a global conversation, simple. The world needs translators!

Second, as I write, the organizers are still not sure that my colleague from University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Dr. Frank Ugiomoh will show up to give his paper Saturday morning (he is the only non-European invitee living outside of Euro-America). The problem? Well, it turns out the German Embassy in Nigeria seems unenthusiastic about granting him travel visa. So when really smart folks talk about the ease of movement across borders in the age of globalization, they must not be from countries below the visa line (think of the migrants from these countries dying in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe). Or when people like James Cuno argue that "global" museums must be defended for their role in safeguarding and making accessible to the whole world mankind's artistic heritage, I say to him, yea right! Because your idea of the whole world does not include the millions like Dr. Ugiomoh who must go through severe psychological torture to get legitimate access to fortress Europe/America. This sucks!

While I gripe about these realities of our postcolonial age, here are some pictures from the conference, which has gone really quite well. I can say so for my panel of anglophone speakers (which included papers by Kitty Ziljmans and Monica Juneja), and the response to the presentations by Belting.

Professor Ulrich Pfisterer, one conference organizers introducing the keynote speaker
(Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Professor Hans Belting during his keynote lecture (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

My co-panelist, Professor Kitty Zijlmans of University of Leiden (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Pfisterer, Belting and co-panelist Monica Juneja of Heidelberg University (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Hans Belting with a conference participant during tea break (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Book Presentation evening in New York

Okwui with Andrea Albertini (Damiani President) and Alex Galan of DAP. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

As it turned out, the book presentation and my conversation with Okwui at the New York Public Library on October 27 were, on all counts, quite successful. The Margaret Liebman Berger Forum was filled up, the books sold out (to the disappointment of many who came to get a copy of the book), and many of our friends turned out. Even our editor, Monica Rumsey--who must be the best editor in the whole world!--came with her son to celebrate with us, and for us to meet in person after a summer of incredible work that made the book possible. So, when we were done with the book signing, we went with some of our friends--Salah Hassan, Carina Ray, Thelma Golden, Chris Ofili, David Adjaye, Glen Ligon, Claire Tancons, Alex Galan and Andrea Albertini--for Champagne (Okwui ordered a cranberry mix for me, an incorrigible teetotaler).

Glenn Ligon, Thelma Golden (foreground); David Adjaye, Chris Ofili (background). Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Salah Hassan, Carina Ray and Claire Tancons, and Glenn Ligon. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nnenna Okore at Princeton's Fields Center

Doyin Teriba (Princeton Grad Std), Nnena Okore and Tayo Ogunbiyi at the opening
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Last Saturday, the Nigerian US-based artist Nnenna Okore had a mini exhibition at the brand-new Carl A. Fields Center, Princeton University. Organized by Tayo Ogunbiyi, a Princeton alumna and curatorial consultant for the Fields Center, the exhibition was planned to coincide with the closing events of the Black Princeton Alumni annual conference. It was wonderful to see Nnenna and her work here in Princeton. Come to think of it, it is also a rare treat to have the work of two African artists (counting of course Odili Odita's permanent mural) on campus this semester. Or should I say that these are but the beginning of a new era in Princetonland.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Launch_Contemporary African Art Since 1980

On Tuesday October 27, Contemporary African Art Since 1980, the book I wrote with my friend and long-time collaborator Okwui Enwezor will be presented at the New York Public Library. Click here for details about the book and NYPL event. The book is available on for advance purchase. One thing to note: Although the book is advertised as 320-pages long, it is actually 368 pages with 470 color images. I am sure I am allowed at least to say that it is a gorgeous book! If you don't agree with me (when you get to see a copy), send me a stinker!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Odili Donald Odita's Princeton University Mural

Last month the Nigerian-American artist Odili Donald Odita joined an elite list of artists--which includes Richard Serra, Sol Lewitt, and Scott Burton--commissioned by Princeton University to create public art on campus. Odita's work, Up and Away, a vast mural spanning two floors and seven walls, in the newly built Butler College, is impressive, visually stunning. The effervescent color and dramatic geometry of the mural provides a matching counterpoint to the quiet grandeur of the brick structure characterized by rhythmic, undulating exterior wall. Each time I encounter this mural as I enter this building, where thankfully my fall seminar class meets once a week, the sensation is close to what might happen if you let loose a group twirling Yoruba Gelede masks (and their musical accompaniment) inside auditorium of a senate building!

The artist will be speaking about the Up and Away at the Princeton University Art Museum on October 9.

Here are some of the before..


Odita (right) with Assistant

Assistants working on the drawing

Vanishing the Mural

Views of the final wall installation:

Odita talks about Up and Away October 10, 2009:

Odita with James Steward, Director, Princeton University Art Museum at the artist lecture, October 10, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Life Objects" at the Princeton University Art Museum

Areogun, 1885-1954, Yorùbá, Osi-Ilorin, Ekiti state, Nigeria, Maternity figure, early 20th century. Wood and pigment h. 66 cm., w. 30.5 cm., d. 39.4 cm. (26 x 12 x 15 1/2 in.) Collection of J. Thomas Lewis, Class of 1959, and Mrs. Lewis (photo: Charles Davis)

So yesterday, my exhibition called Life Objects: Art and the Lifecycle in Africa opened at the Princeton University Art Museum. Co-organized with Holly Ross, an independent scholar, and fabulously designed by Alan Knezevich, this is one very beautiful exhibition of which I am so proud. All the works on show, which includes many really fine examples of African sculpture, and early 20th-century postcards showing objects similar to the ones on show in their cultural contexts, are available online. Several came from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art (including the glorious Nkanu Initiation panel the never leaves the NMAfA!) and others from important private collections, and a couple from Princeton's collection. If you can't come to Princeton, the only thing you will miss, which is crucial though, is the tropical morning-haze, ambient color of the gallery space, and Alan's design! The exhibition runs till January 10, 2010.

Check out the online show at:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Contemporary African Art Roundtable

I am convening a roundtable of art historians--many of the heavyweights in the field--to discuss the state of the scholarship in Contemporary African Art. This is part of a series for the journal I co-edit, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. But it is also to mark an important milestone for our journal. From spring 2010, it will become a member of the Duke University Press family of journals; hasn't Nka come a long way, since 1994 inaugural issue?!

What is even more exciting is you don't have to wait for the print version of Nka to read about the roundtable, because it will be--is being--published on the Duke University Press blog. So you all are invited to visit the blog. We welcome comments or questions some of which could be presented to the panel for response.

Here is the list of panelists:
Okwui Enwezor (San Francisco Art Institute), Elizabeth Harney (University of Toronto), Salah Hassan (Cornell University), dele jegede (Miami University, Ohio), Sidney Kasfir (Emory University), Dominique Malaquais (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris), Steven Nelson (UCLA), Ikem Stanley Okoye (University of Delaware), John Peffer (Ramapo College), John Picton (Emeritus, SOAS), Peter Probst (Tufts University), Colin Richards (University of Witwatersrand), Frank Ugiomoh (University of Port Harcourt), Susan Vogel (Columbia University), Jessica Winegar (Northwestern University).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SOS: UCLA Arts Library!

I read this distressing note about the impending closure of the famed Art Library at the UCLA by the authorities. Please read and circulate this signature drive,
Dear friends,

Another arts institution has been targeted for elimination. In an attempt to
cut costs during the recession, UCLA has decided to shutter its
long-standing Arts Library‹permanently.

Please consider signing the following petition. Please circulate it widely.

We have also created a Facebook group you may join in solidarity or support:

Here is the text of our petition and a short explanation of the current

UCLA Library Management, behind closed doors and without consultation with
the UCLA community, has decided to close its Arts Library, potentially as
soon as January 2010.

For decades, the Arts Library has served faculty, students and the Southern
California community as an essential cultural resource. In terms of research
and scholarship it supports some of the nation's best programs in the arts,
architecture, art history, film, television, theater and the humanities.
With over 270,000 volumes and unique collections, the Arts Library is a
singular institution in Los Angeles, a burgeoning center for the arts. It
must be preserved.

We understand that the UCLA Library must meet a nearly $2 million shortfall.
However, the permanent elimination of an critical UCLA institution must not
be the solution to a short term budget crisis.

Friday, July 24, 2009

SOS: Homeless Children and the Terror of Evangelist Helen Ukpabio

When many in her position would be spending their vast wealth to give shelter, medical care and access to education to children abandoned by their parents, this "Evangelist" Helen Ukpabio, it seems, is hell-bent (no pun intended) to stop anyone providing any assistance to these children, just because she wants to protect her religious business, which thrives on victimization of impoverished children in Akwa-Ibom State, Nigeria. This is outrageous, unconscionable, immoral and utterly despicable. Is there no one in the Nigerian government to stand up for these children? To stop this woman and the apparently compromised local police?

Here below is a press statement on the current travails of the homeless children of Akwa-Ibom State, and the Child Rights And Rehabilitation Network (CRARN).

Sent: Sun, Jul 5, 2009 8:27 pm
From: gary@steppingstones
To: info@steppingstones

Dear Friends,
On the afternoon of Friday 3rd July, a group of men appeared at the CRARN children's centre in Eket, Akwa Ibom State claiming to be donors wanting to donate goods to the children. Suspicious of these men, the CRARN President, Sam Itauma hid away in his home. The group of men, who by now were claiming to be police officers from Lagos, then moved to Sam's house and demanded that Sam give himself up. Fearing for his life, Sam escaped through the ceiling and ran off into the bush where he has been in hiding for the previous two days.

The police officers then broke into Sam's house and seized his computer, camera, personal items and a number of documents from his office. They then subsequently beat and wounded a number of the CRARN children who were protesting against Sam's "arrest". Two children were beaten unconscious and are now undergoing emergency medical treatment in hospital. In addition to these gross violations of human rights, the police also unlawfully arrested Sam's wife, Elizabeth and another CRARN staff member, Eseme and took them to Eket Police station where they were held, without charge, for over 24 hours before being freed on bail.

It has since become apparent that the police were accompanied by a lawyer from Lagos, Mr Victor Ukott. This is the same lawyer who has been representing Evangelist Helen Ukpabio in the law suits that she has filed against CRARN, Stepping Stones Nigeria, Channel Four, Mags Gavan and Sophie Okonedo since the broadcast of the internationally acclaimed documentary film - Saving Africa's Witch Children. The lawyer and police are claiming that Sam and other CRARN staff must travel with them to Lagos to face charges of fraud, which have been levelled against them
(presumably by Helen Ukpabio). These trumped-up charges apparently relate to a petition filed in Lagos claiming that Sam and CRARN have been defrauding international donors of millions of dollars: claims that are clearly false.

It would seem that the vicious beatings of innocent children and unlawful arrests of CRARN staff are part of a wider campaign of intimidation that is being carried out against CRARN and their supporters. This is obviously of great concern to all of us here at Stepping Stones Nigeria and we are particularly worried about the threat to the lives of Sam Itauma and all CRARN staff and children. As such we are contacting you to request for your help with this case. We need to make the world aware of what is happening in Nigeria and place pressure on the Akwa Ibom State Government, police force and legislature to do everything in their power to protect the lives of these
innocent children and the brave people who are prepared to stand up and fight for the rights of some of the world's most vulnerable children.

Tomorrow outside the Eket Police station, the CRARN children will be demonstrating against these gross violations of their rights and those of their carers. We therefore request for full media attention to be placed on this issue and the subsequent demonstration. A formal press release outlining a clear set of demands from civil society organisations will then be issued after this event along with
details of how supporters may be able to further help the situation. Stepping Stones Nigeria condemns in the strongest terms possible this illegal and immoral campaign of terror that has been initiated against the most vulnerable group of all, children and their carers. We therefore call for you to continue your support for our work to protect these children and do everything in your power to make the world aware of what is currently happening in Akwa Ibom State. We have absolutely no doubt that the truth will prevail and that, with your continued support, we can overcome the forces of darkness that have unleashed this campaign of intimidation and terror.

Both Sam and I will be available for press interviews throughout the day. You can contact Sam on his usual number. I may be contacted on 00 234 792 309 2811 or on the office number below. With sincere thanks for your continued support for our work and the fight against child abandonment, torture and killing due to witchcraft belief.

Gary Foxcroft,
Programme Director, Stepping Stones Nigeria, 24 St Leonard's House, St Leonard's Gate, Lancaster, LA1 1NN, UK. Tel Office: 0845 3138391 Protecting, Saving and Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Children In the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, Registered UK and Wales charity number 1112476, Company numbers 05413970

Friday, June 26, 2009

For Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

I can’t go on said his heart;
Fairy of the silken shirt
I must stop cried his soul;
Vagabond of our lost world
“This is it” teased the small voice;
Incandescent shooting star

Friday, June 12, 2009

ART/world pulled from 234Next

I am sure some of you who have been reading my ART/world column in 234Next newspaper have been wondering what happened. Well, our engagement has been called off because of irreconcilable differences. But who knows, our online matchmaker may succeed in getting us back together. I will return to more regular postings here on Ofodunka. And yes, I will be seeing the Mami Wata show presently at the National Museum of Africa in Washington DC, and will post my thoughts on the show soon.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Unbounded" at Newark Museum of Art

Martin Puryear, Untitled, 1997-2001 (Photo Courtesy: Newark Museum)

I finally got round to seeing Unbounded: New Art for a New Century show at the Newark Museum. And I must say right away that it is a terrific exhibition not only because of the quality of the works on show, but more important to me is its suggestion of viable model for curating contemporary art in a museum context.
There is a reason Newark is my favorite museum. Actually two: first is that it is one of the most progressive older museums in the US, and this is manifest in the diversity of its collection and combined display of fine art and design works in its galleries. And it has a wonderful curator in the person Christa Clarke who oversees the museum’s collection of African art and art of the Americas.

Gonkar Gyatso, My Identity, 2003 (Photo Courtesy: Newark Museum)

Owusu Ankomah, Movement #36, 2002 (Photo Courtesy: Newark Museum)

But what is it about the curatorial approach to Unbounded? The show draws on the strength of the Museum’s commitment to promoting the “art of our time,” and is the result of truly collaborative work among four curators/departments, Christa Clarke (Arts of Africa), Ulysses Dietz (Decorative Arts), Katherine Anne Paul (Arts of Asia) and Beth Venn, the curator of American Art. While each curators selected works--most made in the past decade--that speak to various departmental interests, the show's key is in the "transitional" works (such as Wang Jin’s Dream of China, 2005, an ethereally transparent, embroidered “Dragon Robe”, the labels of which were jointly written by two different curators. In the label of this work, and others like it, you see how experts from different areas of art look at, think about, and analyze works of art. This approach proposes, it is quite clear, that the scholarship can be the richer when people look beyond their intellectual cubicles. Which is to say that art scholars need to take a walk outside!, unbounded. The show then is as much about breaking down boundaries in our perception of contemporary artistic practices as about rethinking how curatorial departments function within the discursive space of the museum.

It is almost as if the organizers adamantly avoided the kind of loud, outsized confections you see in many contemporary art shows. Which is great, for this exhibit is quietly impressive, beginning with first object you encounter right at the entrance, Martin Puryear’s Untitled (1997-2001), a wood sculpture piece at once suggestive of archaic animal life and an indeterminate fructiform. It ends even stronger with Bill Viola’s Dissolution (2005) and Sue Williamson’s Better Lives I and II (2003). While Viola’s work shows a man and woman enacting as it were the primordial, sacral, entanglement between life and water, that most powerful of natural forces, Williamson’s are studio video portraits of African immigrants locked in an ocular contest with the viewer while amazingly installed sound tracks narrate their stories of struggle, of dispossession, and exile and the challenges of their South African domicile.

Sue Williamson, Better Lives I and II, 2003 (Photo Courtesy: Newark Museum)

Bill Viola, Dissolution, 2005 (Photo Courtesy: Newark Museum)

Unbounded includes several African artists, including Williamson, William Kentridge, Pieter Hugo, Senzeni Maresela, and Rossinah Maepe (South Africa); Victor Ekpuk, and Yinka Shonibare (Nigeria), Owusu-Ankomah (Ghana), Sokey Edorh (Togo), Wosene Kosrof (Ethiopia), Magdalene Odundo (Kenya), Samuel Fosso (Central African Republic), and the anonymous dressmaker who designed a printed wax dress with (anti-)female circumcision motifs for the Malian actress/activist, Fatoumata Coulibaly. Come to think of it, the fact that all the works in the show come from the museum’s permanent collection says so much about its commitment to contemporary African art

Monday, May 4, 2009

ART/world: Okwui Enwezor's Curatorial Excellence Award

My friend and colleague Okwui Enwezor received the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, "Curatorial Excellence Award" on April 22. This week's ART/world celebrates this event, and Okwui's exemplary career. Here are some of the photos from the award reception at Gotham Hall, NY. It occurred to me that not since Documenta11 in 2002, had this many from our circle of friends convened for a wonderful evening!

The artist Isaac Julien, who presented Okwui for the award. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Mark Nash of Royal College of Art (left), Salah Hassan (center); Uchenna Enwezor, Carina Ray, and Okwui. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Ute Meta-Bauer of MIT, and Susan Ghez of the Renaissance Society. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Director and Choreographer Bill T. Jones (center). Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Saturday, April 18, 2009

ART/world this week on Cecil Skotnes

This week in ART/world, I follow up on the brief Cecil Skotnes memorial I posted here last week. But I realized that the brevity of the posting failed to capture the depth of my appreciation of Skotnes' art and life. Not that the ART/world version does! Click HERE to read.

Responses are most welcome.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

ART/world: The National Theatre, Lagos and Erhabor Emokpae

Here is this week's ART/world installment on the recent controversial restoration of the National Theatre (Lagos) sculptural friezes designed by the Nigerian artist Erhabor Emokpae (1934-1984). Let me say is again that what happened to Emokpae's work is unacceptable. It is despicable. This is one moment you wished there is an art police and justice system, so you could haul the perpetrators to face an art judge!

Friday, April 10, 2009

In Memoriam: Cecil Skotnes, 1926-2009

I am saddened by the news of the death of Cecil Skotnes, one of the most influential African modernists. A man whose artistic production, particularly in the area of printmaking and painting is as prodigious as his work as courageous teacher. It is impossible to write a history of South African and African art of the 20th century without due acknowledgment of Skotnes' role in establishing that pioneering institution, the Polly Street Art Center which provided training and tutelage to the generation of black artists that emerged in the 1950s and 60s South Africa, in the scorching shadow of the Apartheid.

Cecil Skones, Burnt Land series: Giant Bird between 2 Scarecrows 1998 (Courtesy: ArtThrob)

Or his equally important role as a founding member of the Amadlozi Group, the group of artists that advocated, arguably for the first time, the recognition by contemporary artists of a specifically South African ancestral heritage thereby upturning centuries of denigration of native South Africa traditions and cultures. Or his support for the establishment of the Community Arts Project in Cape Town. Given the place of the initiatives and institutions Skotnes helped establish in the struggle against and eventual vanquishing of Apartheid (The CAP for instance), he must be counted among the "quiet" heroes of that age.

In life Skotnes was a giant of an artist; in death he has become a veritable ancestor; he has joined the Amadlozi. I am grateful for his life.

Monday, April 6, 2009

ART/world: On the Elusive National Gallery of Art, part 2

For this week's (second) installment of the ART/world column on the elusive National Gallery of Art, Abuja, click here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

ART/world: On the Elusive National Gallery of Art

ART/world this week contemplates the lingering elusiveness of a purpose-built national gallery or museum of art in Nigeria. Part two, which reflects on recent efforts to revive the debate on the need for such a building, will follow next week.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Memoriam, Afi Ekong

Afi Ekong at Gallery Labac, Lagos, early 60s (Photo: Courtesy Nigeria Magazine)

The pioneer Nigerian woman artist and entrepreneur Afi Ekong died this past February at 78. Click here for my ART/World tribute to Ekong.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Darfur Crisis: Pass the Blame

So the "international" community muscled an indictment of Sudanese President Al Bashir through the International Criminal Court. He in turn "defies" the indictment by rallying national sentiment against the "disrespect" of Sudanese national autonomy and, as anyone who knows that regime should have known, he has proceeded to eject foreign/western aid agencies providing what meager help they could to the devastated populations in Darfur. And the result? Western diplomats sanctimoniously blaming Al Bashir for the deteriorating conditions in the Darfur region; a President strutting round the country whipping up more nationalist passion against the "imperialists"; and more avoidable deaths and impoverishment of a people.

Yes, Al Bashir and his soldiers (and Janjaweeds) must bear the primary blame for thousands of children and innocent people dying daily in Darfur. But the governments that brought this indictment of a sitting head of state are also culpable. Why? Because they must have anticipated Al Bashir's response and should have considered whether merely indicting him, when he has near complete control of the state's coercive powers, was in the best interest of the citizens of the Sudan, particularly the Darfur people. The question the "international" community must answer is: What if Al Bashir, to show the extent of his power, sends his soldiers to an even more withering, senseless, military campaign in Darfur? Are the supporters of this indictment willing to wage a counter offensive Bosnia-style, since they cannot really negotiate with an indicted war criminal? That is the question. And that is why they should have listened to the African Union on this matter. It just makes no sense to indict a sitting head of state, if you do not have the will, power or resources to remove him from that seat immediately before he constitutes an even messier nuisance.
Al Bashir no doubt has little care for the Darfur people, but I suppose that his western antagonists did not seriously consider the fate of the Darfur people in all of this. And that is really sad.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

African Artists at the Armory Show

Ghada Amer, Leila 2008, at Kukje Gallery (The Armory Show)
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Claudette Schreuders sculpture at Jack Shainman (The Armory Show)
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Click here for this Week's ART/world, which is on African artists at the just concluded Armory Show, New York.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Curatorial Fellowship at Williams College

This is a wonderful curatorial fellowship. Although the deadline is in two days, there might be some flexibility. I might add that the WCMA is such an amazing institution, directed by Lisa Corrin who, I daresay is one of the most dynamic museum personalities I have come across anywhere. I wish I could apply for this!
Mellon Curatorial Fellowship for Diversity in the Arts
Williams College Museum of Art

One of the finest college art museums in the country, the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) houses 13,000 works that span the history of art. Within the broad range of time periods and cultures represented, the collection emphasizes modern and contemporary art, American art from the late 18th century to present, and the art of world cultures.

Available September 2009, the Curatorial Fellowship for Diversity in the Arts is a full-time, three-year term position offering curatorial experience at the Williams College Museum Art. The fellowship is designed to provide a professional bridge to museum careers and encourage diversity within the museum field. The Fellowship provides growth and development for outstanding candidates, particularly those from under represented groups.

The Fellow’s primary responsibilities will be to undertake research and planning for exhibitions drawn from the permanent collection in collaboration with Williams faculty; to develop associated publications; and to support the curricular use of the museum’s collection in its special object study classroom. This in-depth learning experience will ensure that the Fellow receives mentorship from all museum staff, especially the director, curators, and educators.

The Fellow will have the opportunity to contribute his or her expertise in strategic planning for the museum’s collection with the prospect of diversifying acquisitions, exhibitions, and programs to reflect the curriculum and the changing student body. The Museum is dedicated to providing a robust experience for an emerging curatorial professional.

Qualified applicants should have a master’s degree in art history, cultural or global studies, curatorial studies, or related fields. Excellent verbal and written communication skills required. Prior museum experience is a plus. For optimal consideration, please submit resume and cover letter by March 15, 2009. Please apply to Job #300562-P.

Please send a cover letter and resume including Job # to:

Office of Human Resources, Williams College
100 Spring Street, Suite 201, Williamstown, MA 01267
Phone: (413) 597-3129, e-mail:
Beyond meeting fully its legal obligations for non-discrimination, Williams College is committed to building a diverse and inclusive community where members from all backgrounds can live, learn and thrive.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ART/world this week

Click here for this week's installment of ART/world, which deals with the question of repatriation of cultural property.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

ARCO-Madrid 2009

Panelists from left, Raimi Gbadamosi, Bassam El Baroni, Marilyn Douala-Bell, Claudia Cristovao, Khwezi Gule. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Center: Gabi Ngcobo and Senam Okudzeto with mike

Feria de Madrid: Venue of ARCO-Madrid, 2009. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Otobong Nkanga's video/performance, Baggage 1972.2007/2008
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Barthelemy Toguo's installation, Boat, 2007
Presented by MAM (Mario Mauroner)
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Eugenio Merino's For the Love of Gold
The most attractive--as in attracting the most crowd--work among the thousands in the sprawling fair. A hyperreal, un-pickled figure of a famous suicide: Damien Hirst
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Detail of For the Love of Gold

Click here for my NEXT ART/world commentary on African participation at the just concluded ARCO-Madrid 2009