Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Is it True?

I am just hearing that the Nigerian government has sold to a Dubai-based company the only purpose-built, government-owned structure in Nigeria dedicated to the arts: the iconic The National Theatre. With this apparently secret sale of the show-piece structure built for the historic pan-African cultural festival FESTAC '77 for a mere $40 million, Nigerian arts have indeed reached a terrible crossroads. The story is that this building, once the heart of a robust Nigerian, pre-Nollywood, theatrical culture, will be converted to a duty-free shopping mall. The ridiculousness of such a transformation makes we want to not believe this what I am hearing. Hey Mr. Nigerian Government, please confirm that this is NOT TRUE, before I rain abuse on somebody! 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I am very sick of art, of old and new art, smart and dumb art, cheeky and propaganda art, conceptual and formalist art, painting and installation, film and video art, performance and sound art, even especially high-pretend contemporary art, and I hope I survive the dying year, 2014. I feel I am not alone; so I will need company.  Only one day remains, and I am not sure if this sickness will kill me, by which I mean the me that is constituted completely by art-loving-and-seeking molecules. I think I am going to have ARTARTACK!, which, apart from being a decidedly new medical condition, is the name of my new BLOG. Check it out in the New Year! That is if this artsickness does not kill me this year! I need players (pun intended)!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas, 2015

It is Christmas again,
And winter cannot
stand the all-day rain

No potly santas
And silly elves
Float in the clouds

It is Christmas again
Trumpets of justice
Summon our conscience
to the Timesquare!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On the 2015 Nigerian Election

All is not well in Nigeria. And in two months Nigerians will go to the poll to elect a new President, legislature, and some governors. Since the return to democracy in 1999 Nigeria has not had a competitive federal election, and that is part of the problem with my country of birth. All the three elections so far has been supposedly won by the self-described "largest political party in Africa," the Peoples Democratic Party. The PDP--which I like to think as a more baroque and soiled version of the later-day ANC in South Africa--has run the country with a mixture of careless arrogance, stupefying ineptitude, and unparalleled thievery.

As far as I am concerned 2015 is a referendum on the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan and his party, PDP. And the most important question for me is not whether he and his party have earned the privilege of leading Nigeria for the next four years. I cannot imagine how anyone who is deeply invested in and truly cares for Nigeria can say that GJ and PDP should remain in power one day more than their present term. Here is the record of the PDP government that is asking Nigerians to allow it run things for the next four years.

  • National power generation that was around 5000 MW a few years ago has fluctuated between 1500 and 3000 MW, despite that the government has reportedly spent more than $10 billion on power. Just for comparison, according to a 2010 report in The Economist, "this [Nigerian output] is as much grid power as the area around Narita airport in Tokyo." Right now in my hometown Umuoji in Anambra State, we have not had power for the past three months. 
  • Under their watch, our foreign reserve declined by more than 11 Billion USD, in the past year.
  • The currency, Naira, is at is lowest dollar rate ever.
  • External debt that was controversially paid off by the Obasanjo government is now back to 10 Billion USD
  • Under GJ and PDP, corruption has reached a level not seen even during the Babangida and Abacha regimes; on top of that they defanged rather than strengthen the EFCC, the anti-corruption agency.
  • Under their watch a cabal in the Niger Delta is now siphoning as much as 300k barrels of oil ( way more than 10% of production) EVERYDAY (in 2012 it was a measly 7%), adding massively to our economic woes, according to reports. Official corruption has, expectedly, spawned widespread, illegal oil theft, with added devastating environmental consequences.
  • Under their watch Boko Haram disappeared many hundreds of young women (including the better-reported 200+ Chibok Girls, and has murdered thousands of Nigerians, Muslims and Christians among them; more than 500k displaced from many overrun towns, villages and Local Government Areas in the North East. If not for the corrupt enterprise called GJ/PDP government, confronting the menace of BH ought not have been the unmitigated and manifest disaster it is. 
  • GJ and PDP have squandered their mandate and opportunity to make Nigeria a better place; and if they could not do this when oil earned Nigeria a lot of money, is it now that the coffers are emptied, with collapsing oil prices, that they can bring about positive change? 
  • As a sign of runaway lawlessness, last month the police apparently under orders from the Presidency teargassed and locked out the speaker and members of the Federal House of Representatives that had resolved to initiate impeachment proceedings. The Inspector General--appointed by the President--then went on record to state that he did not recognize the office of the speaker. Imagine then what happens to rule of law elsewhere in the land!
  • The biggest threat to Nigeria as a nation is corruption, which under GJ has grown like an aggressive tumor. And does any clearly-thinking person believe that GJ and the PDP can stop feeding this cancer and save sick Nigeria? Or do they just want to remain in power so they could serve as undertaker?  If Nigeria continues to rank very low in the international corruption index, it is because the PDP-led government has shown that governance is nothing but a process and practice of looting the nation's petroleum-enriched treasury. And for the first time, as far as I know, there is a viable Presidential/VP team (selected by the another party) for whom fighting corruption is the primary mandate. And my question to Nigerians is this: WHY NOT GIVE THEM A CHANCE?
  • We simply NEED someone else to try managing Nigeria and its multiple and festering troubles, since what we have had these many years is NOT working; and if that person and party cannot at least begin to turn the tide in four years, they should be shown the door. That is the only way the positive change we sorely need can happen. And that is how democracy works, or at least should work.
  • And, oh, this last point: under this government, defending African champions, the Super Eagles could not even qualify for the 2015 Nations Cup! How bad do things have to get before we demand change?! 
  • Nigeria cannot afford the political status quo, for the sake of our children. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

CAA Board of Directors: Please vote!

I wish to announce that I am a finalist for the College Arts Association Board of Directors. Voting starts in January 2015, leading up to the Annual Conference in New York in February. As the largest and arguably the most important association of arts professionals, membership on the board of directors is crucial, as it will determine the direction of the CAA's work for the next four years. I am particularly interested in getting the CAA address issues of artists' rights in resale of works; diversifying the organization's membership; expanding its international footprint; and taking more assertive position in important issues that affect (not just the arts, but) our world today. If you are a member of the CAA, I  ask for your vote!

Here is the page with information (statements and biographies) on the six candidates. Four candidates with the most votes will join the board:


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Law Against Black Men

  • Whatever law allows a policeman to go blameless for shooting dead an unarmed youth a dozen times, even in the head, is simply wrong. 
  • Whatever law allows a policeman to kill a youth because this youth is said to be "charging" at the policeman is simply wrong. 
  • Whatever politics that permits white policemen who are perpetually afraid of black men to police black communities is wrong. 
  • Whatever law permits a white lawyer whose father was killed by a black man to decide whether or not to charge a white officer for killing a black man is wrong.
  • Whatever system that saw nothing wrong with the handling of the Michael Brown case by Ferguson police and prosecutor is wrong
  • Is the law rigged against black men in America?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Postdoctoral Associate, Center for African American Studies, Princeton

This is a great opportunity for young scholars working in the field of African and African Diaspora studies:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Don Cosentino, "Kongo in the American Imaginary" lecture today

"Four Moments Revisited: Kongo in the American Imaginary"
Donald Cosentino ,  Emeritus Professor, UCLA
November 17, 2014
4:30 P.M.  •  McCormick 106

Donald Cosentino is Professor Emeritus of World Arts and Cultures. His research interests include Black Atlantic myth, rituals, art and popular cultures. He has done extensive fieldwork on oral traditions in Sierra Leone;  on Vodou art and mythology in Haiti; and on the flowering of alternative religions in Los Angeles. He is the author of Defiant Maids and Stubborn Farmers: Tradition and Invention in Mende Story Performance (Cambridge University Press,1982, 2008) and Vodou Things: The Art of Pierrot Barra and Marie Cassaise (University of Mississippi Press, 1998). He was the curator, editor and chief writer for the award winning project, The Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (1995-99), and for Divine Revolution: the Art of Edouard Duval-Carrie (2004). As a Guggenheim Fellow (2006), Cosentino completed fieldwork for Chasing the Dead, a book he is writing based on his travels with an Argentine-American magus and his Kongo spirit guide. Cosentino is currently chief curator of "In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art," a traveling exhibition, which opened at the UCLA Fowler Museum in Fall 2012 and travelled to La Musee de la Civilisation in Quebec City in 2013-14. He has a Ph.D. in African Languages and Literatures from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This lecture is part of the "Kongo Arts in Africa and the World" lecture series organized by Chika Okeke-Agulu in conjuction with the exhibition "Kongo Across the Waters" at the Princeton University Art Museum (October 25, 2014 - January 25, 2015).

Please contact Rebecca Aguas with any questions.

Steven Salaita speaks today in Princeton

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nnenna Okore

Twist and Turns

November 20, 2014 - January 17, 2015
Opening reception: November 20, 6-8pm

Nnenna Okore, Aja Nsukka, mixed media, nd. Courtesy, the artist

David Krut Projects is pleased to present Twist and Turns, Nnenna Okore’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. The title of the exhibition draws attention to the sense of dynamism and movement in this selection of Okore’s most recent sculptures - continuing her exploration of material through a laborious hands-on creative process gleaned from the traditions of West African art making.
Raised in Nigeria, Okore’s affinity for tactile and gristly elements from the semi-urban environs of Nsukka in south-eastern Nigeria, have inspired a body of works that broadly focus on transformation and regeneration of mundane ecological and man-made objects. Through visual subtleties, she is able to present the fluid and delicate attributes of the physical world, triggered by aging, death and decay. She embraces biodegradable materials laced with memories and histories of her past; and submits to the use of several organic forms delicately articulated in an interwoven manner to reflect the quintessence and mystery of life cycles. The familiar yet abstract sculptural forms rely heavily on materials including newspapers, cloth, plaster and hessian, which were acquired mostly in her Fulbright year abroad. These materials metaphorically reference social, historical and environmental interconnectedness of our collective experiences as mortals.
By default, Okore responds to the movement and malleability of her mediums and processes, allowing them to lead her. Her drawn-out processes of threading, fraying, tearing, teasing, twisting, rolling, layering and dying are derivative of domestic Nigerian tasks that she mastered while living in the country. Through her work, she reveals impermanent earthy attributes of organic and twisted forms. Her intuitive approach to process begets intricate and unhindered layers of the process and materials. The undulated nature of Okore’s work further accentuates the extraordinary panoramic dance between the art and the gallery’s unique ambience. The result is an intriguing display of spellbinding ethereal forms.

Nnenna Okore is an Associate Professor of Art at North Park University, Chicago, where she teaches Sculpture. She has received numerous international awards and been exhibited in many prestigious venues, including October Gallery, London; Museum of Art and Design, New York; Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil; and Art Twenty One, Nigeria. She received the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Award in 2012, which resulted in a year-long project in Nigeria. Her works and interview were recently featured in the July/August 2013 issue of Sculpture Magazine.

For more information please contact or

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Conversation with Cornel West @ Princeton University, Nov. 6

This event is open to the public

Illustration by Cun Shi,2014
Details for the events above are also available at
Questions? Reach the main office of the Center for African American Studies at (609) 258-4270. You may tweet questions to @PrincetonCAAS.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Invitation: University Seminar on Contemporary Africa @ Columbia University: Nov. 6

Please come if you are in the area, to my talk this Thursday:

Title: "Yinka Shonibare and the Other Victorians"
Date/Time: November 6, 2014 - 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: Columbia Faculty House, Columbia University, New York
64 Morningside Drive • New York, New York 10027
In this reading of the work of the Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare—known for his “Victorian” figures dressed in “African print” fabrics—I suggest that his colorful paintings, sculptures and installations provide us a postcolonial view of the present and the past in which the self and its other are uncomfortably and perpetually imbricated. Ostensibly developed in response to Thatcherite anti-immigrant policies of the 1980s Britain, his work is often seen as a critique of Victorian, colonial England and post-imperial Europe. I propose that Shonibare’s Victorian imagery equally allows him to dispute prevailing ideas about black diasporic subjectivity in postcolonial Britain by identifying with his own aristocratic heritage that goes back to 19th-century, Victorian Lagos. By figuring the “other Victorians” Shonibare troubles what might seem like settled history. His work is thus a confounding critical meditation on the meaning of selfhood and otherness, as well as a simultaneous embrace and confrontation of the paradoxes of Britain’s and Africa’s colonial and postcolonial condition. Like the utterances and acts of Esu, the Yoruba trickster deity and great dissembler, Shonibare’s work suspends certainty, revels in the art of the doublespeak, and testifies to the complex, fraught trajectories and dimensions of history, culture and artistic identity.
The University Seminar on Contemporary Africa organized by Professors Hlonipha Mokoena and Abosede George.

Princeton seeks Historian of African American Art (Tenure track, Assistant Professor)

Job Title
Assistant Professor  
Art and Archaeology - 20100
African American Studies - 22100 
Position Summary
Historian of African-American Art. Joint appointment in The Center for African-American Studies and the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. Assistant Professor, Tenure Track. Ph. D. and teaching experience are expected; publication record is an advantage. 

Apply online at: with cover letter, CV, three letters of recommendation, and one article or chapter-length sample of scholarly writing. For the fullest consideration apply by December 15, 2015. Initial interviews will be conducted at the College Art Association meeting in New York, February 11-14, 2015. 

Princeton University is an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. 

This position is subject to the University's background check policy. 
Essential Qualifications
PhD required by start date.  
Preferred Qualifications
Teaching experience are expected; publication record is an advantage.  
Directory Title
Assistant professor of African-American Art History  
Job Function
Regular Faculty  
Education Required
Doctorate Degree  
Application Deadline
Instructions for Applying
Complete the online application and click "Apply to this Posting" at the top of the posting details page.  
Documents which can be associated with this posting
Cover Letter
Writing Sample

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Professor Wyatt MacGaffey Lecture at Princeton University Art Museum

Kongo, Nkisi Nkondi, 19th c.
Courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum / Royal Museum of Central Africa Tervuren

Please join us at a lecture by Wyatt MacGaffey: "Art of Power, Power of Art"

Thursday, November 6, 2014
5:30 pm
McCormick 101, Princeton University

* In conjunction with the Princeton University Art Museum exhibition Kongo across the Waters, Wyatt MacGaffey, J. R. Coleman Professor Emeritus of Social Anthropology at Haverford College, will speak about the Kongolese power objects known as minkisi. A reception in the Art Museum will follow.

Monday, October 20, 2014

El Anatsui's Fashion @ the American Academy of Arts Induction

Here is El Anatsui giving his formal speech during the American Academy of Arts & Sciences induction ceremony last week at Harvard. Since I met him in 1985, this is the first time I have seen him in a suit, and I cannot help but share the sight! Not bad at all, this suit ensemble.  

Photos: Courtesy the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Anatsui's "Trains of Thought" @ Jack Shainman Gallery: Some photos

This past Saturday, El Anatsui's "Trains of Thought" exhibition opened at Jack Shainman's 524 W 24th St. Gallery in Chelsea, NYC. The works show the extent to which Anatsui keeps expanding on the language of semantic abstraction using the syntactical and lexical elements of folded, manipulated aluminum strips and plates, and copper wire. It is quite something seeing how he has, with the confidence that comes with mastery of a medium and technique, reintroduced the poetics of asymmetric negative and positive space--the fundamental design element associated with Igbo Uli drawing/mural and the Nsukka School's work--into his sculpture, and the result is compositionally stunning, because it challenges normative notions of pictorial order and balance. OK, this is a tease; I will be back to this subject, here or elsewhere. Soon.

*Except otherwise noted, all photos by Chika Okeke-Agulu

Photo: Arinze Okeke-Agulu

Image courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery

Arinze Okeke-Agulu, El Anatsui, Joy Okeke-Agulu, Ugochukwu Smooth-Nzewi, Ngozi Okeke-Agulu

Nigerian artist Victoria Udondian (C), Jack Shainman (L)

Nzewi, Udondian and New York-based artist Donald Odita

Jack and El

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hood Museum Curator, Ugochwuku-Smooth Nzewi's @ Princeton

Perrin Lathrop, Jessica Bell, and Nzewi 3rd, 4th and 5th from Left @ 105 Chancellor Green, Princeton

Nzewi, responding to questions. All photos: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Last week, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, the curator of African art at Dartmouth College's Hood Museum of Art gave a talk, organized by Perrin Lathrop and Jessica Bell (both graduate students at the Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton). Part of a series, "At Work with Artwork: Discussions with Museum Curators and Directors," Nzewi's talk ranged from his intellectual formation as a practicing artist and independent curator in Nigeria, to his further training as an art historian (under Sidney Kasfir at Emory), and his current work as a museum curator in a leading university art museum in the US. He also shared his experience as a co-curator of this year's Dakar Biennale. See my review of the Biennale in the October issue of Artforum International (subscription required for access). 
After listening to him, and as I concluded in my review, all I can say is this: If the people in Dakar really understand the stakes of the Dak'Art Biennale; if they truly appreciate what that biennale means to the artworld of Africa and its Diaspora, they cannot continue with what has been an self-evident, unfortunate, careless, business as usual attitude. The embarrassing event they put up this year, despite the curators' commendable effort to making a good show, must not happen again. Else, they will be hard-pressed to find any serious, self-respecting artist wanting to be a part of Africa's flagship biennale. If after 20+ years they still do not know what it means to treat art and artists respectfully, and that biennale production requires a healthy dose of professionalism, they should just simply pack up. OK, let me edit myself: the show must go on; but they should simply just sit up! Especially given how much the government of Senegal has invested in this much-needed event since the early 1990s.

Next stop for Nzewi, after the bitter-sweet experience of Dak'Art, is his major, traveling exhibit for the Hood Museum: a thematic survey of contemporary African art during the 1980s. As an art historian, that's a show I can't wait to see, in 2016. 

Marcia's show @ 1:54 Fair, London

So, Marcia is presenting her new body of work at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London, which opens tomorrow. Represented by Purdy Hicks Gallery, her exhibition includes two new series "Ethnographica" (collages) and "Androgyny" (watercolors), along with her sculptures. Here is a sampler of the works on show.
Marcia Kure, The Androgyne IV: Faux Real, 2014Watercolour and mixed media on watercolour paper mounted on board, 60.9 x 45.7 cm
All images Copyright: The Artist

Marcia Kure, The Androgyne II: The 5th, 2014Watercolour and mixed media on watercolour paper mounted on board, 60.9 x 45.7 cm

Marcia Kure, Ethnographica V, 2014Collage on Arches watercolour paper 300LB, 60.9 x 45.7 cm

Marcia Kure, Ethnographica I, 2014Collage on Arches watercolour paper 300LB, 60.9 x 45.7 cm
1:54 takes place at the Somerset House, Oct. 16-19, and features 27 galleries, many of them based in Africa. In its second year, the fair can now legitimately claim to be the second prime venue to buy and sell contemporary African Art, after the Johannesburg Art Fair. Will it eventually surpass JAF, because sited in London? It all depends on which fair demonstrates firmer commitment to high quality work and commands respect of the international art market.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"When the Present Begins" symposium @ Johann Jacobs Museum / Museum Rietberg, Zurich

When the Present Begins

A conversation over two days (Oct. 10./11.), proposed by Johann Jacobs Museum and Georg Schöllhammer, Felix Vogel and Tristan Weddigen on the occasion of the exhibition „Gastspiel“ (curated by Damian Christinger) at Museum Rietberg.


There was once a time when we talked about modern art, but today the term sounds strangely outmoded. If we remember correctly, this type of art grew out of two conflicting stimuli: the art that had gone before; and the society around us. Today, on the other hand, we talk of contemporary art. In fact, there are whole museums of contemporary art: it's almost as if the process of historic sedimentation had become frozen in an infinite sense of the present. But is there a threshold or a caesura, some form of recognition or forgetfulness between the one and the other, between the modern and the contemporary? Is this presence really as global as it would have us believe? Despite its best intentions and failed attempts at export modernity was essentially a western game. And if so, what retroactive effects does globalization have on the former centre that was once able to distinguish between itself and the other barbarians, between applied and fine art, or even between art and non-art? It    seems clear that institutional edifices such as those museums that schlep the ballast of the 19th century around with them are in danger of either being crushed by the burden or seeking some form of emergency exit in populism and spectacle. But it seems equally clear that all the newly created institutional edifices, such as the biennales, are unable at least on the strength of their own efforts to generate the critical terminology or new realities that would have more substance than their latest press release with its mix of curatorial matters and the interests of the promoters.

"When the Present Begins" is intended to be a halfway informative exchange of ideas about the state of the present, of the artistic contemporary. This exchange is taking place in two Zurich museums, of which one, the RietbergMuseum, is exclusively given over to non-western art. With its "Gastspiel" exhibition, it has admitted contemporary art for the first time to its premises. The Johann Jacobs Museum, on the other hand, finds the things to which it dedicates its energies along global trade routes. These may well be art. But, then again, they may not.

Speakers: Daisy Bisenieks, Angela Dimitrakaki, Adrienne Edwards, Pauline Y. Jao, Anke Hennig, Susanne Leeb, Royce Ng, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Peter Osborne, Marcelo Rezende, Moe Satt.

Moderators: Roger Buergel, Goerg Schollhammer, Tristan Weddigen, Felix Vogel

Museum Reitberg – October 10, 10-16h
Johann Jacobs Museum – October 11, 10-16h

Johann Jacobs Museum
Seefeldquai 17
8034 Zürich
Di 18-23h, Sa & So 11-17h
Eintritt Sfr. 7. - ab 26 Jahre
+41 (0) 44 388 61 90

Museum Rietberg
Gablerstrasse 15
CH-8002 Zürich
T. +41 (0)44 415 31 31
F. +41 (0)44 415 31 32