Monday, December 26, 2016

Reviews of "Postcolonial Modernism" so far

Here, for anyone interested is a list, so far, of reviews of my Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in 20th-Century Nigeria (Duke University Press, 2015):

·         Elizabeth Miller, “Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930–1990 by Sonal Khullar, and: Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria by Chika Okeke-Agulu,” The Comparatist 40 (2016), 338-346.

·         Fred Smith. Review of Okeke-Agulu, Chika, Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria. H-AfrArts, H-Net Reviews. October, 2016.

·         Monica Blackmun Visonà, “Chika Okeke-Agulu, Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria,” The Art Bulletin, 98:2 (2016), 272-274, DOI: 10.1080/00043079.2016.1155906

·         Jean M. Borgatti, “Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth Century Nigeria. By Chika Okeke-Agulu.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 49: 1 (2016), 144-145.

·         Joseph L. Underwood, “Framing African Modernism: A Defining Decade for Nigerian Art,” Art Journal 75:2 (summer 2016), 94-97.

·         Helena Cantone, “Chika Okeke-Agulu. 2015. Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria,” African Studies Quarterly 16 no. 2 (2016), 125-127.

·         Rebecca Wolf, review of Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in twentieth-Century Nigeria by Chika Okeke-Agulu, (January 28, 2016), doi:

·         M. R. Vendryes, Choice: A publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries 53: 1 (Sept. 2015), 54.

·         Carol Thompson, Art Papers (sept/Oct., 2015), 53.

·         Tajudeen Sowole, “Postcolonial Modernism: Chika Okeke-Agulu Probes the Heart of Nigerian Art,” The Guardian (Lagos), Apr. 12, 2015, p. 34.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


It is Christmas, Again
I hear no Angels sing
Just an old man, pissing
In my neighbor's yard

It is Christmas today
And I am blinded
by blazing light
Of the northern star

© Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton, December 25, 2016)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The 6th Annual International Igbo Conference
Theme: Legacies of Biafra: Reflections on the Nigeria-Biafra War 50 years on
SOAS, University of London, April 21-22, 2017

Call for Papers

The Annual Igbo Conference has carved out a unique space, serving as a bridge between the community and academia. It is held at SOAS, University of London in association with the Centre of African Studies.

The ‘Legacies of Biafra’ conference seeks to explore the on-going impact of the war locally and globally, considering how the first civil war in independent Africa has influenced the perception of the continent internationally as well as its impact on the political and social structures within Nigeria. As 2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of war, this conference will provide a timely reflection on the war as a watershed moment in contemporary African history.

The Nigeria-Biafra war sparked strong reactions from around the world. British participation in the war was informed by the desire to maintain the colonial entity that they had created, as Biafra’s declaration of independence presented a challenge to the legitimacy of African countries created during the colonial era. Global media coverage presented the first images of children starving in Africa, which became the dominant visual representation of the continent in the international press, and one of the lasting impacts of the war.

The conference will explore the consequences of the war, which include changes to Nigeria’s social and political structures, approaches to intervention in conflict zones and developments in humanitarian assistance. It will also explore trauma, internal displacement and the psychology of conflict resolution.

We are particularly interested in papers that engage with the following themes:
  • Christopher Okigbo and his Generation: Biafra’s Loss of Life and Talent
  • Women and Biafra: Women’s Contributions during the War and the Post-War Recovery Period
  • The War and its Key Actors
  • Trauma, Memory and Re-Membering
  • Biafra and the World
  • In the Wake of Biafra: Developments in Humanitarian Assistance
  • Biafra’s Child Refugees in West and Central Africa
  • Physical and Spiritual Displacement and the War
  • Post-War Religiosity and Narratives of Survival
  • The Ahiara Declaration and its Pan-African Vision
  • Britain and Biafra
  • Post-War Cultural Nationalism and the Shifting Margins of Identity

Organiser: Igbo Conference in association with Centre of African Studies, SOAS, University of London

The conference will be held in the Brunei Gallery Building, SOAS, University of London, April 21- 22, 2017.

Please send abstracts in an attached word file, and please do not use all capital letters when writing. Participants who require a British visa are encouraged to submit their abstracts as soon as possible. Please email abstracts of up to 300 words including the paper title, your name, current position, institutional affiliation (where applicable), email address and phone number to and no later than 31st December 2016.
Presenters will be invited to submit expanded versions of their papers to be considered for publication in an edited book.

Participants are responsible for sourcing their own funding for travel, accommodation and conference fees. For information on the Igbo Conference, please visit and

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text

I hear that this book is coming out before the year runs out. Waiting to see it!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

On November 28, I will welcome two artist-scholars, Okechukwu Nwafor (Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria) and Evassy Tumusiime (Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda) to Princeton for a three-day residency as African Studies Association/ American Council for Learned Societies Presidential Fellows. On the 30th, they will be joined by Nomusa Mahkubu (University of Cape Town) for a mini-symposium on Art and Visual Cultures in Africa Today, before they all depart to Washington DC, to participate in the annual conference of the ASA. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fellowship opportunity at Princeton

This is a fantastic fellowship opportunity for international scholars. If you know someone who might be interested, please send this across. I personally hope that colleagues working in Africa will be keen to apply.

The 2017-18 program topic is “The Culture and Politics of Resentment.” The six Fung Global Fellows are expected to be in residence at PIIRS for one academic year and to participate in the program’s seminars and intellectual life of the university. Within the limits of its resources, the program provides a salary that equals the base salary at a fellow’s home institution. Should a home institution salary be significantly below the norm, it may be adjusted upward. The program will also cover the most economical roundtrip travel for a fellow, spouse or domestic partner and children from his or her home institution, as well as visa fees. Further, fellows receive a research account, an office, access to a desktop computer and are eligible for health insurance and other benefits through the university plan. The program will assist in finding housing through the university housing office and private landlords.We invite applications from scholars whose work addresses this topic in any historical period or region of the world and from any disciplinary background in the humanities and social sciences. Applications are due on November 21, 2016 (11:59 p.m. EST) and must be submitted through the online application portal


1. Eligible are scholars in the social sciences and humanities who received their Ph.D. (or the equivalent of an Anglo-American Ph.D.) within 10 years of the proposed start date of the fellowship; for the 2017-18 program that is no earlier than September 1, 2007. The receipt of the Ph.D. is determined by the date on which all requirements for the degree at the applicant’s home institution, including the defense and filing of the dissertation, were fulfilled.
2. Applicants must hold a position outside the United States of America at the time of application, to which they are expected to return at the conclusion of the fellowship.
3. Fellowships will be awarded to candidates who have already demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievement and exhibit unusual intellectual promise but are still at the beginning of their careers. Criteria for the fellowship include the strength of the candidate’s research projects, the relationship of those projects to the program’s theme, the candidate’s previous scholarly work, the candidate’s ability to contribute to the intellectual life and intellectual exchange of the program, and the candidate’s work experience outside the United States. The selection committee is looking to establish a cohort of fellows whose work represents diverse analytical approaches and disciplinary backgrounds and addresses a wide variety of places.
4. U.S. citizens and non-citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law are eligible to apply.
5. Fellows must be in residence in Princeton during the academic year of their fellowship (September 1 - June 30) so that they can interact with one another and participate actively in the program’s seminars and other events on campus. Fellows are also expected to present their ongoing projects in seminars organized by the program. 
Princeton University is an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.   

Application Requirements

The following items will need to be submitted by the applicant, in English:
  • Completed online application form
  • Cover letter (1.5 pages maximum)
  • Curriculum Vitae / Bibliography (may be submitted as one document)
  • Research proposal (maximum of 3 pages, single spaced)
  • One writing sample (article or book chapter, maximum of 50 pages)
  • An official letter from the applicant’s employer affirming that, should the fellowship be awarded, the applicant would be permitted to accept it and to spend the academic year 2017-2018 at Princeton University (on the application portal, upload this document as “Other 1”) 
In addition, three (3) confidential letters of recommendation, in English, will need to be uploaded directly by the referees to the application portal on or before the November 1 application deadline:
  • Letters are best submitted in PDF format; electronic letterhead and signature preferred, or a signed, scanned letter on letterhead.
  • Letters may be addressed to the Search Committee, Fung Global Fellows Program.
  • It is not necessary to mail a hard copy of the letter. However, if a referee is unable to submit the letter electronically, sending it by mail, postmarked by November 21, 2016, will be acceptable. Send to Fung Global Fellows Program, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Aaron Burr Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.
 Inquiries about the program and the application process may be directed to or ++1-609-258-2453.

Monday, October 31, 2016

UPenn and Yale African Art History jobs

As if the news about the African Art History job announcement by the Department of History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League university based in Philadelphia is not big enough, Yale University's History of Art Department has just announced that it is also in the market for a "replacement"--if you could ever imagine a junior scholar replacing that monument called Robert Farris Thompson. I cannot remember the last time two Ivy League universities are searching for an African art historian at the same time. I am watching to see they hire; thankfully, there are a couple of really smart young scholars out there! 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Egyptian Surrealism Exhibition in Cairo

Palace of Arts, Cairo

The historic exhibition, When Art Becomes Liberty: The Egyptian Surrealists (1938-1965), organized by Salah M. Hassan and Hoor Al-Qasimi at the Palace of Arts, Cairo closes in about week, and I count myself fortunate to have been able to see it. I shall write more about this exhibition, which because of the depth of research and amazing scale of it, deserves fuller comment (please, please, Salah and Hoor, make sure the accompanying book comes out soon!). But as far as exhibitions go, this is a milestone for the African continent. Congratulations Salah and Hoor, and your curatorial team at the Sharjah Art Foundation, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and the American University in Cairo. Here are a few images from the installation.
Exhibition panel

Installation view with Carlo Desidero's Satan Around the World, n. d. (left)

Photographic self-portraits by the enigmatic Van Leo

Archival documents by Art and Liberty Group

Hadi El-Ghazzar, Man and Cat, 1952

Kamal Youssef, Hoda, 1942

Installation view

Monday, October 17, 2016

"Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965"

Haus der Kunst, Munich
The unprecedented exhibition of international postwar art organized by Okwui Enwezor, Cathy Siegel and Ulrich Wilmes opened last Thursday at the Haus der Kunst, Munich. I wager that this is one of the most--actually the most--consequential exhibition of modern art during the twenty years following the end of the Second World War. It is a staggering exhibition that only Okwui could have conceived, and only the HdK could have made possible. I cannot imagine this exhibition, by the sheer scale of it, and given all the prized works from five continents it brought together, travelling to any other museum. So, if you can, and if you are really invested in modern art, you better go see this exhibition. After it, the navel-gazing and parochial histories told and defended by museums in Europe and America for years will be utterly indefensible. Unfortunately, I cannot as yet post any photos from the exhibition, as photos were not allowed. But I will post, as soon as possible, images of the works and installation shots. And by the way, the exhibition is accompanied by an 800+-page book, which I am guessing will be available soon. Congrats Okwui and the curatorial team, for this monument in scholastic and exhibition making.

Yes, there was a curatorial roundtable featuring Geeta Kapur, Cathy Siegel, Ulrich Wilmes and moi, with Okwui as moderator.

Postwar on Haus der Kunst facade with works by American Roy Liechtensten and Nigerian Collette Omogbai 

Director of Haus der Kunst, Okwui Enwezor welcoming guests to the Curatorial Roundtable on Friday

Co-curator of "Postwar" Cathy Siegel

Obiora Udechukwu and Okwui Enwezor

Salah Hassan and Obiora Udechukwu

Udechukwu and Marc-Andre Schmachtel, former director of Goethe-Institut, Lagos

Monday, August 8, 2016

On Ben Enwonwu's "Anyanwu"

Anyanwu presentation at the UN Headquarters, NY, 1966
Photo Source: Courtesy, Daily Times of Nigeria photo archives
Ben Enwonwu, Anyanwu, 1954-1955
Image courtesy:

In 5 October 1966, a few days after the country's sixth independence anniversary, the Nigerian ambassador to the United Nations presented to Secretary-General U Thant an enigmatic sculpture. Called Anyanwu, it was by the acclaimed Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu (most sources wrongly claim that this event took place in 1961). This was a remarkable event that gave Nigeria the opportunity to affirm its position as a leading, newly independent African nation poised to take its place in the global community. And the ambassador, Chief Adebo, used the occasion to remind the world of European Modernism's debt to African art, as well as modern African artists' legitimate claims to Africa's long, rich cultural and artistic legacies.
The ambassador hoped that the presence of a work representing a sun deity by Africa's most famous artist at the United Nations Headquarters would enhance international peace. But what made Anyanwu – an edition of which is offered in Bonhams Africa Now sale in May – a potent symbol of modern, independent Africa? And why, despite being one of his earliest works, is it considered by many to be Enwonwu's finest, the summation of his vision as a self-aware African Modernist, yet equally proud of his Igbo heritage?

Anyanwu's formal significance lies in its dramatic combination of movement and stasis, realism and abstraction, anthropomorphic and vegetal forms, grace and power. Though anyanwu literally means 'the sun' in the Igbo language, this bronze is of a 6ft 10in woman dressed in the royal regalia of the Bini people: a 'chicken-beak' headdress, heavy coral necklaces and bracelets. But nothing in Bini or Igbo traditional sculpture explains Anyanwu's distinctive body. A Nefertiti-type neck – seen here in Anyanwu – is a clear indication of feminine beauty in both cultures, yet her skinny, near-emaciated limbs are reminiscent not so much of traditional representations of powerful female deities as modern-day haute-couture models.

It might be that the artist's desire for figural poetry drove not just the creation of the sculpture's lithe body, but also the decision to progressively transform her lower extremities into a thin monolithic form. Seen from the front, Anyanwu looks less of a powerful deity than a spirit that is too light to give in to gravity's pull. As if to complete the drama, Enwonwu has given this graceful, even delicate figure a menacing gaze, reminding us that this is the powerful sun deity, not a curtseying Bini princess.

Although the United Nations' Anyanwu was commissioned by the Nigerian government in the 1960s, the original version, which still stands in front of the National Museum in Lagos, was produced in 1954-1955 to mark the museum's establishment by British artist and archaeologist Kenneth Crosthwaite Murray, who was Enwonwu's first art teacher. The installation of Anyanwu brought to full circle the decades-long insistence by Enwonwu and Murray on the centrality of indigenous arts and cultures in the making of African and Nigerian modernity.

Thus, while the museum was the culmination of Murray's work towards safeguarding exemplary artistic and craft traditions of Nigeria, in Anyanwu, Enwonwu realized as never before his search for a modern artistic expression of Igbo aesthetics and metaphysics. In the 1955 Anyanwu, Enwonwu found a favorite form and theme that he would explore for many years as part of his wider interest in the feminine form, dancing figures and Igbo masked spirits.

Enwonwu, born in 1917, came from a family of artists – his father was a respected traditional sculptor in his eastern Nigerian hometown, Onitsha. The young Enwonwu was among the first students taught by Murray, who, in 1927, was the first art teacher appointed by the colonial government. While Enwonwu's claim that he was initially trained by his father, who died when he was only three, seems improbable, there is no doubt that he cherished his lineage of traditional artists. This inheritance seems to have recommended him to Murray, whose pedagogy emphasized training young boys from families of traditional artists to become new-age upholders of indigenous arts and crafts.

But Enwonwu's ambitions extended beyond – and sometimes clashed with – Murray's nativist vision for modern African art. While he wished to draw deeply from Igbo cultural heritage, he also aspired to master academic conventions and set his eyes on becoming a resolutely Modernist artist, at home both in his native Igbo culture, and on the international art scene.

In the summer of 1944, aged 27, Enwonwu sailed to England to attend the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London. He graduated in 1947 with a prize for sculpture. The following year, he earned a MA in Anthropology and Ethnography, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. On returning in 1948, he was appointed the first Nigerian art adviser to the federal government.

Enwonwu's reputation at home and overseas grew quickly. Exhibitions at the respected Berkeley and Piccadilly galleries in London, Galerie Apollinaire in Milan, and at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris garnered considerable critical attention: in 1950, the sculptor Jacob Epstein acquired Enwonwu's Yoruba Girl. The noted art critic Eric Newton extolled the "lithe rhythm" and craftsmanship of his wood sculpture, and the Manchester Guardian even compared his "daring" work to that of Henry Moore. That was also the year Enwonwu made his first trip to the United States as, according to Ebony magazine, "Africa's greatest artist."

Crucial to Enwonwu's development was his encounter with Negritude, the black affirmation literary movement led in the interwar years by Paris-based francophone writers such as Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas. The political implications of Negritude were not lost on Enwonwu.
Mahmoud Mukhtar, Egypt's Renaissance, 1919-1927
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Meta Warrick Fuller, Ethiopia Awakening, 1914
Image courtesy,
Edna Manley, Negro Aroused, 1935
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

This connection helps us appreciate another aspect of Anyanwu: it was Enwonwu's response to the very rhetoric of African cultural revival and political independence that had attracted earlier modern sculptors. For instance, works by the American Meta Warrick Fuller such as Ethiopia Awakening (1914), and the Egyptian Mahmoud Mukhtar's Egypt's Renaissance (1919-1927), imagined, respectively, this renaissance as a revived pharaonic princess and a roused sphinx; the Jamaican Edna Manley figured it in Negro Aroused (1935) as an awakened, powerfully built black man. Negritude also meant, to Enwonwu, the reclamation of his Igbo artistic and cultural heritage. It provided him with the ideological grounds for imagining his stylistically modernist work as a continuation of the Igbo sculptural traditions inherited through his father. Here lies the deep significance of Anyanwu. It simultaneously invokes the assertion by Senghor that dance is a unique African expressive form, a mark of Africanness. It also gives form to a powerful deity for which the Igbo people had no human image. In other words, it depicts an elegant African dancer (Enwonwu produced his Africa Dances series during this period). But, as her piercing gaze implies, it is the manifestation of the Igbo sun god.

* This text was published, in slightly different form, in Bonhams Magazine earlier this spring. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Princeton's Fung Global Fellowship program: Call for Applications

The 2017-18 Princeton Fund Global Fellowship application is open. This is a fantastic one-year fellowship that has helped launch the academic careers of young scholars, including a couple of Africa-based scholars that have gone through it. The theme this year is "Politics of Resentment." About six fellows, living and working outside of the US,  are selected each year.  The application deadline is Nov. 1. Please spread the word!

About the Program

The Fung Global Fellows Program, inaugurated in the 2013-14 academic year, reflects Princeton University’s commitment to engaging with scholars from around the world and inspiring ideas that transcend borders. The program brings exceptional international early-career faculty members working in the social sciences and the humanities to Princeton for a year of research, writing, and collaboration.  It is administered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), which serves as a site for integration and joint activity across all of the University's international and area studies programs.

Each year, the Fung Global Fellows Program selects six international scholars to be in residence at Princeton for one academic year and to engage in research and discussion around a common theme. The program includes a public seminar series where the fellows will present their work to the university community. Fellowships will be awarded through a competitive application process to scholars employed outside the United States who have demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievement, exhibit unusual intellectual promise, and are still early in their careers.

This program is supported by a gift from William Fung, group chairman of Li & Fung, a Hong Kong-based multinational group of export and retailing companies. Fung earned a BSE in electrical engineering from Princeton in 1970 and an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1972, and then began his career at the family firm. He joined Princeton's Board of Trustees in 2009, and has previously supported Princeton's groundbreaking financial aid program. "In this new age of globalization, Princeton should be even more involved in fostering scholarship everywhere it takes place," Fung said. "Through this gift, I hope to enable Princeton to become a stronger catalyst for developing new and exciting research and for creating international scholarly communities."