A Short Half Century against Blindness.
On the death of Okwui Enwezor
Okwui Enwezor, Lagos/ Nigeria, 2013, Photo: © Anne-Lena Michel
Despite the busy exhibition business, the past weekend at the Munich Haus der Kunst was very quiet. Footsteps in the large, empty central hall seemed almost like inappropriate noise. As the current editorial message on the website conveys, the team of the exhibition house mourns for his on last Friday deceased head Okwui Enwezor – and combines this with the expression of great gratitude for the "extension to our perspective" made possible by him, his new "guiding principle" of the exhibition house, but above all for "the conviction that the developmental lines of contemporary art are global and multi-layered and cannot be limited by geographic, conceptual and cultural boundaries." For the audience of the last weekend, the visit of Enwezors last great show to the work El-Anatsui as well seems to have been more in the sign of condolence.
Since Friday, the daily and specialist press has been full of tributes and obituaries to the exceptional curator Okwui Enwezor, who has so decisively shaped the international exhibition events and art debates of the past decades and enriched the entire exhibition and museum system with his globally expanded approach. For the discipline of art history, however, the enormous value of his work lies not only in the large, elementary exhibitions – in the format of a documenta 11 of 2002 or the Venice Biennale of 2015, through whose platform model and decentralized approach Enwezor set a rethinking in the perception of the actually global intertwined modern and contemporary art in motion.
Earlier exhibitions such as "Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994" from 2001, which grounded on the cooperation of the Munich Villa Stuck with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin and subsequently was shown internationally, focused specifically those political, Art and cultural histories, here of the African continent, which hitherto was devalued as historyless, and therefore excluded from the great (Western) historical narratives. Enwezor's merit was to counteract precisely this alleged lack of history and timelessness and to counter the status of a supposedly oral-based reference to the past in Africa with a tremendous array of art, images and source material, and thus at the same time to trace and relocate the cultural and artistic production and history since Modernity, in the Post-war period and phase of de-colonization up to the present time in its intellectual context.
In the later exhibition, "Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and Bureaucracy of Daily Life", which was also realized at Haus der Kunst in 2013, Enwezor re-established this strategy. Once again he confronted the exhibition visitors with a wealth of press and artistic photography, images and written sources; again, through the globally contextualized presentation – here of the historical circumstances of violence and resistance in South Africa and of domestic and foreign policy negotiation and international solidarity – he highlighted the blind spots in the perception of historical, cultural and artistic forms of negotiation and proceedings. Like Jacques Derrida, to whom he devoted an interdisciplinary anthology to African-diasporic modernity, postmodernity and contemporaneity in 2009, seemingly also his concern is to situate art in a new understanding of a pictorially perceptible writtenness – as a form of fragile marking, a non-pathetic trace and fundamental (not textual) cultural expression.
Okwui Enwezor, who saw himself as a curator, author, and scholar, is brought together much more with his groundbreaking curatorial achievements than with his
academic approaches and numerous publications in and beyond the exhibition scene. In fact, not only did he draw attention to countless highly relevant artistic positions in their global contexts
and connections, which he opened up to postcolonial debates, but above all he also groundbreakingly questioned the objects and the
repertoire of methods in traditional art history. In addition to the demonstrative side of his exhibition projects showing these shifting processes away from the old centers of Western art, it is Enwezor merit to have enlarged the art historical focus into large transoceanic spatial
contexts, in which the artistic connections and cultural
intertwining could only expose an aesthetic of migration – not as a special case of history, but as its continuum.
Already through topics of African and African-diasporic art since the multiple modernity, which are still in the debate of the Journal of Contemporary African Art, nka – founded by Enwezor in 1994, and edited together with Salah M. Hassan and Chika Okeke-Agulu since then – the critical negotiation extended in the transatlantic area long before his groundbreaking documenta 11 or the later post-war exhibition 2016/17 in Munich. Changing forms of contextualization and localization and a henceforth global intellectual dialogue on art and culture, especially after 1945 and across national borders and schools, but also the cross-media reappraisal of transcultural phenomena and artistic positions in scientific articles and reviews, in published interviews and art historical discussions in the Journal provided important impetus for a fundamental revision of a discipline that still struggles with the blind spots of its euro- and west-centered anchoring – even though the current politically driven public debates on the opening up of the art system, art institutions, or issues of restitution may give the impression of an already completed renewal process in the broadest possible consensus today.
With co-authors and publishers - such as Rory Bester, Nancy Condee, Olu Oguibe, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Terry Smith and many others - Okwui Enwezor has also sharpened the contours of African modern and contemporary art in extensive overviews (Reading the Contemporary, 1999; Contemporary African Art Since 1980, 2009). Numerous monographic publications on significant periods of time and on the oeuvre of individual African artists, such as Zarina Bhimji, Meschac Gaba, Bodys Isek Kingelez to El Anatsui, whom Enwezor mostly exhibited in big shows and thereby introduced to the specialist and to a wider public, but also his Munich publications on extraordinary diasporic and African-American artistic positions, such as Kendell Geers, Ellen Gallagher, Lorna Simpson oder Frank Bowling, stand for his successful concept of visualization and his systematic work in research desiderata.
Only in this way Enwezor could succeed in turning overseen or marginalized Anchor figures into objects of (now Western) art history as actors in a global art production that profits from continuous migration processes. Indeed, these inclusion processes made it possible to raise categorial questions to a entangled modern and contemporary art and to the issues of culturally determined concepts of temporality and art scientific periodization models from such an expanded perspective – as happened in his Anthology Antinomies of Art and Culture from 2009, which is dedicated to Jacques Derrida.
The end of Okwui Enwezor's so successful tenure at the Munich Haus der Kunst was obviously overshadowed by political tactics, penny-pinching and cultural incomprehension, but also by the provincialism of cultural policy makers, to which the already seriously ill curator expressed himself last year in the German magazine Der Spiegel: "Perhaps our concept did not fit into the current political climate," Enwezor summerized the causes of his premature farewell in August 2018. "The political climate in this country is causing many people to give up everything that has been achieved in the past decades. And you can see that most clearly in dealing with the refugees. (...)." The curator linked the expression of his disappointment over the lack of esteem of his work by the Bavarian cultural policy with the open criticism of a recently growing racism in the country, and of the diction of "hostility" in politics and the media – whereby he as well alluded at the political exploitation and consequences of the so called "refugee crisis" from the summer of 2015, and again opened an expanded, political context.
Okwui Enwezor's death, which we deeply mourn, leaves also an empty space in our discipline.
On the death of Bisi Silva (1963-2019)
Bisi Silva, Lagos, Nigeria, 2013, Photo: © Anne-Lena Michel
On February 12, the Nigerian curator Bisi Silva died at the age of 56 years.
The energetic exhibition maker, scholar and author pioneered cultural policy in particular in Nigeria by creating conditions for artists, curators and art historians in which they could work. Bisi Silva, who took charge of the processing of African contemporary art and was so firmly committed to the realization of exhibition projects that also promoted young positions in Nigeria and elsewhere, who first made important artistic positions from Africa familiar to the art world, who researched artists from the history of Nigeria until the present, and fear-free explorated the subject of 'diversity', is leaving a huge gap not only in her country.
After completing her language studies in Dijon, Bisi Silva graduated from the Royal College of Art in London with a Masters degree in Curating Contemporary Art and then returned to Lagos, where she became one of the central figures in the art and exhibition scene. In 2007, she founded the Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA), which has become more than just an exhibition space for contemporary art, especially for young, even lesser-known or new positions, a crucial place of first exhibition and public perception.
It corresponded to Bisi Silva's self-image as a scholar and author of renowned art magazines and journals (such as Agufon, Artforum, Art Monthly, Metropolis
M, or Third Text) and her tremendous vision of building up a comprehensive art and cultural science library in the CCA, one of a kind in Nigeria which made the CCA a highly
important meeting place, a place of research and negotiation for the local art
scene, as well as international researchers and guests. Especially in recent years, he became for Bisi Silva, who wanted to focus more on artist projects, research projects and publications, a central work place, without renouncing her presence at all relevant international exhibitions of African and Diasporic contemporary art, on whose conception she took Influence.
Bisi Silva was an important mentor to many young artists in Nigeria. She understood this support as an elementary part of her work, and from this sense she also initiated the Àsìkò program - independent of the political-administrative structures - as an interdisciplinary wandering training center for curators, artists and theoreticians, which was hosted at various locations in Africa, including Senegal, Ghana and Ethiopia.
Bisi Silva worked as a curator or co-curator for countless exhibitions and international biennials, such as the 7th Biennale for Contemporary Art in Dakar (DakArt) of 2006 or the exhibition "Praxis: Art in Times of Uncertainty" as part of the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennial of 2009, and later became a member of the jury for the 55th Venice Biennial "The Encyclopaedic Palace". In 2011, she realized the show "Moments of Beauty" in Finland, which drew on her decades of work with the Nigerian photographer J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere (1930 - 2014) that resulted in the publication of a first extensive monograph on the photographer's oeuvre (2015).
We will miss Bisi Silva heavily.
Diasporic Imaginaries. Multiple Senses of Belonging
Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte / Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art, Paris
April 4-5, 2019
Conceived and organized by Lena Bader, Birgit Mersmann, Mona Schieren
Migration in art and art history is primarily defined by the movement in both space and time of artists, curators, and critics, and their works, ideas, and memories
(Mathur 2011). It has engendered geographically dispersed artistic communities bound by shared diasporic experiences and has generated splintered temporalities of artistic relationalities that
negotiate between pastness, nowness, and futurity. The increasing diasporization of art and culture is a farreaching and profound shift resulting from global migration and its rapidly changing
nature. As a global transnational process, migration has produced global diasporas (Cohen 1997), including ethnic, cultural, religious, and national diasporas, which fuel the dissemination of
“diasporic imaginaries.” Beside the Jewish,
Greek, Armenian, and Black diasporas — the most historically significant diasporic traditions — the Chinese, Indian, Iranian,
Lebanese, Palestinian diasporas have, among others, become clearly visible on the world map of diaspora cartographies (Brah 1996, Dufoix 2008).
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The conference will be held in English.
Call for paper & upcoming
Travel and Migration
University of Duisburg-Essen & Folkwang University
July 4-7, 2019
Please send your applications with an abstract (max. one page) and a short CV until April 15, 2019
Starting November 2018
of the working group Art Production and Art Theory in the Age of Global Migration
“Entangled Histories of Art and Migration” sets out to conduct research on the interrelationship of migration and globalization as an important phenomenon of social transformation in the 20th and 21st centuries and on its role for art historical research and artistic production. Over the next three years, it will enhance the research on migration with art-historical perspectives and methodologies. read more .... >