Saturday 7 February 2015

In 2015, Enwezor, Silva are 'proudly Nigerians' to track on the global art space

By Tajudeen Sowole
IN the months ahead and running to the end of the year, Germany-based art historian and manager, Okwui Enwezor, and Lagos-based curator, Bisi Silva, will separately, be giving Nigeria its pride of place on the international art scene.  Book will be at the helm of affairs at two major art events in Africa and Europe.

Bisi Silva, curator for 10th Bamako Encounters: African 
In November last year, the organisers of 10th Bamako Encounters: African Photography, Mali, announced Silva as the artistic director of the biennale, which holds in November 2015. Much earlier, in the same year, the world's most prestigious art gathering, Venice Biennale had announced Enwezor as the artistic director of the 56th edition. 

Photography Chaired by Paolo Baratta, the board of directors had stated that Enwezor will direct the visual arts section   of the 56th Venice Biennale, holding at Venice, Giardini and Arsenale from May 9 to November 22, 2015.

Late last year, Enwezor and President of Venice Biennale, Baratta announced All the World's Futures as the theme of the event.  The Nigerian disclosed that the 2015 edition will be based on "a fresh appraisal of the relationship of art and artists to the current state of things." The theme, Enwezor explained, will be sub-divided into three parts such as Liveness: On Epic Duration, Garden of Disorder and Capital: A Live Reading.

 He described the event as a gathering where historical and counter-historical projects will meet. Political turmoil around the world, in recent times will be of interest to the exhibition, he added. “The ruptures that surround and abound every corner of the global landscape today recall the evanescent debris of previous catastrophes."
  He noted how "radical changes have made new and fascinating ideas subject matter for artists, writers, filmmakers and performers" in the last two centuries, and explained, "It is with this recognition that 56th International Exhibition of la Biennale de Venezia proposes All the World's Futures."

For Silva, who was the only black in a five-member jury at 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, the responsibility of leading the 10th Bamako Encounters comes with a bigger challenge.  "The position of artistic director of the 10 Bamako Encounters: African Photography Biennale is an exciting challenge especially after a prolonged break of the biennale due to the upheaval caused by the threat to Mali's sovereignty," said Silva, during a chat after she was announced as the director. Silva noted that as the event makes its 10th anniversary, the theme Telling Time was well articulated.

She explained that it highlights, "the past, articulating the present  and imagining a possible future,  in which time is less a result of a linear progression but one in which different temporalities can and at times do coalesce."

Apart from the laudable career of Enwezor and Silva in the area of art management on the international space, Nigerian artists -home and Diaspora - have little to prove.

From celebrated contemporary Nigerian-born British artists such as Yinka Shonibare and Chris Ofili who have taken the reputation of African artists to a new high - following the tracks of old modernist masters such as Ben Enwonu, Yusuf Grillo and Bruce Onobrakpeya, and others - the world would not, but give attention to the deluge of creative strength coming from the continent, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  Okwui Enwezor, Curator at Visual Arts, Venice Biennale (left) and Paolo Baratta, President of the event
Also, the story of ascendancy of African art on the global art outlets such as art fairs, art auctions and biennales is incomplete without mentioning artists of Nigerian origin. Even, one of Africa's most valuable living artists, Ghanaian, El Anatsui, has his creative allegiance rooted in Nigeria where he has been a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State for over three decades.

However, it is an irony that the rich tradition of Nigerians in contributing to the pool of development in visual arts, within and outside Africa has not been adequately articulated at home.

Lack of a biennale art event or consistent art fair/expo remains a challenge. But a proposed Abuja Biennale, which has been in the making since 2013, is expected to hold this year.

When Enwezor was announced as the curator last year, Ludwig Spaenle, the Bavarian State Minister for Education, Science, and the Arts said: "I congratulate Enwezor on his appointment, which is an extraordinary recognition of his work, and which reflects on the international value that his activities and influence bring to Haus der Kunst."

In his words, Baratta described Enwezor as someone "with an ample history of activities and studies in a wide range of topics concerning art." He argued that Enwezor "has investigated, in particular, the complex phenomenon of globalisation in relation to local roots. His personal experience is a decisive starting point for the geographic range of his analysis, for the temporal depth of recent developments in the art world, and for the variegated richness of the present."

Silva is an independent curator and the founder/director at Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA,Lagos) which opened in December 2007. She was co-curator of ‘The Progress of Love’, a transcontinental collaboration across three venues in US and Nigeria, in 2012. She was co-curator of J.D.Okhai Ojeikere: Moments of Beauty’, Kiasma, Helsinki (April – Nov. 2011). She curated Marker, a section dedicated to art of West African origin at Art Dubai International, 2013 edition.

Enwezor is a writer, curator, and director at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany. His work as artistic director at the Documenta 11 Kassel, in 2002 remains a reference point in the history of contemporary art across the world.

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