|Emeka Okereke (left), during the award ceremony in Lagos.
This award was conferred as recognition of his contribution to the discourse on art in Africa, France and the world at large. The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) is an Order of France, established on 2 May 1957 by the Minister of Culture. Its purpose is the recognition of significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields.
Okereke will be one of the youngest Nigerian and African to be conferred with this honour. He joins the likes of Zanele Muholi, David Goldblatt, Shorna Urvashi, Olafur Eliasson, Tim Burton, Vanessa Paradis, Eva Green, George Clooney and many more acclaimed creatives who, in the past, received the same distinction.
Emeka Okereke, who was born in 1980, lives and works between Lagos and Berlin, moving from one to the other on a frequent basis. A past member of the renowned Nigerian photography collective Depth of Field (DOF), he holds a bachelor’s/master’s degree from the Ecole Nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris and has exhibited in biennales and art festivals in cities across the world, notably Lagos, Bamako, Cape Town, London, Berlin, Bayreuth, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Brussels, Johannesburg, New York, Washington, Barcelona, Seville, Madrid and Paris. In 2015, his work was exhibited at the 56th Venice Biennale, in the context of an installation titled A Trans-African Worldspace.
Okereke is the founder and artistic director of Invisible Borders Trans-African Project, an artist-led initiative that addresses gaps and misconceptions posed by frontiers dividing the 54 countries of the African continent. The project’s flagship undertaking is the Invisible Borders Trans-African Road Trip, wherein a dozen artists, including photographers, writers, filmmakers and performance artists collectively travel across Africa to explore and participate in various photographic events, festivals and exhibitions, while engaging on a daily basis with, and producing work about/in collaboration with, the people and the places they encounter.
Okereke's work oscillates between diverse mediums. He employs photography, video, poetry and performative interventions in the exploration of one over-arching theme: that of borders.
Another aspect of his artistic practice lies in the intersection between art-making and pedagogy, specifically, lecturung and project organising – coordinating artistic interventions that promote exchanges cutting across national and international platforms. In 2008, he organized the first ever photographic exchange project between schools in France and Nigeria – the Yaba College of Arts and Technology Lagos and Ecole Nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris. This was followed by Crossing Compasses: Lagos-Berlin Photo Exchange and Converging Visions: Nigeria-Netherlands Photo Exchange (2012).
Okereke has served as guest/visiting lecturer in several art platforms and learning institutions – most recently Hartford University’s MFA program in photography and Summer Academy of Fine Arts, Salzburg Austria (July 2018).