Monthly Archives: May 2011

Shifting Boundaries: The Semantic Promiscuity of Blackness

What does it mean to shift boundaries? The panelists at the Eighth Annual American Art History Graduate Student Symposium at Yale University explored strategies of deconstructing the subject matter of “Black Art” through critical interpretation.  Each student was examining “Black Art” from the perspective of American Art discourse. The discussions ranged from comparing the physical architectural structures of African American and African Diasporan museums to redefining the position of black artists place in the context of art history …read more

One of the panelists, Katherine Jentelson presented  the work of William Edmondson in the framework of his agency being defined according to institutional agendas. He was a sculptor, grave stone artist, and the first African American  artist to have a solo exhibition at the MoMA in the 1930s.  The show at MoMA was marketed with the phrase “a Negro Shows art in the Modern Museum” in Time magazine.  One of Jentelson’s main  polemics was the way Edmonson was characterised and manufactured by a “White Supremacist institution,” as she calls it …read more

Much like Jentelson, Joanna Fiduccia also discussed the reframing of a black artist’s work. She presented an intriguing  analysis of William Pope L.’s public performances. Her presentation posited that Pope L.’s work could be framed in the context of land art. The main works which she examined were his self burial piece and William Pope L.’s crawling performances.  She said that Pope L. “opens up space and democratizes it”. The masochistic nature of the crawls can be seen as a means of ‘obliterating the body’ which was compared to the racist practice of lynching in which, once obliterated, the body becomes integrated into the landscape …read more

The keynote speaker was Northwestern University Professor and Harvard University WEB Dubois Institute for African African American Research Fellow, Huey Copeland, discussing his book entitled, Bound To Appear. His book  discusses the work of Renee Green, Lorna Simpson, Glenn Ligon and Fred Wilson. He asserts that these artists are architects of the what Copeland termed the “lingua franca” of black political dissent in in the form of installation art. Each of the artists integrated text, objects, and other elements such as sound to establish connections to ideas of race and agency indirectly referencing the issues of the time, for example, LA riots, Rodney King, police brutality …read more

The Symposium managed to address some relevant questions and simultaneously prove to be problematic. The  shifting boundaries seemed to be moving towards a new era of ubiquitous historical revisionism. Are boundaries shifting to a place where there can be an accessible discourse on black art where the normative group can avoid the paternalistic pitfalls of the past? It is doubtful.

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Contributed by: Jabari Owens-Bailey, Curatorial Fellow


(Re-) Mapping the field: a bird’s eye view on discourses

Have you been waiting on tenterhooks for the second edition of the journal SAVVY | art.contemporary.african.? Well the waiting was worth the trouble… we hereby present to you edition 1 of this journal, entitled (Re-) Mapping the field: a bird’s eye view on discourses:

The challenge of any journal aiming at hoisting the flag of art critic and thus putting critical writing on art as its fundament is to pin point the eye of the storm in the cyclone of positions and criticism within the realms of its conceptual background. To participate in the discourse means not only to add fuel to it but also see how far one can go. A discourse is the only context where ideals, ideas or concepts can be taken towards the end.

In this light, the editors of the journal SAVVY | art.contemporary.african. sailed out on a journey to map the field by capturing an overview on some ongoing discourses in academic and non-academic circles by renegotiating and reflecting on terminologies, spaces, concepts and contexts at stake in the field of contemporary African art.

In this “Mapping the field” expedition: Simon Njami recounts the incentive and onset of Revue Noire in Ancient guilt, new tool; Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie reshuffles the cards in Where is Africa in Global Contemporary Art? while; Riason Naidoo reflects on his historical milestone 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective, inter alia. The trip also accompanies us through features on: Otobong Nkanga and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; negotiates turns on interviews with the likes of Odili Donald Odita in Chromatic Symphony; and re-imagines with Ntone Edjabe,  publisher of the literary journal of arts, culture and politics, Chimurenga magazine. The journey takes a retrospective glimpse at exhibitions with African artists on board like: Make Yourself at Home  in the  Kunsthal Charlottenborg; The Idea of Africa (re-invented) in theKunsthalle Bern; AFROPOLIS in  Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, as well as; the Addis Foto Fest 2010 and; an almost nostalgic take on Okwui Enwezor’s The Short Century.

You are welcome to a free subscription of the journal. To take up this offer click here:

We will keep you informed about the schedule of the next edition.

Have fun reading and we are looking forward to a thrilling feedback!

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung | Editor-in-chief
Andrea Heister | Deputy Editor-in-chief

Contributors to edition 1
Simon Njami, Sylvester Okwonodu Ogbechie, Annette Schemmel, Fiona Siegenthaler, Kangsen Feka Wakai, Aicha Diallo, Brenda Cooper, Andrea Heister, Prune Helfter, Nancy Hoffmann, Missla Libsekal, Alanna Lockward, Riason Naidoo, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Katja Vobiller, Claudia Lamas Cornejo, Johanna Ndikung, Simone Kraft.

Ontology of Blackness: Beauty and Fashion

One cannot talk about beauty or fashion without discussing the body. Bringing the two together (the black body as explored through beauty and fashion) is what Tisch School of the Arts and Institute of African-American Affairs presented at the two day symposium, Beauty and Fashion: The Black Portrait Symposium.  I saw this symposium as an ontology of blackness, a philosphical exploration, with fashion as the lens to explore black existence and the categories that this existence lies in. Fashion (past, present, future) is a category to understand the systematics of how black identity, and racial identity generally, is thought through and subversed …read more

The symposium was made up of lectures and panels by scholars and artists from diverse fields. Two panel discussions that cohesively exemplified the main concept behind the symposium where Body & Image and Fashioning Beauty. The first to speak was photographer, Xaviera Simmons, Mimi Plange a fashion designer followed. Her whose inspiration for her Winter 2011 collection of women’s clothing drew on the ritual of scarrification that members of her own family have experienced. Lauren Kelley is a film maker who is working on how images and interactions can infiltrate views on race and class to children at a young age …read more

Panel two, Fashioning Beauty, included: Leslie King-Hammond and Lowery Stokes Sims speaking on their collaborative exhibition at Museum of Art and Design, Global Africa Project. Maya Lake, a young fashion designer, followed the talk on The Global Africa Project. She started her own clothing line, Boxing Kitten. Lake combines common African fabrics that were fashioned in the 1960s and 1970s black power movement with conservative styles of the 1950s during the civil rights movement …read more

Anthony Barboza is a seasoned photographer who has worked for Essence magazine whose work was used as the cover photo for this symposium.  Michaela Angela Davis followed and gave a fiery lecture on the fashion world’s ignorance of the black body. The last panelist to speak was Nigerian-born, London-based fashion designer Doro Olowu, whose work was shown in The Global Africa Project … read more

What connects black experience? Why can there be a shared black body from people all over the world – whose communities move from country to country? Systems of oppression have united (and created) ‘the black body’. It is interesting to see how fashion can work to subversively reclaim ones identity, or to reclaim who can’t.

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Contributed by MoCADA Curatorial Fellows

Yinka Shonibare: ‘I am as free as Picasso’

Yinka Shonibare's 'Ship in a bottle'. Photo from: Andy Field (Hubmedia) (flickr)

Last year, London-based Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare, Member of the British Empire (MBE) unveiled a scale model of Nelson’s ship HMS Victory in a bottle at Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.  He spoke on his 30-year sojourn in the UK, his belief in African culture and his dream for Nigerian artists, among other issues, at a lecture in Lagos. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME was there.
AFTER 30 years sojourn in the UK, internationally acclaimed Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare returned home to a warm reception by his kinsmen and professional colleagues last Wednesday in Lagos. The event was the Articulate lectures series organised by Bisi Silva’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, Lagos at the Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
With nostalgic feelings, he poured out his heart sharing his decades of artistic practice in the UK and used slides to illustrate the presentation that was laced with conviviality. E ku role, Eku joko; he greeted the audience, including his elated aged mother, Mrs. Shonibare, who was flanked by other relations. Expectedly, he acknowledged the assistance of Prof. Grillo Yusuf who he sought his advice before travelling, saying: “Thanks for having me. I have not been here for 30 years. I managed to build a career for myself.”
From his old works such as Deep Blue, to Double Dutch, Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Vacation, Alien obsessive-Man, Dad and the Kid, The Swing, Black Gold, How to blow up two heads at once, The crowning, The confession and Nelson’s ship in a bottle, Shonibare unveiled for the first time the diverse content of his collection to the expectant local audience. In fact, his talks and works were in consonant with the contextual underpinnings of his collection-global politics, freedom, colonialism, identity and culture.
Despite the long years of his stay in the UK, the artist who feels at home speaking in his local language, Yoruba, still believes strongly about the sanctity and relevance of his roots. And he sees art as a potent tool of propaganda, which he said, is being used by the West. “America at a time used art to challenge Russia during the Cold War. Art is very powerful in the West and the government used it as a tool of propaganda. Adolf Hitler thought modern artists were mad men and rebellious,” he said.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Shonibare paints mostly on Ankara fabrics, which is common among Africans. The choice of Ankara, he said, is a means to reassert his African identity among the Europeans. “I decided to paint on Ankara fabrics as my own way of reasserting my identity, which is, however, a mixture of culture. But I am a Lagosian…… In my works, I could have painted like any Briton, but I have to speak my mind… I am doing my own revolution. When I first got to England, I was very interested in global politics, so I started doing works that challenge the system,” he recalled, adding that he is not different from people on the streets carrying on campaigns for revolution.
He described artists as more serious political animals who are concerned with the goings on in the society, but expressed their feelings through media. At the college, a teacher once asked him why he was not doing authentic African art?  He replied, saying, ‘I am a modern man,’ stressing that in Europe, there is an expectation and they feel Africans are primitive. At that period, people were no longer talking about modernism and the big museums were showing only the big artists at the detriment of non-Europeans and women. Driven by the fight against colonialism, a post-colonialsm movement, comprising those wanting to empower the colonised, emerged. 

Yinka Shonibare "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle", Press Launch, Fourth Plinth, London. Photo from: daisybush (flickr)

He recalled that instead of showing his work, Diary of A Dandy, in a gallery, he took it an underground station into interrogation and challenge the people. He said though his works are very critical of the society, but are never aggressive because there is a lot of humour in them. He cited How to blow up two heads at once to show that no man wins a war as both parties are losers.
Reacting to the absence of his works in collections of Nigerian art collectors, Shonibare said it is unfortunate that Chris Ofili and he are hundred per cent collected by Europeans, lamenting that “it is our heritage that we are losing to them.”
“Art collecting in America and Europe is a legacy for the people. My works in their collection can’t find their way to Nigeria. And I can’t divulge the figures about my works. Lots of museums collect my works in the ratio of private 60 per cent and public 40 percent. I do collect myself. I remember buying a painting from a German artist for 5,000 pounds, which I later sold for 70,000 pounds.
Beyond, the use of Ankara fabrics, observers wondered why his works are not reflecting enough of African culture. “I am free like Picasso and we are all global. My work is not about representation but the politics of representation. I am not using fabric to represent Africanism. Unfortunately, the legacy of colonialism is everywhere in the country.” 
His dream for Nigerian art and artists is for Lagos to have a befitting museum that will raise the quality and standard of art practice in the country. The content of my work is a continuum of global art,” he explained. Present at the lecture were artists, collectors, gallery owners, student artists and admirers that included Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Prof. Yusuf Grillo, Chief Joe Musa, Emeka Udemba, Olu Amoda, Ndidi Dike, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters, Wale Shonibare and Dr. Demola Azeez. 
Shonibare was born in London and moved to Lagos, at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art, first at Byam Shaw College of Art (now Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design) and later at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA – graduating as part of the ‘Young British Artists’ generation. Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonial and post-colonial themes.
His work explores these issues through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance. With this wide range of media, Shonibare examines in particular the construction of identity and the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe. Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial’ hybrid, he questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions.
In 2004, Shonibare was shortlisted for the Turner Prize and in 2009, he won a commission for the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, for which he unveiled in 2010 a scale model of Nelson’s ship HMS Victory in a bottle. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and internationally at leading museums worldwide.
Ozolua Uhakheme

This piece was written by Ozolua Uhakheme and published in THE NATION, on April 27. It can be found on the paper’s web:

Changing “The Master Plan”: Hybridity and Black art and Design

Parsons School of Design at The New School hosted its first international conference on the state of Black culture in art and design education recently. The lens of day two of the conference revolved around past and current qualms of Black Cultural Production: its value is great yet not enough of it is presented on a grand scale… Two sets of panelists discussed the history, present, and future of black cultural art through their own artistic endeavours.

Renowned interdisciplinary artist and organizer of this conference, Coco Fusco set the dynamic tone for the day with fiery statements …read more  

Noel Mayo, keynote speaker, started by referencing John Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction. As high school dropout rates in black communities increase, incarceration rates correlate. Mayo proposed an idea to counteract these statistics by offering prisoners high school education for a lesser sentence …read more

Susan Cahan, an associated dean from Yale College, offered a historical lens through her thesis that art historic movements of community art spaces in New York City were segregated spaces for larger established museums in the 1970s to push black art into black institutions… larger museums were therefore justified in not incorporating more diversity into their own museum walls …read more 

For the first of its kind, Parsons hosted a successful international conference on black art and design education. The economic tone of the day’s events shed a new light on how to put forth change effectively in a field that can thrive under refreshing new voices. However, change seemed to be emphasized by material production. In a heightened technological age where individuals can achieve significant success, unheard voices still have difficulty being voiced.

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Contributed by: Zemen Kidane, Curatorial Fellow



West Indies Fiction: a bibliography

West Indies Poetry: a bibliography

Both are now available as free downloads from: 

These bibliographies have been compiled by George Parfitt who was born in Trinidad but has lived in England since 1954 and was educated at the University of Bristol. He spent most of his working life as Lecturer and, later, Reader in English Literature at the University of Nottingham. He is a published poet and has also published on seventeenth-century literature and on First World War poetry and fiction. He says of these West Indian Bibliographies…

“The volume of creative writing in English by Caribbean authors has greatly increased in recent decades, but I realised several years ago that no adequate bibliographies existed for fiction, poetry or drama. Useful bibliographies do exist but mainly for separate units of the Caribbean and some are highly selective. I am trying to improve the situation with separate bibliographies for the three genres mentioned (up to 2005)., each organised by author while arranging the material so that searches by, for example, date or territory can be done easily. The fiction bibliography is the most advanced – with around 900 entries – while there is more work to be done for poetry – which also has around 900 entries to date – while the drama bibliography is the least developed currently.

“I hope that these documents, which are still being updated, will help to make the scope, variety and quality of Caribbean writing in English more widely known.”

These bibliographies are accessible individually as follows:

West Indies Fiction: a bibliography in progress
A bibliography of fiction in English by West Indian writers, from the earliest works to 2005. More than 850 individual titles are listed, along with authors’ names, birthplace and publication details.

West Indies Poetry: a bibliography in progress
A bibliography of poetry in English by West Indian writers to 2005. More than 950 titles currently listed.

Emerging Curatorial Models: MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellows Attend The Now Museum Conference

From Thursday, March 10 to Sunday, March 13, Independent Curators International, the New Museum, and the Ph.D. Program in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center collaborated to present an international conference, The Now Museum: Contemporary Art, Curating Histories, Alternative Models. The conference drew a diverse collection of international curators, students, art historians, scholars and artists, all interested in interrogating the central question: “What do museums of contemporary art stand for today?” MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellows were in attendance to explore related themes and think about the politics and emerging practices of developing innovative curatorial models specifically for a museum dedicated to contemporary art of the African Diaspora.

The third day of the conference was organized under the umbrella topic, Expanding Infrastructures. The first panel discussion, Platforms & Networks, chaired by Kate Fowle, Director of Independent Curators International, New York, facilitated dialogue on …read more 

Lu Jie, Director and Chief Curator of the Long March Project in Beijing gave a talk which stood out as an excellent case study for examining emerging curatorial practices, conceiving new models for community involvement, and combating capitalistic practices of traditional museums. The curatorial mission of the 2004 project was to bring contemporary international and Chinese art to the rural and working classes of China to combat issues of access, focussing on The Great Survey of Paper-Cuttings in Yanchuan County …read more

Later that afternoon, Eungie Joo, Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs at the New Museum chaired the second panel of the day’s program, Bricks & Mortar. The session delved into questions of the politics of physical and imagined museum space. …  Gabi Ngcobo brought a much needed local, grassroots perspective to the discussion. Ngcobo discussed the fact that South Africa is home to a number of large, historic, and well endowed museums and art institutions, including the South African National Gallery (est. 1930) and the Johannesburg Art Gallery (est. 1915). However, because these venues were built to aid apartheid and the colonial project, history is steeped in their very structure. … In contrast to these traditional institutions, Ngcobo introduced the audience to the Center for Historical Reenactments (CHR), established in 2010…read more

Like these spaces, MoCADA sees itself as an example of an emerging model, specifically dedicated to examining the history, arts, and cultures of the African Diaspora through its mission, programming, and multimedia curatorial model. The concept of the museum is not static, and its physicality, indivisible from its ideology, is also constantly in flux. As Ngcobo stated simply, “The ideal museum is currently under construction all over the world.” As MoCADA enters its second decade of operation, you can expect cutting-edge exhibitions and a new curatorial model, international partnerships that emphasize diaspora and movement, and don’t be surprised if you see the museum popping up in unlikely places in 2011.

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Contributed by: Isissa Komada-John,  Curatorial Fellow