Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Assistant or Associate Professor position in African and African Diaspora Art & Visual Culture, Queens University

The Department of Art History and Art Conservation in the Faculty of Arts and Science, in conjunction with the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC), at Queen’s University, invites applications for a Queen's National Scholar (QNS) position at the rank of Associate or Assistant Professor with a specialization in the   Arts and Visual Culture of Africa and/or its Diaspora (historical or contemporary). This is a tenured or tenure-­‐track position with a preferred start date of July 1, 2018.  Further information on the Queen’s National Scholar Program can be found on the website of the Office of the Vice-­‐Principal (Research).

Open to scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, preference will be given to established candidates who have as a primary field African and/or African Diaspora arts and visual culture, and a secondary strength in curatorial or museum studies. The successful candidate will have a record of scholarly research and publication; an interest in theoretical or contextual approaches such as Black studies, critical race studies, and/or critical museology; a record of collaborative or community-­‐based scholarship and a demonstrated capacity for experiential teaching and learning; and a record of successful curatorial projects. Appointees will teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels, participate
in graduate supervision at the MA and PhD levels across the university, and fulfill a curatorial role at the AEAC, which holds an outstanding collection of Central and West African art from the late 19th to the mid-20th    century.   

This position complements and extends existing research and teaching strengths in the study of art and visual cultures within the Department of Art History and Art Conservation. The successful candidate will establish new, as well as expand current research networks, work collaboratively across departments, and advance the impact of Queen’s research and collections nationally and internationally. At the AEAC, the successful candidate will contribute towards exhibition and collections development, including modern and contemporary arts of Africa and its diaspora, research and programming, and lead student learning experiences including internships, gallery-­‐focused seminars, and practica.

Candidates should have a PhD or equivalent degree completed at the start date of the appointment. The successful candidate will provide evidence of high-quality scholarly output that demonstrates potential for independent research leading to peer assessed publications and the securing of external research funding, as well as strong potential for outstanding teaching contributions, and an ongoing commitment to academic and pedagogical excellence in support of the department’s programs. Candidates must provide evidence of an ability to work collaboratively in an interdisciplinary and student-­‐centered environment. The successful candidate will be required to make substantive contributions through service to the department, the Faculty, the University, and/or the broader community including the AEAC. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. This position is subject to final budgetary approval by the University.

The Queen’s National Scholar Program expects that the successful candidate will demonstrate their ability to provide a rich and rewarding learning experience to all their students, and to develop a research program that aligns well with the University’s priorities. Further information on teaching and research priorities at Queen’s is available in the Queen’s Academic Plan and the Queen’s Strategic Research Plan.

The University invites applications from all qualified individuals. Queen’s is committed to employment equity and diversity in the workplace and welcomes applications from women, visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ persons. All qualified candidates are encouraged


to apply; however, in accordance with Canadian immigration requirements, Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada will be given priority.

To comply with federal laws, the University is obliged to gather statistical information as to how many applicants for each job vacancy are Canadian citizens / permanent residents of Canada. Applicants need not identify their country of origin or citizenship; however, all applications must include one of the following statements: “I am a Canadian citizen / permanent resident of Canada”; OR, “I am not a Canadian citizen / permanent resident of Canada”. Applications that do not include this information will be deemed incomplete.

A complete application consists of:

  •  a cover letter (including one of the two statements regarding Canadian citizenship / permanent resident status specified in the previous paragraph);
  • a current Curriculum Vitae (including a list of publications);
  • a statement of research interest; 
  • a statement of teaching interests and experience (including teaching outlines and evaluations if available); and,
  •  three letters of reference to be sent directly by the referees to Professor Joan M. Schwartz, Department Head at the address below.
The deadline for applications is January 8, 2018. Applicants are encouraged to send all documents in their application packages electronically as PDFs to Professor Joan M. Schwartz at schwartz@queensu.ca, although hard copy applications may be submitted to:

Joan M. Schwartz, PhD, FRSC Professor and Head
Department of Art History and Art Conservation
Ontario Hall 318C
67 University Avenue
Queen’s University Kingston,
 Ontario CANADA K7L 3N6

The University will provide support in its recruitment processes to applicants with disabilities, including accommodation that takes into account an applicant’s accessibility needs. If you require accommodation during the interview process, please contact Diane Platt in The Department of Art History and Art Conservation, at plattd@queensu.ca.

Academic staff at Queen’s University are governed by a  Collective Agreement between the University and the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA), which is posted at http://queensu.ca/facultyrelations/facultyibrariansandarchivists/collectiveagreement and at http://www.qufa.ca.


Appointments are subject to review and final approval by the Principal. Candidates holding an existing tenure-­‐track or continuing-­‐adjunct appointment at Queen’s will not be considered.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Christopher Okonkwo's Princeton Lecture:"Why the ‘Achebe’ Gap in Toni Morrison Studies", Nov. 16, 2017


Christopher Okonkwo, University of Missouri-Columbia
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2017 - 
4:30PM TO 6:00PM
144 LOUIS A. SIMPSON INTERNATIONAL BUILDING
In this lecture, Dr. Okonkwo contemplates the premise that much of the scholarship on Toni Morrison continues to operate as though it has never heard of Chinua Achebe or the extraordinarily complimentary things Morrison has said about him relative to her own work and thought.
Dr. Christopher Okonkwo is an Associate Professor of English with tenure and a doctoral faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia. His major fields of research and teaching are 20th through 21st century African American literature and culture, African literature in English, and post-colonial and modernist theories.  Professor Okonkwo’s first book, A Spirit of Dialogue: Incarnations of Ợgbañje, the Born-to-Die, in African American Literature, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. In his review, Ernest Emenyonu describes this study as “the first of its kind in terms of in-depth focus, profundity of research, and resplendent analysis of targeted African mythology in contemporary African American literature." Dr. Okonkwo’s essays have appeared in Callaloo, Research in African Literatures, African American Review, CLA Journal, African Literature Today, MELUS, and Contemporary Literary Criticism. He is completing a second book titled Kindred Spirits: Chinua Achebe and Toni Morrison

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Photos of the new Louvre Abu Dhabi

Here are photos of the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel, and some installation shots from the permanent collection. I hope to find some time for comments on both the building and the collection. If not, just simply enjoy the images!


Jean Nouvel's Louvre Abu Dhabi, at night
All photos copyright, Chika Okeke-Agulu 




The Forum with showers of light

Forum with Guiseppe Penone bronze tree, Leaves of Light (2016)


Jenny Holzer's work (L): walls carved with manuscripts of Montaigne

Semi-outdoor performance stage overlooking the harbour


Forum with Guiseppe Penone bronze tree, Leaves of Light (2016)

"Grand Vestibule" of the Permanent Collection galleries

"Figures in Prayer" from Syria (2500-2400BCE), Gabon (1800-1900CE),
and Greece (2700-2300 BCE), in the Grand Vestibule  


Graeco-Roman, Nok, and Maya heads in the "Civilizations and
Empires" gallery

Benin bass sculptures in the "Magnificence of the Court" gallery

Sculpture cabinet in the "A Modern World?" gallery



Duchamp Bottle Rack (1959) and Kongo Power Figure, in the
"Challenging Modernity" gallery

"The Global Stage" gallery, with Ai Wei-Wei's Fountain of Light, 2016

Lucinda Childs Dance Company performance, Nov. 10, 2017


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Northwestern University seeks Full or Associate Professor of African Art History!

African Art History  – Associate / Full Professor

The Program of African Studies and the Department of Art History at Northwestern University invite applications for full-time associate or full professor position in African art history. We seek scholars of historical and/or modern African art who are able to teach courses in African visual cultures across time, geography, genre, and media. Candidates working on Sub-Saharan Africa are especially welcomed to apply. An ideal candidate will create bridges between the Department of Art History and the Program of African Studies, as well as other Northwestern University departments, programs,  and Chicago area museums and institutions that support the study of African art. The successful candidate’s appointment will be within the Department of Art History, known for innovative, cross-cultural scholarship with existing strengths in African-American, African Diaspora and Middle East and North African arts and visual cultures.

For more information about the department, visit http://arthistory.northwestern.edu. For information about the Program of African Studies, including instructions for how to submit an application, visit the Program of African Studies website: http://www.africanstudies.northwestern.edu/  Review of applications will begin on 15 December 2017. Administrative inquiries may be directed to Tiffany Williams-Cobleigh t.cobleigh@northwestern.edu, 1-847-491-7323.


Northwestern University is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action Employer of all protected classes, including veterans and individuals with disabilities. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged to apply. Hiring is contingent upon eligibility to work in the United States.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Job Announcement: Assistant Professor of African/African Diaspora Art @USC

Position: Assistant Professor of African and/or African Diasporic History of Art, Visual, and/or Material Culture

The Department of Art History in the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA) invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in African and/or African Diasporic history of art, visual, and/or material culture. This position is expected to begin August 2018. The area and period of expertise is open, and various methodological and theoretical approaches are welcome. We have a particular interest in scholarship that contributes to increasing the diversity of the department’s intellectual life and offerings.

The successful candidate will teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate level and participate actively in the intellectual life of the department and the university. Candidates must possess a Ph.D. at the time of appointment and show exceptional scholarly promise. Interested candidates should provide:
1) a cover letter that includes a discussion of research and teaching, 
2) a curriculum vitae, 
3) two writing samples, at least one of which should be a chapter from a dissertation or book manuscript, and 
4) the names and contact information of three referees who will be contacted in a system-generated email to provide letters. 

In order to be considered for this position, applicants are required to submit an electronic USC application; follow this job link or paste in a browser: https://usccareers.usc.edu/job/los-angeles/assistant-professor-of-african-and-or-african-diasporic-history-of-art-visual-and-or-material-cultu/1209/5673781 . Review of applications will begin on November 1. 

Questions about the position can be directed to Professor Sonya Lee (sonyasle@usc.edu).


USC is an equal-opportunity educator and employer, proudly pluralistic and firmly committed to providing equal opportunity for outstanding persons of every race, gender, creed and background. The University particularly encourages women, members of underrepresented groups, veterans and individuals with disabilities to apply. USC will make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with known disabilities unless doing so would result in an undue hardship. Further information is available by contacting uschr@usc.edu.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Assistant Professor of Art History: Art of Africa and the African Diaspora @ Rutgers University

Assistant Professor of Art History: Art of Africa and the African Diaspora, Rutgers University-Newark

The Department of Arts, Culture and Media is seeking a tenure-track Art Historian specializing in the Art of Africa and the African Diaspora, although outstanding candidates with expertise in Latin American/Pre-Columbian Art or Asian/SE Asian Art may be considered.  The position is part of an Art History program within a department that also includes undergraduate programs in Art, Graphic Design, Journalism, Music, Theater, and Video Production, as well as a graduate program in Jazz Studies. 

Responsibilities: Candidates must be able to teach introductory and advanced undergraduate courses in African/African diasporic visual cultures, as well as other art history courses that support the curriculum.  There are also opportunities for interdisciplinary and collaborative teaching both within the Department and across the campus.  Candidates must: be dedicated to providing quality instruction; contribute to the department's multidisciplinary focus; and undertake independent scholarly activity appropriate for advancement within Rutgers University. Responsibilities also include undergraduate advising/mentoring, as well as departmental and university service with a willingness to take on administrative responsibility.

Requirements: Candidates must have: a Ph.D. by the time of appointment; relevant teaching experience; a record of scholarly work and a clear research agenda, demonstrating the ability to build a body of recognized work suitable for tenure at a research university. 

How to Apply: Use the online application portal below to submit: a letter of application addressing qualifications for this position; C.V.; statement of teaching philosophy; statement of research goals; names and email addresses of three references


Review of applications begins immediately; on-line application portal closes January 15, 2018.  Rutgers University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer.

Monday, October 9, 2017

On the Gombey Festival in Bermuda

With Hon. E. David Burt, JP, MP, the new Premier of Bermuda, at the Gombeys Festival in Hamilton, Bermuda

Last Friday, I was in Bermuda to give the 12th Annual Dr. Kenneth E. Robinson and Cyril Outerbridge Packwood Memorial Lecture, at the invitation of the territory's Department of Community and Cultural Affairs. The lecture series, for the first time, coincided with the Gombey Festival, which one of Bermuda's major cultural events.

Truth be told, I did not know about this impressive masking tradition, until my invitation in September to speak about masking in Africa and the African Diaspora. Learning about the Gombey was revelatory, especially for someone like me who holds dear the Igbo tradition of beautiful, colorful dancing masks, such as Ulaga, Ogba-Mgbada, Agbogho Mmuo, Ogwulugwu, and others. The Gombey, in its emphasis on vigorous dance routines, reminiscent of various West Africa masks, is celebrated for its high tempo, lyrical and acrobatic dance. The history of the Gombey and its relationship to other similar masked performances in St. Kitts, Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean Islands are still being sorted out by historians. It sure deserves an art history/visual culture dissertation-level study, not simply because I suspect it would open up new ways of thinking about the cultural histories of these Islands' interrelationships, but also their connections to Africa. But also simply because this is one hell of a masking phenomenon, with a history conflictual relationship with Colonial-era regimes and elite society.


Remembrance for Terry "Termite" Simmons (1954-17), a celebrated leader of the Gombeys


Bermuda Donqili Dancers, Directed by Michael Simmons

Guro mask acquired from Cote d'Ivoire introduced to the Festival for the first time by Michael Simmons






The major question, now that the government of Bermuda has more or less taken up the Gombey as a key part of the territory's cultural heritage and folklife, is how to sustain it, without turning it into full-blown tourist item, and in the process sidelining the families and groups for whom the event still is a vital part of their heritage, an important vehicle for asserting their links to the past even as they struggle to make a living in the present.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fung Global Fellowships @ Princeton

The 2018-19 program topic is ”Interdependence.” Food, clothes, entertainment, and the security and health of the planet depend on what distant people do for, with, and against others. Sometimes, recognition of interdependence has led to cooperation, other times to conquest or competition, and frequently to a mixture of all three. Oftentimes, new social identities and movements, national, regional, and religious, emerge in response to rising interdependence and the convergences and inequities it has produced. The goal of the 2018-19 Fung Global Fellows cohort will be to explore the ways people learned to rely on or to reject strangers far away, as well as to imagine how global relationships came to be and could be different. We invite applications from scholars whose work addresses this topic in any historical period or world region and from any disciplinary background.

Applications are due by November 1, 2017 (11:59 p.m. EST).

*** DEADLINE EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER, 20, 2017 (11:59 p.m. EST)***

Eligibility Criteria:

1. Eligible are scholars who received their Ph.D. or equivalent within 10 years of the proposed start date of the fellowship; for the 2018-19 program that is no earlier than September 1, 2008. 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. All qualified applicants will receive consideration without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.
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.

Application Requirements:


The following items will need to be submitted by the applicant, in English:
  • Online application
  • Cover letter (1.5 pages maximum)
  • Curriculum Vitae (including publications)
  • 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 2018-2019 at Princeton University
  • Names and email addresses for three referees, who will be contacted with an invitation to upload their letter of recommendation to the online application system
Please see frequently asked questions and answers on the application process. Further inquiries about the program may be directed to fung-gfp@princeton.edu.

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Applications due Oct 15

Applications for the 2018-2020 A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship are due Oct. 15. In this round, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) explicitly encourages applications in the fields of the visual arts and cultures of African Americans, Africa, and the African diaspora.



If interested, click on the Postdoctoral Fellowship Website for more information. This is a fantastic, highly competitive and valuable fellowship. It is great to see that CASVA is emphasizing applications from Africa-related fields. 



Applicants must have received their PhDs between October 1, 2012, and October 1, 2017, to qualify for the postdoctoral fellowship. If earlier than 2012, you may want to apply for the senior scholars' fellowship, and if you are still working on your dissertation, there are a few predoctoral fellowships (Mellon and Ittleson), but for these, you need to be nominated by your academic department. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Positioning Nigerian Modernism Symposium at the Tate Modern, Sept. 27-28



FOREWORD

We are delighted to be able to present this major international conference at Tate Modern, which will reconsider the origins and socio-political underpinnings of modernism in Nigeria and West Africa more broadly and the legacy of some of its key proponents. One hundred years after the birth of pioneering Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu, a resolute defender of the value of African culture internationally, it is timely to emphasise the contributions of artists active in the years before and after decolonisation and reconsider the context in which they were working. This conference seeks to address issues around the formation of post-colonial identity, the preservation of history and the impact of transnationalism and decolonisation in art criticism and museum collections today.

We were overwhelmed by the response we received to our open call for papers. The breadth and depth of research being undertaken by colleagues around the world is exciting and encouraging. Art histories are being written and re-written and we are honoured to be able to bring together scholars from major museums and academic institutions in Nigeria, Germany, Austria, the United States and the United Kingdom who are at the forefront of rethinking modernism. We hope that this conference will provide a platform for ideas to be shared and for the discourse to be developed further. We are extremely grateful for their collaboration. We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Oliver Enwonwu, Sylvester Ogbechie and Neil Coventry whose tireless work over many years has informed our own.

This landmark event would not have been possible without the generous support of Yvonne Ike and Aigboje and Ofovwe Aig-Imoukhuede who are long-term supporters of Ben Enwonwu. We thank them not only for their financial contribution, but also for their steadfast vision.

Kerryn Greenberg (Curator, International Art, Tate Modern)
Bea Gassmann de Sousa (Independent Curator)


SPONSORS’ STATEMENTS

Nigerian art has a rich history dating back to 1000 BC. To my mind, Nigerian modernism includes some of Africa’s best-known artists such as the Zaria Rebels, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Uche Okeke, Simon Okeke, Demas Nwoko and other significant masters such as Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu and more recently El Anatsui.

Ben Enwonwu was the most persistent internationally successful artist to promote Nigerian art on the global stage. In August 1943 he wrote, ‘I submit that the modern African artist can go to seek inspiration for the new art of his country even in Europe. The only trouble is that in his work, he must be himself! He must be African! He must not imitate.’ Enwonwu’s contributions to Nigerian and African art cannot be understated. He was a visionary of his time.

The impact of the actions of these masters clearly extends beyond the arts. It is a commonly held view that culture and what we do to validate our common humanity through the arts is at the core of the good and beautiful life. Regardless of what our differences are; we are all prone to acculturate ourselves towards using the arts as an important means to help us understand ourselves more robustly and act as a motivating force to build bridges, not walls. Across all nations cultural stability in a nation adds measurably to how people see themselves in world history.

I am sure that Tate, a leading purveyor of culture, and this symposium will make history in helping to shape how Nigeria continues to creatively position herself globally within and beyond the arts in these complex modern times.

--Yvonne Ike

It is safe to say that the world has taken its fascination for African art to new heights. I was born, bred and made in Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country. Yet, for all of its historical contributions to modern art, globally, Nigeria has not been able to impose upon the global art world its own imprint, perhaps the opportunity is now.

It would be impossible to remark on modern African art without acknowledging the watershed moments of Pan-Africanism and the negritude movement which birthed many of our prominent modern masters and revealed the pioneering brilliance of the late Ben Enwonwu, who I knew as a child - in addition to works of other greats such as Aina Onabolu, Yusuf Grillo, Obiora Udechukwu, Uche Okeke and El Anatsui - whose individual contributions bore an authenticity yet remained aloof to categorisations like primitivism or authentically African.

I am privileged to have been immersed in African and international cultures and experienced some of Nigeria’s greatest art and artists - having had a uniquely art-filled childhood thanks to my parent’s cultural engagement. I have collected art for over 40 years. More importantly I am a keen observer of a new wave - which has ushered in a lasting environment for the production of art and the exchange of concepts - and I can conclude that now more than ever is a crucial time, in the words of this conference’s organisers ‘to examine strategies of cultural independence and to reflect upon the impact
of transnationalism.’

As Nigerian art is celebrated and re-explored and as we create new histories to pass on to our children and their children we must ask critical questions about our legacies, the preservation of our culture, what the future holds for African art and our changing understanding of history. I hope that we can use this symposium to reflect, discuss and act unfailingly on the results of our discourse to position Nigerian modernism both in our indigenous context and that of the other.

--Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede

KEYNOTE LECTURE

PROFESSOR CHIKA OKEKE-AGULU
THURSDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 2017
18.30 - 20.00

Welcome by Kerryn Greenberg
Introduction by Yvonne Ike

Chika Okeke-Agulu is an artist, curator, and Professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Archaeology and the Department for African American Studies at Princeton University. He is the author of Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text (Skira Editore, 2016), Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria (Duke University Press, 2015), and with Okwui Enwezor, of Contemporary African Art Since 1980 (Damiani, 2009). He is coeditor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art and other edited volumes. In 2016, he received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism from the College Art Association; the Melville J. Herskovits Award, given by the African Studies Association to the author of the most important scholarly work in African studies published in English in 2015; and Distinguished Alumnus Award for Outstanding
Service to the Arts (The College of the Arts, University of South Florida, Tampa). In 2017, he received Honorable Mention, the Arnold Rubin Award for Outstanding Publication, from the Arts Council of African Studies Association. He sits on the boards of the College Art Association and Princeton in Africa. Okeke-Agulu is a columnist for The Huffington Post and maintains the blog, Ofodunka: Art. Life. Politics.


FRIDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 2017
Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern
10.00 – 17:45

10.20 – Welcome by Kerryn Greenberg
10.30

10.30 – MODERNISM AND INDEPENDENCE IN WEST AFRICA
11.45

  • Négritude and Natural Synthesis in the Formation of Modernism in West Africa - Alinta Sara
  • Performing Pan-Africanism: Major African Cultural Festivals from Dakar’66 to FESTAC ’77 - David Murphy
  • Weathering the Storm: Ben Enwonwu’s Biafrascapes and the Crisis in the Nigerian Postcolony - Matthew Lecznar
  • Q&A moderated by Paul Goodwin

11.45 – BREAK
12.15

12.15 – THE FORMATION OF NATIONAL IDENTITY AND PRESERVATION
13.30 OF HISTORY

  • The Family Archive as Political Site - Bea Gassmann de Sousa
  • Rewriting Art History with the Estate of Ulli Beier - Lena Naumann and Siegrun Salmanian
  • Nigeria’s Nucleus: Modernism into the Future - William Rea
  • Q&A featuring Oliver Enwonwu, moderated by Bea Gassmann de Sousa

13.30 – LUNCH
14.30

14.30 – KNOWLEDGE AND LEGACY: UNEXPECTED TROPES
15.45

  • Michael Cardew and the Making of Ceramic Art Modernism in Nigeria in the 1950s and 60s - Ozioma Onuzulike
  • Deconstructing De-Colonialism in Nigerian Modernist Art - Folakunle Oshun
  • Nothing Wey Man Eye Never See: A Writer’s Way of Seeing - Emmanuel Iduma
  • Q&A moderated by Chika Okeke-Agulu

15.45 – BREAK
16.15

16.15 – COLLECTING MODERN AFRICAN ART: 1950 – 2017
17.30

  • Double Lack: Where Are the Women in Nigerian Modern Art? - Isabelle Malz
  • Painting Global Art: A Transmodern Perspective - Christian Kravagna
  • Fisk University Galleries and Modern Nigerian Art - Jamaal Sheats and Nikoo Paydar
  • Q&A moderated by Kerryn Greenberg

17.30 – Summation by Zoe Whitley
17.40

17.40 – Closing remarks by Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede
17.45


PARTICIPANTS
Oliver Enwonwu is the founder, executive director, and trustee of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation. He is also the president of the Society of Nigerian Artists, director of Omenka Gallery and CEO of Revilo Company Ltd, publishers of Omenka, an arts, business and luxury-lifestyle magazine.

Bea Gassmann de Sousa is the founder of the Agency Gallery, London and an independent curator and researcher. She curated the exhibition A Portrait in Fragments: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-82) with works from her archive. Since 2015 she has been researching manuscripts at the family archive of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, Nigeria.

Kerryn Greenberg is Curator (International Art) at Tate Modern. She leads Tate’s Africa Acquisitions Committee and is responsible, together with Zoe Whitley, for formulating Tate’s strategy in the region. Most recently, she curated the exhibition Fahrelnissa Zeid (13 June – 8 October 2017).

Paul Goodwin is Director of the Transnational Art Identity and Nation Research Centre (TrAIN) and Professor of Contemporary Art and Urbanism at University of the Arts London. He most recently curated Untitled: art on the conditions of our time (New Art Exchange, Nottingham 2017).

Emmanuel Iduma is the author of the novel The Sound of Things to Come and A Stranger’s Pose, a forthcoming book of travel stories. He is also coeditor of Gambit: Newer African Writing, editor of Saraba Magazine, and a faculty member of the MFA Art Writing program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. He was associate curator of this year’s Nigeria Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Christian Kravagna is Professor of Postcolonial Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. His book Transmoderne: Eine Kunstgeschichte des Kontakts is forthcoming with b_books. He is the editor of The Museum as Arena: Artists on Institutional Critique, (2001) and co-editor of Transcultural Modernisms (2013).

Isabelle Malz is Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany. She has produced a number of acclaimed exhibitions. Isabelle Malz is currently part of the curatorial team for museum global (2018).

David Murphy is Professor of French and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Stirling. He recently published the edited volume The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966: Contexts and Legacies (2016). He is currently preparing an illustrated history of the Dakar festival with Cédric Vincent.

Lena Naumann works as the assistant to the directorship of Iwalewahaus, University of Bayreuth. As a junior researcher, she is involved in the research project African Art History and the Formation of a Modern Aesthetic. Naumann is currently coordinating the digitisation of the Ulli Beier estate.

Ozioma Onuzulike, ceramic artist, poet and writer, is Professor of Ceramic Art and Art History in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He has published widely, including in Nka, African Arts, Critical Interventions and Journal of Modern Crafts.

Folakunle Oshun is an artist and curator from Nigeria who expanded his Lagos studio into an art project space in 2013. He initiated the project Mending Histories at Gallery Wedding in Berlin, which challenged the contextualisation and presentation of African art in Western Museums.

Nikoo Paydar is Assistant Curator at Fisk University Galleries and a lecturer in the Art Department. She co-founded and co-directed Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB), a non-profit organisation focused on Iranian diaspora youth now in its 14th year.

William Rea is senior lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. He is a member of the JADEAS trust and has consulted for the British Council on Nigerian creative entrepreneurship. He organised the Ibadan 1960 conference at the University of Leeds (2004)

Siegrun Salmanian works as a junior researcher in the project African Art History and the Formation of a Modern Aesthetic and is a curator at Iwalewahaus, University of Bayreuth. Salmanian is currently working on her PhD, focussing on modern art movements in Sudan.

Alinta Sara is an independent researcher, teacher and art educator working in London. Her current research is on the Afro-Brazilian architectural heritage in the Bight of Benin. She is the co-founder of Bokantaj, a collective promoting intercultural understanding through artistic intervention.

Jamaal B. Sheats is the Director and Curator of the Fisk University Galleries and Assistant Professor in the Art Department. Sheats owns Sheats Repoussé and the Charlotte Art Project and holds positions on the Frist Center for the Arts Education Council and the “To Share a Legacy” HBCU Alliance.

Zoe Whitley is Curator (International Art) at Tate Modern. She is responsible, together with Kerryn Greenberg, for formulating Tate’s strategy for Africa. Most recently, she co-curated the exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (12 July–22 October 2017).

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dana Schutz, Damien Hirst, and the Matter of Cultural Appropriation

Just more than a week ago scores of members of the National Academy of Art published a widely-circulated letter in defense of the artist Dana Schutz whose recently-opened ten-year retrospective exhibition at the ICA Boston has drawn protests from local artists. This comes in the wake of the furor caused by her painting, Open Casket, shown at New York’s Whitney Biennial in the spring. The Boston protests have everything to do with that controversial painting. 

Having followed the debates for months, there seems to be a consensus in the world of elite culture—echoed by Kenan Malik, Adam Shatz, and now the academicians—to the effect that radical objections by non-white critics and activists to art usually by white artists that they feel does symbolic violence to their history and experience amount to censorship and nasty essentialism.
Critics of Schutz have a point, and that too must be defended. To be clear, charges of cultural appropriation are not always defensible, as the one against British artist Damien Hirst shows.
Schutz’s Open Casket is a painting depicting the mutilated body of Emmett Till whose racially-motivated murder in 1955 is considered a key moment in the rise of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. And at the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana museums in Venice, Hirst included a golden head said to be from the ancient kingdom of Ife (in today’s Nigeria) in his faux-archaeological Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable installation. Both were accused of cultural appropriation.

But what is cultural appropriation? No point trying to define it; when philosophers can’t agree on the meaning of the term, what chance do I, an artist and art historian, have? But here is how I understand it. Cultural appropriation happens when someone in a position of power or privilege tells the story of someone less privileged, or uses symbols or takes ideas held dear by the latter in a way that is unsympathetic, disrespectful, pejorative, hurtful.

Cultural appropriation is about relations of unequal power. If two people of same status take from each other, it might be called exchange; if the weaker or underprivileged takes from the more powerful, it is usually seen as mimicry, a sign of one’s inferiority, inauthenticity and insufficiency. Picasso became an art star by putting masks designed by supposedly unsophisticated African sculptors on the faces of the naked women in his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. That is cultural appropriation. When African American artists of the 1960s joined their white Abstract Expressionist counterparts and made non-objective paintings and sculptures, white critics saw this as lack of originality in black art. Cultural appropriation is what people with real power do.

The clamor against Hirst began with an Instagram post by Victor Ehikhamenor, one of the artists represented in the inaugural Nigerian pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. According to him the inclusion of a golden head made in the style of 12—14th century Ife brass heads in Hirst’s installation could cause future Nigerians to not recognize the brass head as part of their artistic heritage. Other critics recalled that Hirst was not the first to deny the Yoruba people the achievement of their Ife ancestors. The German ethnologist Leo Frobenius, the first European to see these stunning, highly naturalistic, brass and terracotta sculptures, around 1906, claimed they had to be the work of some ancient Greek sculptor from the lost city of Atlantis. Frobenius’ theory—based on the assumption that “primitive” black Africans could not have made the fine sculptures—was soon recognized for its racist motivation and discredited. Hirst’s exhibition guide, in fact, recounted this story.

Mr. Hirst set out to create an extraordinary collection of treasures from the wreck of an imaginary ship loaded with artistic and material treasures from the world over. A kind of bombastic and kitschy Noah’s Ark of collectibles. The Ife head was one among scores of objects found in the ship wreck. Had he not included any object from Africa (there were Pharaonic Egyptian stuff as well), you bet he would have been found guilty of ignoring African contribution to human civilization and cultural heritage. The charge against Mr. Hirst results from the misuse of the cultural appropriation sledge hammer.

The furor caused by Schutz is of a different order. Her depiction of Emmet Till’s mangled face in her humongous painting based on an archival black and white photograph pricked a festering wound in America’s racial unconscious.

Voices mostly black and from outside the art world establishment have criticized what they saw as Schutz’s insensitive and opportunistic appropriation of an image that represents one of the worst moments in America’s history of racial terror and injustice. Among them, were Parker Bright who used his own body to block the painting from viewers, and Hannah Black who collected signatures calling for the painting to be withdrawn and burned. Ms. Black and her supporters were compared to Islamic fundamentalists who wield the deadly weapon of the fatwa. They, we are told, were driven by tiresome racial victimology and, worse, reverse racism.

But here is my take.

First, there is nothing in Open Casket that made the artist’s intention legible. And for a politically and racially charged symbol that Till’s dead body became, there is no room for equivocation, especially in an American society still haunted by the deep and enduring legacies of slavery and racism. It matters that the artist, with the natural privilege that comes with racial whiteness, is known as a painter of odd and grotesque stuff, and not for using her work to address in any meaningful way inequality or social justice. The artist and her supporters may invoke and defend her artistic license; but they ought to have been ready for the robust outrage of their critics.

Second, we have been here before. In 1969, the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized the “Harlem on My Mind” exhibition, with very little input or representation of black artists and voices that made 20th-century and civil rights era Harlem art and culture tick. Picketing against the show by crowds from Harlem and beyond shamed the museum’s attempt to appropriate Harlem’s history in the service of the institution’s particular vision of black America. Ms. Black’s online signature drive is virtual street protest. Like the Met then, the Whitney organized a speaking gig to address the Open Casket protests, and moved on. Unruffled.

Third, Ms. Black and her supporters have every right to deploy their collective voice to call out what at best is a careless appropriation of Till’s image. They must be seen as new-age practitioners in that core principle of the democratic society, free speech. If the Fang sculptors in the Congo whose work Picasso and his peers in imperial France copied had a voice, you bet they would have declaimed the French appropriators. Just as their Yoruba peers in Nigeria would have Frobenius!

Moreover, when the early 20th-century European Dada and Surrealist avant-garde (with no real coercive political powers of their own) expressed their outrage at modernity’s hegemonic system, and called for the destruction of its institutions and symbols. They became heroes of modern art.
Now, some young, mostly, black artists, in a reprise of that avant-garde rhetorical legacy, protest against a powerful museum and its white, very privileged artist who turned Emmet Till’s body into her usual grotesquerie. They are seen as vandals threatening the art system.

The passionate and vehement declamation of Mr. Hirst for the Ife head was on the other hand misplaced and shows the danger of invoking cultural appropriation every time a white artist—even one that is frequently controversial like Hirst—engages with art and ideas from the non-white world.

The Schutz controversy reminds me of an Igbo aphorism: you don’t step on someone’s foot and not expect him to cry out. As for that of Hirst, the idiom about crying wolf will suffice. 

*Originally published in Huffington Post