Tuesday, May 23, 2017

African Art history position at the University of Hong Kong

If you know anyone interested in a teaching job in African art history, the University of Hong Kong has created a new position for this. The call for application can be found by clicking here

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Nigerian-Biafran War and the making of "Igbo art" collections in the West

If you have had the chance to read my Opinion essay in today's  NYT, Sunday Review, you will notice that it includes a personal note, about the discussion I had with my mother about the effect of the Nigerian-Biafran War on art and culture in my hometown: This is the passage:

"Recently, my 72-year-old mother was looking at a glossy catalog of Igbo sculptures from major European collections, most of which were acquired during the Nigerian-Biafran War of the late 1960s. She told me that the disappearance of similar sculptures from our hometown shrines in southeastern Nigeria, and the end of the associated festivals, was one of her most painful memories of that war."

I am sure some want to know more, about what appears to be a link between the disappearance of these sculptures in time of war and their simultaneous emergence in the major European collections. I too want to know. And that is a topic for another day. Stay tuned; for how long, I am not sure!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

My Opinion Piece in New York Times, Sunday Review

To read the Op-Ed piece click HERE

Op-Ed Piece in the New York Times, Sunday Review, May 21

So, I have an opinion piece coming out tomorrow (May 21) in the New York Times, Sunday Review, on matters arising from the increasingly strong auction market for modern and contemporary African art. The motivation for this was the inaugural Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary African Art auction this past Monday, along with a new department in the world's largest and arguably the most influential art business. What does this mean? What's good about this, and what challenges does this portend for the field and for Africa?  I mull over these questions in the essay. Like it or not, comments will be most welcome! 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

On Damien Hirst's Ife Head controversy


Golden Heads (Female)
All images from Damien Hirst's Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, courtesy, CNN.com
I have been reading with mild amusement about the so-called controversy surrounding the inclusion by the British artist Damien Hirst of a golden head made after the famous brass heads of ancient Ife Kingdom in southwestern Nigeria. He has been accused of "cultural appropriation" and the CNN has even featured this. Unsurprisingly, the charge is led by Africans. And Hirst's people have been forced to make a statement. Of course Hirst has built a career, a stupendous one at that, by courting controversy and delivering highly provocative work. So another controversy would be just part of Hirst business you might say.

But what is all the brouhaha about? What naughty game has Hirst pulled this time? What about the Ife head appropriation? What exactly did he do with this head? Did he copy and exhibit it as his own golden sculpture, in the manner of the Appropriation artists of the 1980s (Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, etc) and after? And if so, wouldn't his critics have some point, just as people were riled up by the work of the Appropriation artists, some of the cases ending up in the court of law?

Scale model of the ship, "Unbelievable"



Installation view
Actually, I doubt that most of the people who accuse Hirst of cultural appropriation have taken a look at his project, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, in which we find the Ife-style head among numerous other sculptures made after ancient treasures from many cultures across the planet. For in this sprawling installation (btw, how does anyone find the money to put up such a show?!), there are objects and sculptures made in the manner of ancient objects and sculptures from Europe (Rome, Greece), Middle East (Minos, Mesopotamia), Africa (Egypt, Ife), Asia (Indus Valley, China, India) and the Americas (Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Inca), etc. You could say that he has gathered in this exhibition examples of the world's ancient artistic and cultural heritage, all supposedly recovered from the wreck of a fictional Greek ship owned by a freed slave. 
Sphinx
And by the way, there is a note accompanying the Ife-style head (see p. 23 of the exhibition guide), referencing the story of the German Leo Frobenius who, on encountering the Ife brasses in the first decade of the 20th century, claimed that they proved the existence of the lost, mythic, city of Atlantis (for in his estimation, only an artist as sophisticated as those from ancient Greece could have made the sculptures he saw in Ife). In other words, the Hirst project acknowledged the original ancient works from which he copied or adapted the objects in the Treasures exhibition. 

So, my question to Hirst's critics is this: given the idea behind his project, would  you have been happier if he decided to NOT include any example from Africa (besides Egypt) in his list of the world's ancient treasures? Then, perhaps someone would have accused him of blatant refusal to acknowledge African contribution to the world's artistic heritage. 

Just because an artist is called Damien Hirst does not mean we have to have a knee-jerk response to every work by him. Crying wolf this time makes no sense.

My Video Review of Congolese Art Workers exhibition at New York's Sculpture Center

Exhibition Installation view




Irene Kanga, Viol (Rape), 2016

The Art Collector (2014), by Jeremie Mabiala and Djonga Bismar
Cedrick Tamasala, How My Grandfather Survived, 2015

Self-Portrait Without Clothes (2014), by Mbuku Kimpala

The current issue of Artforum, the New York-based contemporary art magazine, published my review of a recent exhibition of sculptures made out of chocolate, by Congolese plantation workers, supported by the Dutch artist, Renzo Martens. It is a most interesting project, and I don't mean this in a good way! Here is a video review produced by Artforum to accompany the in-print version. Unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber to read the magazine online. The video is free access.

Clike HERE for the video statement. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Remembering Biafra" Conference, Apr 20-21 2017

Last week the newly-established Institute of African Studies and the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, Washington, DC hosted the Remembering Biafra conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Biafra. Fortunately, video recording of all the panels are available on Youtube. Check them out, if you wish. The highlight of the event was the keynote lecture by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who spoke about her family, and the ways memories and imaginaries of Biafra shaped her life and work as a writer. Her lecture was about Biafra and Nigeria, but it was a most moving tribute to her father, mother who listed to her talk from the front seat and who she asked to stand to be recognized by the audience. She spoke about the scars they bear, the losses--profound and profane, and that determination, shared by most survivors of that war, to rebuild their lives and worlds, in spite the heartbreak called Nigeria. Chimamanda showed once again why she is one of today's most important voices; a calm voice that commands wildfires. And, oh, the lecture was an occasion to celebrate Chimamanda's election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Come to think of it, last year, none other than El Anatsui became an Academician. Which makes you wonder: what is the Nsukka connection? Congratulations, my dear sister! 
And thank you, Chimamanda, for calling out the Nigerian authorities for the extrajudicial murders of scores of people--unarmed supporters of Indigenous People of Biafra movement--in Onitsha on May 30, 2016. Let me say it: the thirst for Igbo blood is what will doom that country we call home, Nigeria. And as deliberations from the GWU conference make clear, the pogroms against the Igbo in the summer of 1966, when ordinary citizens mass-murdered their Igbo compatriots, with no one held accountable till today, will continue to haunt Nigeria. NEVER FORGET THE POGROMS!



National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
All photos copyright: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Professors Anthonia Kalu, Gloria Chuku and Femi Vaughan at NMAAHC

Reception hosted by George Washington University, NMAAHC, ahead of the Keynote Lecture

Ambassador Reuben Brigety II, Dean Elliott School of International Affairs, GWU

Right Center, Cecelia Lynch, Ambassador Liberata Mulamula

Left: Professor Gloria Chuku; Center: Professor Chima Korieh


Professor Melani McAlister, conference host




Who Will Save Southern Kaduna people?

The Nigerian government and its agencies have formed a terrible habit of punishing anyone from Southern Kaduna and the Nigerian Middle Belt region who dares speak out about the unimaginable levels of terroristic violence levied on their communities by mostly Fulani cattle herders, and other shadowy armed groups with what might be territorial agenda. This has been going on for quite some time now; but it cannot go on, and the world must pay attention to this. The report on Sahara Reporters (see link below) is only the latest in this regime of oppression and suppression of free speech, and of the people's right to complain not to mention express outrage about the ordeal to which they have been subjected, often with little or no protection from state and national governments. This cannot go on. (I won't be surprised if someone in Nigeria reads this and decides that I have joined their perceived enemies of state. But please President Buhari, do something about this gradual and sustained regime of violence to which these people have been subjected by  marauding, fully-armed bands of so-called cattle herders).

There is no doubt that part of the problem is the expanding Sahara, that has desiccated areas of the Sahel that had previously sustained enough green vegetation on which nomadic herders in the region depend. But what is to be done? Can the government whose primary duty is to guarantee safety of all its citizens look the other way as the herders take their cattle southward, invading societies who depend on farming? It simply cannot. Nor could they, as now, be more invested in squelching any voice raised to call attention to the plight of communities ravaged by armed cattle herders.

It is time to take seriously the question of compelling the cattle herders to change their lifeways in accordance to the changing climate and population growth. Where in the past, land available for grazing seemed limitless, the nomadic lifestyle thus unproblematic, the changed and changing times calls for drastically curtailing the culture of herding cattle through the length and breadth of the land, Federal and State governments must, as a matter of extreme urgency, establish a concrete plan for settling cattle herding groups so they don't continue to invade communities to the south ostensibly in search of green pastures for their animals. Nigeria already has more than enough problems that militate against its survival as a nation; what is happening in Southern Kaduna and the Middle Belt region, and increasing even further south in Enugu and Anambra States, should worry anyone, especially those in government who are sworn to protecting all Nigerian citizens. And this cannot be resolved by harassment and detention of anyone who calls attention to the plight of victims of these armed cattle herders. As my people, the Igbo, say: "I gaghi eti nwata si ya ebekwana akwa" (You cannot beat a child and tell her not to cry).

http://saharareporters.com/2017/04/24/nigerian-journalist-detained-over-whatsapp-comment-granted-bail

Sunday, April 9, 2017

‘An Insistence on Not Being Discouraged’ with Chika Okeke-Agulu

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Chika Okeke-Agulu

If you wish to learn a little bit about my story, about my life, art, politics, check out this new interview podcast with my fabulous colleague, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., who is William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies, and Chair, Department of African American Studies, Princeton University. And oh, it is nearly an hour long. So, the question is this: Who has time to listen to this kind of stuff; this long story?!

If you do, then click here to listen: 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Photos from presentation of "Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text," March 21

Today was the public presentation of my new book, Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text, at the African Artists Foundation. Thanks to the Ford Foundation, Princeton University, and the African Artists Foundation. And thanks to my family, friends old and new, and the many guests that turned up. And to my publisher, Skira Editore. Here, are some images from the event. All images under copyright. 

His Royal Majesty, at Kola breaking rite, gives Kola to El Anatsui

With my mother, Joy Okeke-Agulu, El Anatsui, Innocent Chukwuma, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Achebe, The Obi of Onitsha, Obiora Udechukwu, and Alhaji Abdulaziz Ude
With Jahman Anikulapo, Olu Amoda, and Toyin Akinosho


Ori and Tony Okoro

Add caption

With George Nwadiogbu, Faridah Folawiyo, Sandra Obiago, Innocent Chukwuma, Awam Amkpa, and Jahman Anikulapo
Ndidi Dike, Uche Edochie, and Chinwe Uwatse

Obiora Udechukwu, Ada Udechukwu, El Anatsui, and Innocent Chukwuma


Faridah, and guests

Obiora Udechukwu, Ada Udechukwu, and El Anatsui

Remarks by His Royal Majesty, Igwe Achebe, The Obi of Onitsha (Agbogidi)

Tony Nsofor and Chike Nwagbogu




Ozioma Onuzulike, book reviewer

Kolade Oshinowo, Chinwe Uwatse


Toni Kan and Victor Ehikamenor

Obiora Udechukwu



El giving closing remarks

Friday, March 3, 2017

Remembering Biafra Conference, April 21-22, 2017

Image Courtesy: International Business Times, UK


To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Biafra, that shortlived republic that was the southeastern Nigerian region a conference organized and hosted by George Washington University will take place on April 21-22, in Washington DC. Memory of Biafra remains strong in the hearts of many Biafran Children like me who were born on the eve of that war, and who survived the mass starvation used by the Nigerian government as a weapon of war, while most of the world looked away. It still hurts, as many of us who survived still carry a deep scar lodged in our souls these many years after.
For more on the Remembering Biafra Conference please check out the conference website.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bona Ezeudu and family still waiting for Justice, in Nigeria


Lota Ezeudu

On September 26, 2009, my dear friend and colleague Bona Ezeudu lost his only son, Lota. Lota was a brilliant and enterprising second-year student in a university in Enugu, the capital of Enugu State, Nigeria. As it turned out, Lota had been murdered, and two men--former police officers in the city--were eventually accused as his murderers, along with the son of the chief of police in the town Sam Chukwu. The authorities eventually charged these men, including Sam Chukwu (in whose house the accused men lived and for whom they served as some kind of extrajudicial hitmen) for complicity in the murder of Lota Ezeudu. Sam Chukwu, "ran" from the law, was declared wanted, and never appeared in court. About two years later, he "surfaced," apparently promoted to a higher rank and transferred out of Enugu, despite that he was a fugitive of the law. Now he is a top police officer stationed in Lagos. This case is one more reason why that country Nigeria, sadly my homeland, remains a sorry, morally deficient place scarred by the culture of impunity. Frankly, this case, because it involved some people in power in Abuja (according to news reports), was one that I hoped the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari would have quickly resolved by compelling this man Sam Chukwu to face the charges pending in court.

For more on this story check out: Sahara Reporters latest report

Sotheby's London in the Game Too!

If you ever had any doubt about the marketability of modern and Contemporary Africa or about the fact that the fervid rise in prices of work in this area is no fluke or a temporary thing, the just-announced entrance of Sotheby's should tell you something. Since 2007 when the Lagos-based upstart Arthouse Limited and the veteran Bonhams established dedicated auctions for modern and contemporary African art--with major emphasis on Nigeria, nevertheless--we have seen record sales for many artists who until then fetched relatively small change in the even smaller secondary market there was for this art. It is no surprise, quite frankly, that Sotheby's, the world largest art business, has now decided to join the fun or fray, and we can only be sure that this will mean more keenly watched auctions and more acute trajectory for the price of African art. Good or bad, it means that this field is making sure and steady march to the mainstream. If it were real estate, you could say that is now undergoing gentrification. Come May 16, we shall see, for real, what signals Sotheby's inaugural auction will be sending to primary and secondary market for modern and contemporary African art.
   

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Assistant Curator in African Art at Yale University Art Gallery

Position: Benenson Assistant Curator of African Art 
Department: Yale University Art Gallery
STARS Requisition #:  42078BR  
http://bit.ly/2lJowYF 

Yale University offers exciting opportunities for achievement and growth in New Haven, Connecticut. Conveniently located between Boston and New York, New Haven is the creative capital of Connecticut with cultural resources that include three major museums, a critically-acclaimed repertory theater, state-of-the-art concert hall, and world-renowned schools of Architecture, Art, Drama, and Music.

General Purpose:  
The Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation Assistant Curator of African Art is head of the department of African Art at the Yale University Art Gallery. The collections, currently numbering between 2000 and 3000 objects, are wide-ranging and include the historic Linton and Charles B. Benenson collections. The Assistant Curator is responsible for the
department's classical African art in all media, which includes objects associated with performance, ritual use, and a wide range of social functions. S/he will enhance the department's holdings through acquisitions, research, cataloguing, exhibitions, and publications; will supervise the care of the collection through conservation, storage, and display; will field public inquiries and oversee the department's presence on the Gallery's website; will assume stewardship and donor cultivation responsibilities; will lecture and mentor students and will serve as ambassador for the department to the Yale community, the broader public, and to colleagues and institutions world-wide. The successful candidate will demonstrate a strong commitment to connoisseurship at least equal to any other form of scholarship. 

The position reports to the Chief Curator. Responsible for the presentation of the permanent collection to the public and for access to the collection through exhibitions, installations,
publications, and lectures. Oversee the maintenance, conservation, orderly storage, cataloguing, and labeling of the collection. Conduct in-depth research into the collections using original source materials where appropriate. Responsible for assessing objects requested for out-going loan. Formulate and implement a strategy for developing the collection of African Art through acquisitions and strategic loans. Mentor undergraduate and graduate students and collaborate with Yale faculty. Contribute to the formulation and implementation of the Gallery's mission in teaching and general accessibility through active involvement in discussions with the Director and other curators. Manage the Department of African Art by supervising the department's assistant, bursary students, interns, and volunteers. Oversee and be responsible for the departmental and exhibition budgets. Manage African art databases in cooperation with the Yale University Library. Participate in fundraising projects both through contact with collectors and donors and through grant writing. Represent the curatorial department on Gallery and University committees; represent the Gallery and University to a local, national, and international community to
promote the institution and its collection. 

Review of applications will begin April 10, 2017.

Required Education and Experience:  Master's Degree in Art History and two years of curatorial experience or an equivalent education and experience.

Qualifications:
  • online at http://bit.ly/2lJowYF. Please be sure to reference this website
  • Developed skills in relevant European and African languages: reading, writing, and speaking.
  • Keen eye and broad knowledge of African art, as well as of professional museum practices.
  • Demonstrated success in leadership and in establishing and implementing policies and procedures to achieve objectives.
  • Desire and ability to build relationships and work effectively and collaboratively across departments.
  • Preferred Education, Experience and Skills: Ph.D. in Art History or Anthropology. Experience in field research.
We invite you to discover the excitement, diversity, rewards and excellence of a career at Yale University. One of the country's great workplaces, Yale University offers exciting opportunities for meaningful accomplishment and true growth. Our benefits package is among the best anywhere, with a wide variety of insurance choices, liberal paid time off, fantastic family and educational benefits, a variety of retirement benefits, extensive recreational facilities, and much more. Yale University considers applicants for employment without regard to, and does not discriminate on the basis of an individual's sex, race, color, religion, age, disability, status as a veteran, or national or ethnic origin; nor does Yale discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Video of My 2016 Conversation with El Anatsui


Photo copyright Launchpadart

On March 23, 2016 (nearly a year ago), I had this public conversation with El Anatsui who was in Princeton as the Sarah Elson, Class of 1984, International Artist-in-Residence. I knew that the conversation was recorded, but only just stumbled upon a Youtube video of it. It is an hour-plus conversation that, for students and admirers of Anatsui's influential work and illustrious career, might be worth seeing:

Click HERE for the video, courtesy of Youtube: