Dec 5, 2013

Obituary: Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela (1918-2013)


Xelelan’ umfo kaThambo eLusaka nith’ uphuncule uRolihlahla kaMandela.
Nixelele uBiko emangcwabeni, ukuba inkunz’ aseQunu kwesikaBhalizulu ifikile ekhaya!!

Elirhol’ ihlahla unyana kaMandela idelakufa,
Hamba ke Madiba Mandela sakulandela

''Tell the son of Thambo at Lusaka that Rholihlahla of Mandela has slipped off.
Also tell Biko in the graves that the Bull of Qunu from the land of of Bhalizulu has arrived at home!!

Pulling the branch the son of Mandela who fears not death,
Go Madiba Mandela we will follow you''

(Mtuze and Kaschula, 1993:119: 135)

Noxolo Bobelo. IsiXhosa Poetry on Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela. 
Johannesburg 2008 

Feb 14, 2013

Critical Interventions signs with Routledge

Critical Interventions is pleased to announce a new collaboration between the journal and Routledge, acclaimed publisher of learned and professional journals in printed form and other media.  Under a new licensing agreement reached this February, Routledge (a subsidiary of Taylor & Francis Group) will take over the publishing and global distribution of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture in print and digital formats. I wish to thank the CI Board of Directors and everyone who has contributed to the realization of Critical Interventions since its inception. We remain committed to its focus as a forum for important scholarly discourse on African art history and look forward to a fruitful collaboration with Routledge.

Shown above: Cover of Critical Interventions Numbers 9/10.

Jun 5, 2012

CFP: The Journal of Art Historiography Special Issue on African Art

The Journal of Art Historiography, a peer reviewed journal (, is interested in producing a special issue on African art.  The discursive practice of African art history is at a crucial juncture, in which rising interest in African art from a global perspective intersects with a possible fragmentation of the field into divergent disciplines each with its own focus. The historiography of African visual arts itself confronts an cross-disciplinary problem identified by Journal of Art Historiography as a concern that “contemporary scholarship will forget its earlier legacy and neglect the urgency and rigour with which those early debate were conducted. The journal is therefore committed to studying art historical scholarship, in its institutional and conceptual foundations, from the past to the present in all areas and all periods”.

African art history is particularly in need of historiographical examination, given the increasing distance between early scholarship and contemporary discourses. The last significant historiography of the field was carried out by the venerable Monni Adams in a classical essay titled “African Visual Arts from an Art Historical Perspective” (African Studies Review, 32/2, 1989: 55-103), which formed a two part overview of African Studies published in the journal, the other written by Paula Ben Amos. Although the journal African Arts has engaged the issue of African art’s discourse in various presentations in the journal to date, the kind of comprehensive analysis carried out by Monni Adams has largely been absent and is in dire need of being updated, given how much has happened in the field in the two and half decades since the article was published.

The Journal of Historiography’s special issue on African arts therefore provides a unique opportunity to revisit the history of art writing on the subject of African visual culture and create a critical dialogue between various generations of African art historians, which will ideally allow foundational research and writing to be subjected to contemporary knowledge practices. It also provides opportunity to theorize the relationships between Africa and its Diasporas, which serves to locate African art within global discourses in all contexts of its practice.

I am serving as guest editor this proposed issue and I will like to invite proposals for articles on the subject and suggestions for important texts and documents that might be included. Previous editions of the journal can be viewed on its website ( for guidance on the Journal of Art Historiography’s focus and submission guidelines.

Proposals should be no more than 400 words long and are due July 15, 2012. Completed articles (4000-12,000 words inclusive of notes) are due October 30, 2012. Previously published and articles that engage the historiography of African art in discursive contexts outside the Anglophone world are welcome and relevant articles will be translated.

Please send proposals and suggestions to:

Prof. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie
Guest Editor, Journal of Art Historiography Special Issue on African art

Feb 14, 2012

"MAKING HISTORY" Featured on

 The landmark Internet website ArtDaily has published a review of Making History. A screenshot of the page is provided (copyright Links to other important reviews of the book and the formal launching of the book that took place three weeks ago are listed below:

Public Lecture, Minneapolis Institute of Art, January 12, 2012.
Santa Barbara Independent, February 11, 2012.
Making History Opens a New Vista in African Art Collections, Sunday Trust, January 29, 2012.
Why Illicit Trade in African Art Thrives, The Nation, February 1, 2012.
Documented Legacies, This Day, February 7, 2012.

Feb 2, 2012

"Making History" Book Launch in Lagos

HRH Obi Achebe of Onicha formally presenting Making History. Flanking the King, Mr. Akinsanya

It's been a week since the formal presentation of my new book, Making History: African Collectors and the Canon of African Art, was launched in Lagos Nigeria. The formal presentation of the book turned out well and I was honored with a large turnout of the cultural elite of Lagos all of who praised the book highly. The event was chaired by His Royal Highness, Obi Achebe of Onicha who was accompanied by two of his chiefs. In respect to the king, who is my kinsman and a leader of the Ezechime Clan, I attended the book launching wearing the traditional regalia of red-cap chiefs. Posted here, some pictures from the event.
Obi Achebe's arrival at the book launching
L-R: Femi Akinsanya, Obi Achebe, the author, and Mayo Adediran, who reviewed the book at the launching
Receiving the King's Entourage
Cross section of the audience
Cross section of the audience
My good friend and mentor, Afolabi Kofo Abayomi (and wife), who played a great role in encouraging art collectors in Lagos
With Ndidi Dike (to my immediate right) and other members of my family
Giving the King a tour of the exhibition
Mrs. Veronica Ogbechie (my mother, center) with Obi Achebe and my sisters Florence (right) and Nwaka (Left)

Jan 25, 2012

Symposium on African Cultural Patrimony at Stanford University

The issue of Africa's claim to its plundered cultural patrimony is becoming mainstreamed through several conferences and emergent publications. Stanford University's Ruth K. Franklin Symposium on the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas was this year devoted to the subject. The symposium featured presentations from renowned experts on cultural patrimony law such as KateFitz Gibbon and Emeritus Professor John Merryman (who literally wrote the book on this subject), and from scholars and museum personnel. I presented a paper (Who Owns Africa’s Cultural Heritage? Museums, African Cultural Patrimony and the Issue of Restitution) that made a case for the Edo Kingdom of Benin's claim over its looted cultural patrimony currently located in museums and private collections all over the world.

Picture: Visitors to the British Museums viewing examples of Benin bronze plaques.
Picture credit: The Guardian newspapers, UK.

"Making History": Lecture and Book Signing at MIA

 The Minneapolis Institute of Arts invited a presentation lecture and book signing on Making History: African Collectors and the Canon of African Art. The event marked the first public presentation of my new book in the USA. I also reviewed some African artworks in the museum holdings, with particular focus on the MIA's collection of Benin artworks, which are in the process of being reinstalled.

Jan 20, 2012

Critical Interventions Number 8 is Published

Announcing the publication of

Critical Interventions Number 8: Special Issue on African Cinemas

Guest edited by Victoria Pasley, CI#8 focuses on African Cinemas through analysis of different contexts of film practices in Africa. The cinematic arts can be defined as the apex of a culture of visuality and it is not by chance that the moving image has become a key technology of narrative in the era of globalization. In this regard, African cinemas of different historical origins, discursive focus and aesthetic orientation are increasingly notable as key aspects of African visual and cultural experiences. The debate over what constitutes African cinemas occupies an important place in these developments, especially in light of the divide between auteur and populist traditions of African filmmaking that seem to divide neatly along colonial lines into Francophone, Anglophone and Lusophone cultures of African cinema. However, these categories do not adequately describe the divergent modes of practice evident in how such cinemas are located in the global economy, where transnational engagements defeat the essentialist idea of a homogenous “Africa”. In this context, the classical definition of African cinema as a mode of practice that adheres to the auteur tradition of French filmmaking confronts the emergent example of Nollywood and related modes of film production that hew to Hollywood’s powerful business-oriented model with its global preeminence. These two contexts present two visions of African cinema that can sometimes seem totally divergent. However, as Kenneth Harrow concludes in his essay in this volume, the lines between the two modes of African cinema are collapsing.

This issue of Critical Interventions therefore investigates the history and disparate locales of African Cinemas through significant articles that take its transnational origins into consideration and also track changing definitions of African praxis within the global discourse of cinema. This jumbo edition of the journal features articles by Alexie Tcheuyap, Sheila Petty, Etienne-Marie Lassi, Kenneth Harrow, Amadou Fofana, Cara Duncan-Moyer, Alioune Sow, Scott M. Edmonson, Jonathan Shaw, Stefanie Van der Peer, Toni Pressley-Sanon, Mariam Konate Deme and Dramane Deme. It also features a republication of Teshome Gabriel’s seminal article— “Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Cinema”.

CI#8 Table of Contents

Editors’ Desk
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie—Mediating Visions
Victoria Pasley—African Cinema

Alexie Tcheuyap—African Cinema(s): Definitions, Identity and Theoretical
Sheila Petty—Self-Styling Identities in Recent African Screen Media

Etienne-Marie Lassi—Worlds behind the World: Filming the Invisible in Francophone
Amadou Fofana—“Cinefication” in West Africa
Cara Moyer-Duncan—New Directions, No Audiences: Independent Black Filmmaking in
Post-Apartheid South Africa
Alioune Sow—Malian Cinema and the Question of Military Power
Scott M. Edmondson—Akan-esque Niches and Riches: The Aesthetics of Power and
Fantastic Pragmatism in Ghanaian Video Films
Jonathan Shaw—Filming Kivu, Speaking Nande: Kabale Syahgiganza and Making
Cinema in a Context of Conflict
Stefanie Van de Peer—The Physicalities of Documentaries by African Women: The
Case of Ateyyat El Abnoudy’s “Permissible Dreams and Responsible Women”
Toni Pressley-Sanon—Raoul Peck’s “The Man by the Shore”, Orality, Film and
Mariam Konate Deme and Dramane Deme—Aesthetic Imprints of an Epic Memory: A
Pan-African Reading of Three Filmic Tales

Kenneth W. Harrow—In Remembrance: Teshome Gabriel
Teshome Gabriel—Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Cinema
Jonathan Haynes—Nnebue: the Anatomy of Power

Kenneth W. Harrow—Toward a New Paradigm of African Cinema

Nov 26, 2011

In Memoriam: C. Odumegwu Ojukwu 1933-2011

Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, General of the Armed Forces of Biafra (1967-1970), Ikemba of Nnewi, and Dikedioramma Ndigbo passed away in London yesterday night. Ojukwu led the republic of Biafra in its failed secession against the Federal Government of Nigeria in a conflict that left more than one million Igbo civilians dead and pioneered images of starving African children in Western media. The pros and cons of the secession effort are still being debated but it is undeniable that the near-disintegration of the Nigerian union sparked several important changes of direction for the country. The Igbo peoples that emerged from the civil war faced great privation (I know; I was one of the Igbo children who survived the war). They lost everything in the war and had their properties in other parts of Nigeria confiscated but nevertheless went on to rebuild their lives at a very rapid pace afterwards. The seed of disunity that the war sowed in Nigeria has not healed even today. Thus although Igbo peoples are great overachievers and many attain great heights in their personal endeavors wherever in the world they are located, it is also true that their drive for personal achievement and overall ambition has undermined Igbo unity in the fractious politics of modern Nigeria. Dim Ojukwu was a uniting figure for Igbo peoples, a standard bearer for a lost glory and constant reminder to Igbo peoples at home and abroad of what might have been and of the sacrifice of those who died defending their right to simple human dignity. His passing leaves the entire Igbo nation greatly diminished.

Photograph of Ojukwu culled from Guardian Newspapers Nigeria.
Below: Flag of the Republic of Biafra

Nov 12, 2011


My new book arrives in bookstores later this November in English and French editions. I post here the cover pages for both versions. A culmination of three years of research and writing, the book investigates the curious fact that African art history largely disregards African art collections owned by Africans or held in Africa. The goal of the book is to review the reasons for this marginalization and use a notable African art collection, the Femi Akinsanya African Art Collection, based in Lagos, Nigeria to examine how such collections might be recovered for art history. A website for the art collection goes live next week in anticipation of the book's publication.

Oct 19, 2011

Invisible Borders: The Trans-Africa Photography Project


Invisible Borders: Trans-African Photography Initiative

Invisible Borders takes off on November 2nd, 2011 for their Third Photography Road Trip

Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Initiative is proud to announce the third edition of their annual road trip project, taking place from November 2 to December 16, 2011.

The official kick-off for this year's event will commence in Lagos, with twelve African artists, travelling about 12 000 km, all the way up to Addis Ababa, visiting on their way, the capitals and major cities of Nigeria, Tchad, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Once again, the approach will be a focus on revealing, through the art of photography, images of African life and people that usually go unnoticed in the media, all the while exploring themes centred on socio-political discourses prevalent on the continent.

With a group of ten photographers and two writers, who will capture the essence of the road trip in words, the 2011 Invisible Borders team will focus their mission on the creation of artistic works in collaboration with indigenous artists in the cities visited. The question of identity as it translates into style and modes of dressing, as well as issues such as Women's Rights, the role of economic world powers in the shaping of the African economy, nature and wildlife preservation/sustainability, as well as conflicts in the African soil will be considered as topics to be explored.

On the final leg of this year's adventure, upon arrival in Addis Ababa at the end of November, a workshop involving local photographers, along with an exhibition featuring a selection of works produced during the road trip, will take place at the Museum of Modern Art of Addis Ababa, in collaboration with its director, Aida Muluneh.

Following the success of the previous road trips, this year's edition will also be made into a documentary film and book. Additionally, activities of the journey will be the case for exclusive online posts from the writers, photographers, video logs from the film crew, and real-time testimonies from participants as the journey unfolds. This can be accessed via Invisible Borders' blog ( and social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, Creative Africa Network).

This year's participants are as follows: Amaize Ojeikere, Ray Daniels Okeugo, Chidinma Nnorom, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, Emmanuel Iduma, Ala Khier, Unoma Giese, Kemi Akin-Nibosun,Tom Saater, Uche Okpa-Iroha, Jumoke Sanwo, Emeka Okereke.

For press inquiries, please contact Anna Djigo at

About Invisible Borders

Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Initiative is an art-led initiative, founded in Nigeria in 2009 by passionate Nigerian artists—mostly photographers—with a drive and urge to effect change. The vision of the initiative is to become a symbol of networking and trans-border associations within the arts and photography in Africa, but also to become a platform for young emerging talents in the continent, encouraging them to think beyond borders at the beginning of their creative quest.

The mission of the Initiative is to tell Africa's stories, by Africans, through photography and inspiring artistic interventions; to encourage exposure of upcoming African photographers towards art and photography as practiced in other parts of the continent; to establish a platform that encourages and embraces trans-African artistic relationships, and to contribute towards the socio-political discourse shaping Africa of the 21st Century.Their activities aim to cut through the local, national and international, and to create points of interactions between these levels, hence the name "Invisible Borders."

Anna Djigo (

Follow Invisible Borders online:
Facebook: Invisible Borders
Twitter: InvsbleBorders

Jul 8, 2011

Critical Interventions Number 7 is Published

Announcing the publication of

Critical Interventions Number 7: Special Issue on African Cultural Patrimony.

CI# 7 investigates the production of value for African art by examining the global perception of African cultural patrimony in discourse as well as efforts by African museums to manage and preserve indigenous cultural heritage within the context of modern nation states. It features articles by Dunja Hersak, Frances Connelly, Christopher Slogar, Carola Lentz, Peter Probst, Sidney L. Kasfir, Sophie Mew, Okechukwu Nwafor Gemma Rodrigues, Jean Borgatti and Silvia Forni.

The articles in this issue of CI are divided into four parts: The Interventions section features Dunja Hersak who uses the works of Trigo Piula to review how established discourse on African art is often at variance with the lived reality of Africans by showing how contemporary global curators have fashioned and fabricated a vision of Africa based on recycling the same two paintings from the artist and completely disregarding the variety evident in his other works. Frances Connelly discusses the contradictions inherent in the idea of primitivism and how this shapes the discourse of authenticity in African art

In the Research section, Christopher Slogar reviews the ongoing plundering of archeological sites in Africa and how plundered ceramics objects are validated through museum exhibition and display. He cites some recent exhibitions in which the practice of collecting African ceramics becomes increasingly conflated with the acquisition of looted antiquities and suggests that scholars of African art should be more concerned about the implications of this conflation for research on the subject. Carola Lentz explores aesthetic and historical genealogy of the Ghanaian seat of state and its implications for a new interpretation of visual politics in modern Ghana. Peter Probst discusses the role of media and mediation in the designation of Osogbo as a UNESCO cultural heritage site and concludes that Yoruba arts and aesthetics should be understood as a form of vernacular media theory in this context. Sidney Kasfir revisits debates about creativity and migration by reading the works of transnational African contemporary artists in light of classical theories by Nietzsche, Wolfe and Simmel. Sophie Mews looks at important experiment in creating diversified museum collections in Mali and Ghana based on the concept of “encyclopedic museums” –i.e. museums that attempt to represent other cultures to African viewers-- and suggests that such museums may provide for reciprocal representation of world cultures in which Africans are not always seen a subjects. Okechukwu Nwafor analyzes the problematic management of a Nigerian museum and suggests that continued mismanagement of cultural heritage impacts negatively on efforts to repatriate Nigerian cultural objects from Western museums.

The Portfolio section presents important new work by the acclaimed transnational artist Allan deSouza that interrogates how cultural legacies of colonization and the condition of exile impacts his current cycle of creativity. Finally, the Recollections section features two views of the art collection management process: Jean Borgatti discusses how an art collector tried to manipulate scholarship to enhance the value of his African art collection and suggests that this kind of manipulation has important implications for the production of value for African art in general. Silvia Forni discusses how the canon and art market combine to define the value of African art and what she considers the unsuccessful efforts of an African collector to break into this process of valuation.

As an item of interest, the cover page of Critical Interventions Number 7 is illustrated with a Helmet Mask of the Igala peoples of Nigeria, used courtesy of the Femi Akinsanya African Art Collection based in Lagos Nigeria. I have been researching this collection since 2009 and have written a book about it that will be published in Fall 2011 by 5 Continents Editions. The book, Making History uses the Femi Akinsanya African Art Collection to evaluate the material process of formalizing and interpreting an African-owned collection of African art, with the goal of defining how such collections might be incorporated into a context of African art studies in which they are currently invisible.

CI#7 Table of Contents

Editor’s Desk
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie---Who Owns Africa’s Cultural Patrimony?

Dunja Hersak—-Virtual, Partial and Fabricated Visions of Africa
Frances S. Connelly—-Authentic Irony: Primitivism and Its Aftermath

Christopher Slogar—-Africa Consumed: Cultural Inertia, Looting and Legitimization in Art History
Carola Lentz—-Travelling Emblems of Power: the Ghanaian ‘Seat of State’
Peter Probst—-Revisiting Osogbo: Images, Media and the Art of Mediation in a Yoruba City
Sidney Kasfir—-Creativity and Migration: Back to Nietzsche, Wolfe and Simmel’s Stranger?
Sophie Mew—-‘Universal Museums’ in West Africa: Considerations over the Diversification of Cultural Heritage Institutions in Mali and Ghana
Okechukwu Nwafor—-Culture, Corruption, Politics: National Museum of Unity Enugu and the Struggle for Survival of Cultural Institutions in Nigeria

Gemma Rodrigues, Steven Nelson and Allen Roberts—-His Master's Tools: Recent Works by Allan deSouza

Jean Borgatti—-Art Marketing and the Art Market: A Northern Edo Example
Silvia Forni—-Ambiguous Values and Incommensurable Claims: The Canon, The Market and Entangled Histories of Collections and Exhibits

For more information, visit

Mar 13, 2011

Recommended Reading: THE NEW JIM CROW

Marian Wright Edelman, in an article posted to the Huffington Post, discusses Michelle Alexander’s extraordinary book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a devastating look at how the Prison-Industrial system of American corporations have succeeded in maintaining mass enslavement of African Americans a century and half after slavery. The book documents in painstaking detail how the media's demonization of African Americans and minorities, aided by unjust sentencing laws that prescribe overly harsh sentences for even minor offences by blacks, have led to a "Cradle to Prison" pipeline that overwhelmingly delivers American Blacks and Hispanics to corporate prisons, where their labor is exploited with practically no compensation. Edelman notes that
as The New Jim Crow clearly shows, the dramatic increases in mandatory sentence lengths even for nonviolent offenses and the far-reaching consequences that come with being classified as a felon even after a sentence is completed have made incarceration today a historically punitive form of social control and social death—at exactly the same time as record numbers of African Americans are being confined. This is how mass incarceration functions as the new Jim Crow, with predictably destructive results for Black communities and families.
The most outrageous aspect of this process is that corporate prisons are increasing exponentially and while the government spends very little to improve the well-being of African American populations at risk in their impoverished enclaves, it is willing to spend upwards of $40,000 a year (paid directly to the corporations that own these prisons) to imprison each person for a year. The destruction of individual lives and communities that ensures literally ensures that African Americans are a doomed population (if your very existence is criminalized, it is only a matter of time before the majority of black people are co-opted by the prison-industrial complex: even those who manage to stay out of jail end up bled of their resources to support relatives who end up in prison).

The mass incarceration of African Americans is a form of genocide and should be treated as such. If young black males cannot escape the specter of slavery almost two centuries after chattel slavery was abolished, can we truthfully say we've made any progress in race relations since that time?

Feb 25, 2011

SWANN GALLERY Auctions: Profiting from Slavery...

A friend brought this impending auction to my notice: SWANN Galleries of New York is inviting auction bids for a Pair of "Middle Passage" Slave Shackles, identified as Lot 4 of Sale 2239 (one of two such items on sale). The lot notice states that it is
A pair of shackles of the sort used during the cruel "Middle Passage" from Africa to the Americas. Images of such shackles appear in numerous early anti-slavery books and tracts. For specific examples, see: "An Abstract of the Evidence," London 1791; Lydia Maria Child's "Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans called Africans," Boston, 1833; and Lorenzo Dow, "Slave Ships and Slaving," Massachusetts, 1927.
Personally, I am surprised they are not selling an actual African shackled to the leg irons, which might attest to its authenticity.

I have seen slave shackles in museum exhibitions and always felt that their display is in active denial of their horrendous history. This SWANN auction and its request for bids to this gruesome item goes beyond the pale. But then, general lack of accountability for the enslavement of Africans is at the bottom of the racism and capriciousness of global relations between the West and the Rest of the World that is so evident on the international scene today. If you enslave tens of millions of Africans and kill millions of them in the process and no one holds you accountable, then obviously no one bats an eyelid when you incarcerate millions in for profit prisons or imprison them in inner-city ghettos in which they are condemned to a life of endless want. Against that larger framework of injustice, I suppose SWANN's auctioning of slave shackles might be considered a minor insult to Africans worldwide. They are obviously not concerned about that; they are concerned only with profiting yet again from the history of slavery, which enables a perpetual marketing of its gruesome memory. That they can do this without fear of retribution or censure speaks volumes to the disregard for Africans that persists in international relations.

Feb 4, 2011

Safeguarding Egypt's Antiquities During a Period of Political Change

I have been following the uprising in Egypt since it started with some trepidation worrying that the famous Cairo museum and other Egyptian institutions that hold the country’s antiquities might be looted. That fear came true when I read a statement by Zahi Hawass, newly appointed Egyptian Minister of Antiquities and longtime advocate for returning Egyptian artworks to Egypt, stating that some criminal elements made attempts to steal artworks and jewelry from the museum during the protests of recent days. Here’s how Hawass described his feeling about the situation:
My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day, but all the inspectors, young archaeologists, and administrators, are calling me from sites and museums all over Egypt to tell me that they will give their life to protect our antiquities. Many young Egyptians are in the streets trying to stop the criminals.

The intervention of ordinary Egyptians to protect their cultural heritage from thieves is welcome news in this situation. Hawass also noted that:
Due to the circumstances, this behaviour is not surprising; criminals and people without a conscience will rob their own country. If the lights went off in New York City, or London, even if only for an hour, criminal behavior will occur. I am very proud that Egyptians want to stop these criminals to protect Egypt and its heritage.

Hawass is maintaining a running log on his website to inform the world about the state of the antiquities in Egypt. Yesterday, he updated his original comment on looting by stating that the Egyptian people are now protecting the antiquities and that they are largely safe.

I am sure that Western observers will point to the situation in Cairo as a validation of their argument that African artworks should not be returned to their African countries of origin because descendants of their African producers cannot be trusted to safeguard them (let us forget for now the obvious fact that these works were held and managed by their producers for centuries until European colonization and its attendant violence destroyed African societies and resulted in the original pillaging of its cultural patrimony). While the situation in Egypt is problematic, it is actually shows that ordinary people will rise up to protect their cultural heritage in situations like this, if the need arises. I am watching to see how the situation will play out eventually. My hope is that the artworks remain safe and that Hawass’s immense groundbreaking work to repatriate Egypt’s antiquities will not be destroyed by criminals interested in short-term gain.

That said, I want to lay the blame for the situation in Egypt squarely at President Hosni Mubarak’s feet, and for his continued support by Western governments who argue that chaos will ensure if he leaves. Transitions are chaotic by their very nature, since they inevitably produce power vacuums. There is however credible evidence that the chaos we have seen in Egypt over the past two days was orchestrated by elements of the ruling government of Mubarak in order to strike fear into the hearts of people calling for his exit. Already, you can see the change in tone by Western commentators pushing this idea, in an effort to help the beleaguered dictator hold on to his illegitimate government. This effort will fail. Mubarak had 30 years to manage a transition but did not do so: to insist on staying on now that the people have soundly rejected his rule is nothing but the actions of a coward who hopes to bully the people into rejecting their own demands for greater freedom.

I have lived my entire life dealing with African dictators whose devotion to their ego and gross mismanagement of their country’s resources invariably pauperize even the richest African countries. Nigeria is a case in point, and now Egypt has joined this inglorious group of countries ruled by brigands. I am not essentially opposed to “strong-man” rule because some countries need such a guiding hand early on to establish some kind of order and focus for the future. Kermal Attaturk did it in Turkey and handed over to his successors a strong and increasingly thriving country, one of the only two Islamic majority countries to have a stable democracy. All our African leaders seem to do however is pauperize their countries while stashing away the national wealth in Western institutions. They are aided in this by the same Western countries who give lip service to democracy but promote authoritarianism in the Moslem world and even go so far as to subvert democratic governance in these countries when the results run counter to their expectations.

What I cannot understand about African dictators is why they are not more concerned about their actions? Coming from Nigeria, I understand the impact of corruption on the national psyche: Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries on earth. However, all countries are corrupt to some extent and the scale of corruption in the USA for instance dwarfs anything you can find in Nigeria (google Bernie Madoff, and the wholesale cooptation of the American electoral system by corporate money to get a sense of what I am talking about here. Corruption thrives on a very simple equation: if the expected punishment for corruption is lighter than the expected gain, then corruption thrives, and vice versa). It is perhaps a contradiction in terms to expect a corrupt leader to be concerned about the welfare of his impoverished people. BUT REALLY!!! WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STEALING ONE BILLION DOLLARS AND ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS (aside from the obvious fact that both destroy a country by starving it of needed resources)? All these dictators do is steal public money without expending any effort to improve public infrastructure. Mubarak has had thirty years to elevate Egypt to a higher status of political and economic existence. He hasn't. If we were today looking at an Egypt that has excellent social and economic infrastructure and good conditions of living, one might be able to make an argument that Mubarak’s exit be delayed to allow a peaceful transition to unfold. His government has underperformed and has been based on running a police state, all in the name of keeping stability. Now that he has his back to the wall, he has sent out his goons to create chaos so that he can hang on to power. I hope he fails in this attempt and that Egypt manages to transition to a new government with minimal disruption.

And I hope Egypt’s antiquities and its museums survive the ongoing transition from Mubarak's misrule intact. They are very important to the struggle for Africa’s cultural patrimony.

Jan 25, 2011

Egypt asks Berlin to return Nefertiti bust

From the Associated Press:
CAIRO – Egypt's top archaeologist has formally requested the return of the 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti that has been in a Berlin museum for decades, the latest move in his eight-year-old campaign to bring home ancient artifacts spirited out of the country during colonial times. (Read the full story here).

Jan 13, 2011

Gigantic Deals

A unique advertisement for BMW rentals from the German car rental company SIXT, photographed at Dusseldorf en route to Essen to attend a conference (Between Fetish and Art: Is Sculpture Transcultural, Global, Universal?)

Jan 4, 2011


Ongoing at the Museum of Arts and Design, the Global Africa Project exhibition. It's receiving positive reviews from the New York Times, where a critic stated that the show
presents 200 works by nearly 120 people, teams and collectives. It represents artists, designers, artisans, D.I.Y. improvisers and people engaged in various combinations of those already fuzzy job descriptions, toiling in ways that blur aesthetics, sociology and philosophy
Read the full review here. MADmuseum also provided a very helpful Teachers Resource Packet designed for k-12 teaching but useful as a brief introduction to the artists and artwork. Above, an installation view of the exhibition, from the NYTimes.

Jan 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New year to everyone. Pictured above: Ogbechie, "Angel of the Morning". Street Art in Los Angeles, 2010.