May 23, 2008

Nollywood Foundation at LAFF

The Nollywood Foundation is collaborating with Film Independent on the Los Angele Film Festival 2008 event. This collaboration includes an NF hosted film screening and mixers to introduce key Nollywood filmmakers to their Hollywood counterparts. Below: ...with Richard Raddon, Director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, at a planning meeting earlier this year.

Nollywood Foundation Convention 2008

Above, the latest poster for the upcoming Nollywood Foundation Convention 208. Check out our new Nollywood Foundation website for more information on this seminal event. NF Convention 2008 partners include Film Independent, parent company of the Los Angeles Film Festival, and many other significant organizations.

Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen on NPR's Marketplace

The acclaimed Nollywood Director Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen was recently featured on NPR's Marketplace, a popular program that provides financial news on the National Public Radio network based in the USA (click here for details). Lancelot is on the Advisory Board of the Nollywood Foundation and is a personal friend of mine. In the past fifteen years, he has directed over 120 Nollywood films and remains one of the industry's most vocal advocates. Kudos to Lancelot on this well-deserved notice.

May 16, 2008

Noteworthy News: Sharon F. Patton

Smithsonian Institution Director of the National Museum of African Art, Sharon F. Patton is resigning her position . The official announcement is posted below.

Dear Colleagues,

Dr. Sharon F. Patton, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, has announced she is resigning from her position to pursue other career opportunities, effective at the end of this year. Sharon has been director of the museum for five years, since March 2003, having served on the museum’s advisory board from 2000 until her appointment as director.

As director, Sharon oversees the museum’s holdings of more than 9,000 African art objects. Under her leadership the museum acquired the notable Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection of more than 500 objects representing nearly every area of the continent of Africa. The collection was donated in 2005 and its inaugural exhibition opened in 2007.

Sharon established new programs such as “Treasures”—exhibitions featuring exemplary pieces loaned by African Art collectors—and those designed for young audiences including “Playful Performers,” “BIG/small” and the upcoming “Thinking with Animals.” She also encouraged the acquisition and exhibition of contemporary African Art, including “Gawu,” the show on major international artist El Anatsui who turns discarded metal into remarkable works of art. She established as a complement to contemporary exhibitions, a Visiting Artist program, which provides opportunities for middle-school, university-college students and the public to meet artists and learn firsthand about their works.

Sharon intends to remain active in the fields of African and African American art. We will appoint a selection committee and begin a national search for a new director in the coming weeks.

I know you will join me in thanking Sharon for her service to the museum and the Smithsonian and in wishing her every success in the future.


Richard Kurin
Acting Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture

May 12, 2008

The Stakes of Art Criticism in Africa

The article below was forwarded to me by a friend. I thought it's worth posting in its entirety, including with its introduction from an unidentified interlocutor. "[This article originally appeared in Gallery No. 19, March 1999, pp. 14-15; and appears here with the permission of the author and the publisher. Initial interest in republishing this article stemmed in part from the need to highlight the critical contribution of publications produced in Africa - Gallery was published from 1994 to 2002 by the Delta Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe. On the occasion of the forthcoming AICA/VANSA seminar (8-10 November 2007) it seemed a good time to make Professor Konate's article accessible, and to pose the question: have there been any substantive changes since this was written? MP]"

The Stakes of Art Criticism in Africa
Yacouba Konate
Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics
University of Abidjan-Cocody, Ivory Coast.

In Africa, one may point out a polymorph demand for art criticism. This demand is related to a real deficit of writing about art. Indeed, very few artists in Africa own a personal catalogue. Even when they have attained a certain notoriety, most of them only feature in collective catalogues where, alongside their identity photo and a short CV, one or two photos of their works are reproduced. Bouba Keita from Mali who died in 1997, Malangatana from Mozambique, Ahmadou Sow in Senegal, Lyolo from Democratic Congo - all those artists who have dedicated their life to art - deserve critical reviews and merit a monograph for instance.

Secondly, the demand for art criticism comes from the public. The deregulation of the traditional rules of aesthetics, the proliferation of conceptual art, and the fact that anything can be presented as an artwork lead the public to understand that anybody, including themselves, can pretend to be artists. But the public need to verify their doubts and incertitudes. So they look to the critics, waiting for enlightening argument.

The demand for art criticism proceeds also from the artworks themselves. The dynamism of creativity and power of imagination in Africa have cultivated several areas of high artistic intensity and produced a lot of incisive and cutting works which are both pierces of singular lives and pieces of collective history. Luis Meque's exploration of the underground life in the cities, Ishmael Wilfred's fascination for the presence of spirits in our daily modern life, the reinvention of the African sculpture by Mustapha Dime or by Tapfuma Gutsa, are not just amazing and exciting for the gaze. They are also basic, suggestive and succulent foods for the aesthetic intelligence of Africans facing their actuality and finding new paths between their present past and their future present.

One may define also a structural demand for art criticism. During this last decade, a culture of biennales has flourished. From the Cairo biennale of contemporary art in North Africa to the Johannesburg biennale in Southern Africa, passing through the Dakar biennale in West Africa, the agenda of the visual arts in Africa is not blank. It is busy and each event develops its unique form and content.

Devoted to African artists inside and outside Africa including the African Diaspora, the Dakar biennale nourishes the aim to become panafricanist. The treatment of African art is different in the two other biennales with African artists in the minority and the international dimension emphasized. In fact both of these manifestations, Johannesburg and Cairo, want to be international biennales in Africa rather than being an African biennale.

The structures and processes of these different art exhibitions in Africa are themselves open to debate. For instance, while the Dakar and Johannesburg biennales work with curators who are more or less responsible for the selection of the artists, the Cairo event gives more power to institutional structures. That is to say, curators of national galleries and ministries of culture inside the countries are implicated in the selection of the artists.

The situation of cinema, dance, photography, music and drama is simpler. Each of these arts has its own festival. The Panafricanist Festival of Cinema of Ouagadougou, the Choreographical Meetings of Luanda, the Photography Meetings of Bamako and the Market of Live Arts of Abidjan don't seem to have a problem of identity. It could be highly instructive to put in perspective the aesthetic tendencies in these different artistic disciplines. One of the main concerns across all these various fields is: What are the logics and the aesthetics of these different exhibitions? How is African art invented and why" But these questions must be preceded by another one: How is art criticism to be conceived, formatted and executed regarding these demands?

One may distinguish at least three types of criticism: the journalistic, the academic and, between these two, the critical writing in specialized journals. The first is the most current. Impressionist in its inspiration, journalistic criticism is a kind of immediate reaction, which doesn't taker the time for distancing. Engaged in the invention of the daily pages, this discourse on art avoids the jargon and the superimposition of theoretical references which construct the preciosity of the academic style. In the middle field, the criticism practiced by art magazines can combine the advantages of the two previous methods without assuming their faults. It can master its specific assets: better quality of photographic reproductions, opportunity to take the time to think and write, etc. But the problem is that there are not enough art magazines in Africa. The few that exist are not as rich as they need to be to attract the active collaboration of journalists and scholars. However, the problem of art criticism in Africa is not just a problem of publication, it is also a problem of ability or opportunity to exhibit the works of artists with which the African art critic can and must engage so that they can stimulate a real discussion and communicate the reason for showing such artworks and the need for the public themselves to try to elaborate the meanings of the artworks they like or don't like.

Since the beginning of the century, the so-called traditional African art has been aestheticised while Negro art was produced. This aestheticisation has fostered a blindness to the art in process. One had to wait until the end of the 1960s before hearing some names of modern African artists. This process can be observed in the domain of photography. What is celebrated under the name of African photography refers to the daily work of the earlier photographers in Africa, before the 1960s, and we fund again the same contagious effects between aesthetics, sociology and ethnology. At the same time, the visibility of contemporary African photographers becomes problematic.

Prominence is given to neo-primitivist artists in the internationalisation of African contemporary painting and sculpture. What has been promoted as authentic African art is, most of the time, that which appears to rupture Western standards. But at the same time, the ambiguity of the norm of authenticity has generated negative criteria. The short list of the items of this exigency are (i.e. to be an 'authentic' African artist is): not to be influenced by Western art, not to have been a scholar of a school of fine arts, not to be young, not to be expert in artistic rights, not to be already known, etc. Meanwhile, an artist dealing with popular imagination or offering the spectacle of a laughing Africa, is welcome. Such a policy digs a deep gap between the external point of view presented as an international one, and the internal status of the artwork. The risk is that, as airport art has increased its empire, neo-primitivist trends encapsulate creativity and direct it.

As long as the script of African art continues to be conceived from outside, African art will appear as the 'other' of Western art. If we accept that the process of African contemporary art criticism consists, first, in gaining distance from the sociological and ethnological codes, and then second, in assuming a personal observation and imagination, we may recognize that African artistic production can no longer be seen as the other of someone else. As long as African art continues to be seen as the other of western art, it can never be itself. Alienated from itself and from the other, how can African art avoid remaining on the borderline of the international art system? How can it prevent itself from being the external border of African culture? We must find out an alternate way, which must not prohibit the first view point but which will overcome and dialecticise it. The professionals and the amateurs of African art criticism must not just speak about African artists and exhibitions. They must also orchestrate, from their internal African points of view, their personal syntax of African material cultures. This will begin to put an end to the monolithic externally-driven discourse on Africa and start to explore the heterogeneity of African cultures in the light of their internal histories.

Modou Dieng at PNCA

Modou Dieng has been appointed to the faculty of the Pacific Northwest College of Art as an Assistant Professor. The Search Committee for this appointment noted that out of many qualified candidates, "Dieng emerged as the candidate that would most strongly contribute to the departmental pedagogical dialog, strengthen MFA mentoring and provide potential for courses with a cross-disciplinary or cross-cultural focus. The Committee further recognized that Dieng exhibited strong professional practice as well as skills and knowledge in areas of contemporary and non-western art and design as well as international experience. Dieng received his BFA from the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Senegal in 1995, and his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2006. He uses mixed media, painting, photography and installation strategies to engage in issues of urban history, race, social status, gender, and belonging. He has exhibited in galleries and museums in Los Angeles, Brussels, Paris, New York, Madrid and others. Dieng is the founder and curator of Worksound Gallery in Portland, Oregon.

Modou Dieng's installation was used on the cover of the inaugural edition of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture. Aachronym wishes Dieng well as he pursues his professional career and his new job.

May 8, 2008

Notable News...

Time Magazine's current cover page comments on the ongoing US Elections. Since the democratic nomination isn't quite secured, Time, like many other major US news outlets, is hedging its bet. Nevertheless, it tracks an emerging phenomenally important moment in US history.

May 5, 2008

ARTHOUSE-Lagos Art Auction

ArtHouse Contemporary Limited, Lagos Nigeria, held an art auction in Lagos on April 7, 2008. This formal art auction, complete with a well produced catalog of the artworks with list prices, a British art auctioneer specially flown in to oversee the auction, consignments of modern and contemporary Nigerian art selected from artists and art collectors brings the age of modern art auctions to Nigeria in earnest. According to the auctioneers, the Arthouse auction netted over $650,000 from the sale of 100 artworks with top prices going to works by Bruce oNobrakpeya that sold for almost $100,000 (see a typically breathless Nigerian newspaper review of the auction here). Obviously this sale price is very minimal given the great international fame and long-professional experience of the artist. Nevertheless, it is true that modern and contemporary African art is grossly undervalued in the global arena compared to similar work by white artists. The point is that without formal auctions of this sort, it is impossible to fairly determine the value of modern and contemporary African art in the global marketplace when the artists involved are not those contemporary African artists who live and work in the West whose work is often used to represent Africa in the global marketplace. Arthouse's auction is groundbreaking precisely because it inaugurates a formal process of bringing modern and contemporary Nigerian art to the global market as a means of determining its value as an economic product.

There was also a recent well-received exhibition of modern African art from the main pioneer modern African artists (Onabolu, Enwonwu, Sekoto, etc) in South Africa organized by the Michael Stevenson Gallery recently. The art exhibition, accompanied by sales of included artworks at fixed prices, was titled "Take Your Road and Travel Along" (see pictures of the exhibited artworks at here). I recently received the catalogs of the Arthouse-Lagos auction and the South African art exhibition and will review both in the next few days. I think these initiatives have great merit and look forward to their next incarnations.