Jul 30, 2008

Delta Airline Baggage Rules

Getting ready for my trip and I'm reviewing Delta Airlines baggage rules online. I'm flying out of Los Angeles International and need to drive one and half hours to get there, and get there at least three hours early to be assured passage customs due to long lines at LAX. While reviewing Delta's luggage rules, I noticed that there is a categorical Delta airline embargo on extra luggage specifically for travelers to

* Georgetown, Guyana (GEO)
* Guatemala City, Guatemala (GUA)
* Lagos, Nigeria (LOS)
* Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ)
* Santiago, Dominican Republic (STI)

This means I can't take extra luggage on my trip to Lagos even if I offer to pay an additional cost for the item. I imagine this has something to do with Delta's effort to reduce fuel costs (greater load on long-haul flights equals greater fuel consumption). However, I find this restriction worrisome for many reasons. Why these five destinations? If I were traveling to Tokyo, will this restriction apply? To Australia? South Africa? If not, why not? How did the airline select these destinations as embargo schedules?

It is particularly galling to see Lagos-Nigeria in this list. The Nigerian route is profitable to any airline that flies there. There are few direct flights and Delta is one of two airlines currently flying from USA to Lagos direct. Many Nigerians can't afford to travel to Nigeria frequently from the USA and therefore have to make their trips home count by taking excess luggage. In the past, Delta and other USA and European carriers have been content to merely finagle money out of such travelers. This current ban is rather harsh and it seems to me, very arbitrary. It essentially increases every Nigerian's cost of travel to Nigeria, an added worry when economy class travel costs over $4000 round trip these days.

There is an added problem here: the usual luggage allocation for international travel is 70 lbs weight. However, the Delta airlines flight to Lagos makes a stop in Atlanta for a connecting flight to Lagos. While luggage on this route is checked directly through to Lagos, the fact of the Atlanta stopover means that Delta treats the first leg of the journey as a local trip. This allows them to charge for second checked luggage and also restrict travelers to the 50 lbs domestic luggage allowance. (You have to clear custom at Atlanta with your luggage on the return flight but that is another issue). Flights routed though Europe don't have this problem: luggage is checked through to final destination at both ends with the maximum 70 lbs allowed.

Obviously, in an ideal situation, one would simply choose to fly on another airline in order to avoid this problem. I am however hearing from other Nigerians who traveled this summer that all the airlines are enforcing this arbitrary embargo on extra luggage on the Lagos route. One notes this unfair treatment as another indictment of the so-called era of globalization. It is bad enough that Nigerians are harassed in Western borders. This is a new thing: that you can actually afford to pay and yet be refused a service that other travelers take for granted, or receive truncated and grudging service instead. It seems our marginalization proceeds unchecked.

That said, wakabout mus waka. Next stop, Lagos.

"Some Thoughts on Benin Bronzes"

The blog Looting Matters just published a post by David Gill titled Some Thoughts on Benin Bronzes in which he reviews James Cuno's book, Who Owns Antiquity?

Gill provides some concrete examples of the manner in which looted art from Benin was disseminated in Britain after the 1897 Benin Punitive Expedition. After review in in part Cuno's statements about these artworks and the claim of Benin culture to them, Gill concludes that we cannot ignore the ignoble way these bronzes moved from the Oba's palace in Benin City to market and from thence to private and public collections. They are stolen good, period (read the full post here).

Those interested in the issues at stake should refer to the excellent analysis of the Benin invasion by art historian Annie Coombes. She examines in great detail the fate of the looted bronzes and their reception in Britain and Europe (see Annie Coombes, Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994). The picture below shows members of the British Expeditionary Force posing with looted art from the palace of the Benin King.

China Rising: China's Influence in Africa (NPR Report)

The National Public Radio of the USA (NPR) is airing a five-part series on the pros and cons of China's growing influence in Africa. According to NPR,
China's role in Africa is becoming increasingly important and controversial. In recent years, China's trade with the continent has reached more than $55 billion and continues to grow, with predictions that it will double by 2020, if not before. China is now Africa's third-largest trading partner. But as its profile has grown on the continent, so have concerns about Beijing's hands-off policy on internal affairs and human rights' issues, from Sudan to Zimbabwe...
(click here for full text and see especially the report on China's Sudan policy)

"Experimental Frontiers": Exhibition of Nigerian and South African Art

The Nigerian curator Okay Nwafor announces the following exhibition project in Cape Town, South Africa. According to the exhibition press release posted in full here,
Okey Nwafor is a student of African Program in Museum and Heritage Studies, a programme of the University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town and Robben Island Museum. He has a BA in Fine and Applied Arts from the department of Fine and Applied Arts of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and MFA from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria. He has traveled widely and participated in numerous international workshops and exhibitions. He is a member of the Pan African Circle of Artists. He is also a poet and writer.

EXPERIMENTAL FRONTIERS: Society Seen Through the Eyes of South African and Nigerian Artists.
Vansa Western Cape Space
8-10 Spin Street Cape Town,
8018, South Africa

Curator: Okey Nwafor

Nigeria and South Africa have not really been juxtaposed under the platform of the visual arts. Despite epochal positions occupied by these two countries in the African art scene curators have never thought it expedient to bring these countries face to face under art. Both countries although have had cause to work together in different creative quests have never engaged each other under changing artistic paradigm.

This exhibition is conceptualized not only as an important occasion to address the above theme but also to compare the extent of experimental motivations among younger artists from both countries. The exhibition hopes to interrogate how society has influenced their creative production contextually and formally. Are their motivations socially relevant? Or have their creativities resonated with mere fantastic balderdash? Have they made statements considered as mere rhetoric by the society or have they defied all humanly imposed fear to speak in a manner that reminds one of the emotional temper of 19th Century Romanticism? Diderot notes of two qualities essential for the artist, “Is it socially relevant?” and “is it true?” If this statement is anything worth interrogating then this exhibition has done so in a manner that draws attention to these artists’ sense of seeing. The exhibition tries to initiate debate around the society, the meanings and the purpose of art.

Exhibiting Artists
1. Bright Eke
2. Amarachi Okafor
3. Ozioma Onuzulike
4.Chike Obeagu
5. Dan Halter
6. Stuart Bird
7. Ndidi Dike

Images (from top):
Bright Eke, Exiled From River of Oil, Installation, 2007; Dan Halter, Take Me to Your Leader, Installation, 2006; Amarachi Okafor, Fill Me Up, Installation, 2007; Ndidi Dike, Creating My Own Fabric, Acrylic, 2004




Jul 29, 2008

Chike Obiagu, Painter

I'm experimenting with Slide.com for posting multiple images. These ones are by the Nigerian artist Chike Obiagu. Place cursor on image for titles or click on "view all images" for display on a new page link. Enjoy.

Jul 26, 2008

Returner...

Over the next few weeks, I'll blog on contemporary Nigerian art from Nigeria, while spending time in Lagos on a summer research project initiative that I've been planning for a long time. During the trip, I will revisit some major issues taken up by Aachronym since its inception, especially concerning the state of Nigerian art at a moment of increasing global attention to the economics of cultural patrimony and contemporary practice in Africa. It is my opinion that current cultural projects in the country will benefit from a focused examination of goals and objectives. Usually when I travel to Nigeria these days, I give talks and seminars on Nigerian art and the economics of cultural patrimony.

I left Nigeria in 1993 and this summer makes it exactly fifteen years since I immigrated to the USA. Since 2006 when I returned home to bury my father, I have been back many times and now travel back frequently (this is my second trip this year alone). Every time I return however, I have a clear sense (as my blog of recent travels across three continents reveal) that I have become a stranger in my own country though net yet quite settled in my adopted country. This is the peril of exile, that one's original homeland exists mainly as a pool of mediated memories. When I left home, the Nigerian economy was in shambles, universities were failing and a palpable mood of national malaise hung over my countrymen. Today, in the age of $100 barrels of oil, Nigeria is once again awash in oil money and the boom times have returned: the middle class is stirring again but politics remains as confounding as ever. However, nowadays you also hear of attempts to enforce the rule of law, to bring egregious crime to justice in ways that were previously impossible to even imagine. I sense that there is hope and that a new generation of Nigerians is making the most of globalization to better its lot. As always, I leave politics to the politicians since Nigerian politics is a zero-sum game. When you've been gone as long as I've been, being a returner means treading very carefully. Nevertheless, I have roots in Nigeria. I left the country as an adult and retain many old friends. We gather sporadically to laugh at our expanding girths and compare notes. The poet once said that time will get the best of us all. There is no truth greater than this.

So why the frequent returns? I am interested in the changing economic status of art and cultural production in Nigeria. The country is directing significant funds to art. My engagements with the Nollywood Foundation in the past four years shows that this industry continues to grow rapidly. So does the Nigerian art sector in general. In fact that many artists are doing very well and the price of artworks is steadily rising. I am interested in this new economic capability of the art and culture sector in Nigeria and will review it in greater detail on this trip. For a scholar to be interested in the economics of art seems rather odious to many traditional scholars who preach the ideal of "objectivity". I personally think that this ideal is an illusion that masks the symbiosis of art scholarship and the art market, which are basically twins joined at the hip. In our age of blockbuster art exhibitions, tent-pole biennales and glamorous art fairs, a major curator is essentially managing the resource pool of a small corporation, which often runs to millions of dollars, while a major museum director is best seen as CEO of a company involved in producing value for artworks through intellectual and cultural validation. It is for this reason that the value of African artworks subsist in objects held in Western museums rather than in Africa, much in the same manner that the value of Africa natural resources is determined by fiat in Western markets. I think Africans are beginning to ask difficult questions about this arrangement, to wonder why as Nigerians say, monkey dey work but baboon dey chop (one person labors while another benefits).

Over the past couple of years, I have repeatedly asked the following questions: what is the value of African cultural production? How can this value be made to accrue to African producers rather than Western collectors of African art? How will Africa benefit from the global economy of cultural production and does it need to replicate Western institutions (museums, art fairs, art auctions, etc.) to become a player in global cultural economics? Above all, why is black cultural knowledge worldwide undervalued and what can be done to change this fact? I have worked on these issues as a scholar but also as an entrepreneur through the company I founded, Aachron Incorporated. I work on these issues expressly to clarify the links between cultural production, intellectual validation and the reality of artworks as objects/practices of economic value. I believe these are the questions of our age and all art historians of African art should work with these questions in mind. The time is way past when intellectual work simply makes African art available for Western appropriation both physically and economically, with no value accruing to its African producers.

So the sojourner returns, at the confluence of these seasons. This promises to be a very interesting journey.

Image credit: Laitan Fawehinmi, Tinubu Square, Lagos. Oil on board, 1991. Collection of the Mbanefo Charitable Foundation

An Interesting Discussion: Kwame Opoku's Commentaries

Guest blogger Kwame Opoku continues to his prolific and insightful challenge of the Western museum establishment on matters of cultural patrimony and legal equity concerning looted African art in the West. His commentaries on Afrikanet draws the attention of significant readers and is a must read on the subject of African cultural patrimony and repatriation. He is also increasingly cited in other blogs that follow his frequent commentary.

Jul 23, 2008

"One Third of Brooklyn Museum's Coptic Art is Fake"

The Art Newspaper reports that one third of the Coptic sculptures at the Brooklyn Museum of Art are modern fakes. Its collection of late Egyptian sculpture was, until now, the second largest in North America. Brooklyn curator Dr Edna Russmann, who is concluding a study of the works, warns that other museums which acquired Coptic sculptures in the past 50 years are likely to face similar problems (read the full article report here)

This finding has huge implications for public perception of value of artworks in the Brooklyn Museum since the ideal of authenticity and its ensuing protocols of authentication is the bedrock of financial and intellectual valuation of artworks in museums worldwide, especially of the powerful Western museums whose collection are used to establish structures of value and validation for the global art collection process. What will one find if one subjects the collections of most major museums to strict scrutiny to determine the authenticity of their artworks? There is of course the larger argument against the notion of authenticity especially in analysis of African artworks, where such notions break down upon close examination (most African art exist within a continuum where forms and styles may be endlessly repeated). What is clear is that existing structures used to determine the value and authenticity of artworks from all contexts face major challenges in the contemporary era. It will become increasingly obvious that in many cases, the authentication protocols of many major museums work very much like the Ponzi Scheme concerning global markets that's now taking its toll on global financial institutions, where an insular group of "experts" determine the value of artworks by opaque protocols dependent on norms that are largely left unexplained. This particular problem emerged in recent time, concerning the authentication of a Jackson Pollock painting, a narrative enunciated in the movie "Who The #$&% is Jackson Pollock?" (see a description of the movie here, and its DVD cover below). In the movie, Teri Horton, a retired long-haul truck driver, buys a thrift shop painting for $5 only to discover it might be a Jackson Pollock. Experts of all kinds weigh in to confirm or deny the claim with hilarious results.

I look forward to hearing the Brooklyn Museum's explanation of its predicament and how it will justify the inevitable crash in the value of the fake Coptic artworks that it acquired for a lot of money. The museum might also serve itself well by reviewing its other holdings: it is my experience that museums avoid such close scrutiny for fear of what they might find.

Jul 18, 2008

UCTV Airs 2007 Mbanefo Foundation Conference Videos

Currently showing on University of California Television (UCTV), videos of the proceedings of the 2007 Mbanefo Foundation Conference "Interrogating African Modernity: Art, Cultural Politics and Global Identities. The conference was sponsored by the Mbanefo Foundation at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in May 2007. The UCTV videos airs in different segments each focused on the total content of individual panels, in this case part two of the conference (click here for the program). This program and other videos are available online on UCTV's web site.

Jul 15, 2008

Tasteless Jokes

The New Yorker magazine's current cover page has set off a political firestorm and social outrage. The magazine's editors went on national news to defend the publication for what it described as a creative use of satire which supposedly defended Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama against persistent rumors that he is a sort of Islamic manchurian candidate. However, the tasteless cover it produced and claimed to be a satire is in fact a cure more deadly than the disease. It has been universally panned and puts the New Yorker magazine, a stalwart of the liberal intellectual left, on the defensive against charges of racism.

As a long-term subscriber to the New Yorker, I found the cover page very offensive and my first intention was to cancel my subscription to the journal immediately. However, I wrote in this blog in connection with the flap over Vogue magazine's cover pictures of Lebron James as King Kong, that while it is important to remember how visual images have been used to demonize and denigrate black peoples in recent history, it is also important that black people not see everything and every issue through the lens of race. I am willing to take the New Yorker at its word that it intended the cover to be a satire. However, they should also realize that the cover is very tasteless and that it does great damage to the candidate's political fortunes since it is bound to be taken up as a slanderous piece of propaganda by people who don't have the maligned candidate's best interest at heart.

No one is preaching censorship here but the New Yorker will do well to examine the impact of its "satire" on the public perception of both candidates as it pursues its hard-hitting stories (and in all fairness, theNew Yorker's done some of the best stories on Obama's candidacy in this political process). I have however followed the changing fortunes of political satire in this country for close to two decades and it occurs to me that every time you see an offensive image of this sort, it almost always demonizes non-white peoples as rabid antisocial characters. Every political candidate is fair game for political satire but one should at least have the decency to not demonize their families for any reason. In this regard, the New Yorker's claim of political satire would have worked were it focused solely on Obama in native Kenyan garb. The additional image of Michele Obama toting an assault rifle, the burning flag in the fireplace and the portrait of Osama bin Ladin on the wall, goes beyond the pale. Sophisticated political satire is not something everyone understands but you can bet that those who don't understand nuanced forms of political satire are most likely to take the New Yorker cover page at face value. I especially have reservations posting the image to my blog but will do so to retain it as a record of public opinion and a critique of the idea that social satire justifies such extremist views of a candidate. Not every subject lends itself to satire and one should be very careful when so-called satire ends up advancing the negativity it supposedly satirizes.

Jul 14, 2008

Workshop: Centre for Media and Communication, Lagos

The Pan African University's Centre for Media and Communication in Lagos is holding a two-day workshop on Nollywood scheduled for July 18-19, 2008. Titled Nollywood: Challenges of Production, Entertainment Value and International Marketing Strategies, the seminar brings together an international group of scholars to discuss the technologies and economics of Nollywood film production in the global context. Speakers include Prof. Hyginus Ekwuazi of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Harry Garuba of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Prof. Jonathan Haynes of Long Island University in New York, Prof. Femi Odugbemi--Chief Executive of DVWORX Studios Lagos, Prof. Ikechukwu Obiaya of the Pan-African University Lagos, and Prof. Onookome Okome of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

BENIN EXHIBITION IN CHICAGO...

Guest Blogger Kwame Opoku considers issues of African cultural patrimony engendered by the traveling exhibition of Benin Art, at the Art Institute of Chicago.
******************
BENIN EXHIBITION IN CHICAGO: CUNO AGREES TO CONSIDER REQUEST FOR RESTITUTION OF BENIN BRONZES
© Kwame Opoku, 2008

The exhibition, Benin - Kings and Rituals: Royal Arts from Nigeria, which started in Vienna, in 2007, went on to Paris and Berlin, was opened in Chicago, on 10 July and will be there until 21 September 2008. For various reasons, including the fear of litigation and judicial attempts to seize some of the Benin bronzes, only some 220 objects will be displayed in Chicago compared to some 300 objects in Berlin. The bad consciences of some of the holders of these objects seem to have been activated by the previous protests in Chicago and the discussions on the illegality and illegitimacy of their possession. Hence some owners were not willing to let their artifacts cross the Atlantic to the USA where judges are quick to order seizure of artworks which are alleged to have been stolen or dubious provenance.

A 40 page catalog specifically made for the Chicago exhibition, Benin: Royal Arts of a West African Kingdom,(click here for images of artworks from the exhibition) does not appear to be ready yet but will highlight 22 masterpieces from Benin art and includes as essay by the curator, Kathleen Bickford Berzock. As we have mentioned in various articles, the 535 page catalog edited by Barbara Plankensteiner for the exhibition in Vienna, Paris and Berlin is a masterwork and should be also consulted by all those seriously interested in the arts of Benin. (1) The home page of the Art Institute of Chicago contains very useful information, including videos for the understanding of the exhibition and the arts and culture of Benin.

According to reports from Chicago, the opening of the exhibition was an impressive affair with the presence of the august Nigerian visitors as well as prominent Nigerians based in Chicago and Illinois.(2) Important Chicago officials such as the Mayor were present as well as Reverend Jesse Jackson, the African-American leader and activist. Edo singers and dancers as well as West African bands were also there to contribute to the occasion in African fashion by providing music, an indispensable element in all African social activities. Once again, the Benin Royal Family emphasized the need for the return of the artworks which were stolen by the British in 1897. Princess Theresa Evbakhavbokun Erediauwa stated that she wants to build a secure museum in Benin. She and the Nigerian officials there asked for support in recovering the artworks back through diplomatic channels. She wanted her family heirlooms back. These objects tell the story of her family. Chief Esosa Godwin Eghobamien stated that the presence on the artworks in Benin would provide more and better context. Visitors to exhibitions where these objects are displayed often do not even know where Benin is and it would be better if they came to see where the artworks were produced and thus see where civilization started in Africa. Kingsley Ehi, a real estate manager in Chicago and head of the Edo Arts and Cultural Heritage expressed the hope that these artworks will soon be returned home.

Despite the sad story of the looting of the Benin bronzes, Prince Ademola Iyi-Eweka was impressed by the exhibition; he would like the artworks to be returned. The world should know that Benin has survived despite losing the war against the British. Diplomatic efforts are being made to secure the Benin bronzes but if that fails, steps would be taken to institute legal proceedings. James Cuno, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, responded to the plea of the Nigerian representatives by saying that the Art Institute of Chicago which is not involved, only possesses half a dozen Benin works of art which are beautiful and important. The encyclopaedic museum allowed art works from various countries to be seen at one place and their interconnections. He was concerned by the trend towards consolidating art from a particular time or place in a single location. A dispersal of the objects enables more people to see the objects and also reduces the risk of calamity. Despite all this, Cuno stated that if there were a request for the return of the Benin objects, the Art Institute of Chicago would consider it seriously.

Cuno’s statement must be considered as noteworthy of attention, coming from a man considered by many as the defender of the “universal museum”’ a guru for all those who believe nothing should leave the British Museum and similar “universal museums.” (3) Cuno has made repeated attacks on those he calls “nationalist retentionists” for claiming ownership of artifacts of ancient peoples with whom they have nothing in common except that they occupy the same territory as the ancient civilizations. The report on Cuno’s statement is sketchy and we do not have his exact words. We do not know whether he repeated his usual criticism of those claiming restitution in his abrasive style in presence of the Royal Family of Benin and the Nigerian officials. If the statements attributed to him are to be believed, then Cuno has made a small but significant shift in his stand. He did not dismiss outright such claims but is willing to consider such claims. Willingness to consider does not imply acceptance of the claim but it at least shows an admission that such claims may be valid in some cases.

We do not have the full text of Cuno’s statement and may never have it since it appears to be the policy or practice of this exhibition not to publish the full text of statements made at the opening. I still have not seen any text of statements made in Vienna, Paris or Berlin. This is an interesting practice in a scholarly matter. We hope that when Cuno says he will consider the matter when a request is made, he is suggesting that so far no request has been made since this will be blatantly false. The Nigerians have repeatedly in Vienna, Berlin and Chicago made it clear that they want the Benin artworks back. What else must they do? We have shown in several articles that there is no legal requirement for a formal demand. If the Art Institute is willing to consider returning some of the Benin bronzes but feels that the Institute’s regulations or some binding law would require written demand, he should in good faith, inform the Nigerians about this requirement and the relevant procedure. He should not leave it to the Nigerians to beat about the bush. Any other approach would seem to be merely delaying tactic. Cuno as well as the Nigerians are interested in clearing this matter if the co-operation he hopes for is to be fruitful.

A goodwill gesture by the Art Institute of Chicago would be an encouragement to those holding hundreds of Benin bronzes to come forward and make their indispensable contribution. Despite statements by a mischievous director of a famous American museum, neither this writer nor any of those arguing for restitution are suggesting that all Benin objects be returned to Benin. We are only suggesting that it is time that, for example, the British Museum which allegedly holds 1000 pieces and the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, which admittedly has 800 pieces could each afford to return some pieces each. The nightmare of the museum directors that they may one day find their museums emptied of all their African objects is a figment of the troubled imagination of those who have not attempted to understand the position of others.

Discussions in Nigeria on the restitution question, in view of the Chicago exhibition, are concerned with the lack of progress in the process of recovery (4). Comparisons have been made with the spectacular return of a number of objects by US museums to Italy. It is known that the Italians used both diplomatic negotiations, legal proceedings, including imprisonment of a curator of the Paul Getty Museum. In this context, one could also mention the success of another African country, Egypt, in recovering some 3000 objects in the last six years. The Supreme Council on Egyptians Antiquities, under the dynamic leadership of Zahi Hawass, publish their activities at their homepage and their objectives are made known to the public and all concerned. In an article published in the Nigerian newspaper, The Guardian, it appears that the aim of the Nigerian Government at the moment is to make an inventory of Nigeria’s stolen artefacts. The Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation is reported to have disclosed that a committee will be set up to make an inventory of Nigeria’s artifacts within and outside the country. In this connection, it is recalled that the Minister was reported to have referred to the establishing of such an inventory in his speech in February, at the opening of the Benin exhibition in Berlin. Despite all efforts, we have not been able to secure a copy of the text of that statement.

With regard to an inventory of stolen Nigerian artworks abroad, it should be stated that with regard to the Benin bronzes, the catalog prepared by Barbara Plankensteiner for the exhibition in Vienna, Paris and Berlin, contains information sufficient for the identification of the locations and owners of the Benin objects. Philip J. C. Dark, in his study, “Benin Bronze Heads: Styles and Chronology”, identified 6500 Benin objects in some 77 places, mostly museums.(5) Similar publications and information on other Nigerian arts, such as those of Ife and Nok are easily available. We know for sure that some Nok objects are in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, which had been illegally acquired by the French.

A complete inventory of Nigerian artworks inside and outside the country appears to be more than a Herculean task the utility of which should be carefully considered. Most of the countries than have recently recovered stolen arts do not seem to have made such an inventory but proceeded as and when information became available. However one looks at the issue of restitution, it is clear that the Queen Idia hip-pendant mask means more to Africans and Nigerians than to Europeans and the British. Which European derives inspiration or hope from the African Queen-mother? Indeed, most Europeans are not even aware that there are so many African Queens and Kings held against their will in European and American museums. If the European museum directors do not understand this, they should stop talking about heritage of mankind. What kind of heritage is this which allows one side to high-jack for hundreds of years the religious, ritual and cultural icons of the other?

If the Art Institute of Chicago finally decides to return a Benin bronze, quiet diplomacy would be given a great boost. If nothing comes out of cooperation with such institutions, the Nigerians must seriously re-examine their position and methods so far.

NOTES
1) Barbara Plankensteiner, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria. Ghent: Snoeck Publishers, 2007, pp.535
2) Lynette Kalsnes, “Arts from Ancient Kingdom Come to Chicago”, www.wbez.org
3) James Cuno, Who owns Antiquity? Princeton University Press, Princeton and London, 2008. See also,K.Opoku, “DO PRESENT-DAY EGYPTIANS EAT THE SAME FOOD AS TUTHANKHAMUN? REVIEW OF JAMES CUNO’S WHO OWNS ANTIQUITY?
4) See Annex. Tajudeen Sowole, “In Chicago, stolen Benin artifacts on parade www.guardiannewsngr.com
5) Barbara Plankensteiner, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria.
6) Philip J.C. Dark, “Benin Bronze Heads: Styles and Chronology”, in African Images: Essays in African Iconology , (Eds) D. F. McCall and Edna G. Bay. New York, London: Africana Publishing Co. 1975, pp.25-104; see also, Dark, Introduction to Benin Art and Technology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973 pp.114.

Jul 13, 2008

ARESUVA

Forthcoming in Abuja-Nigeria, the first African Regional Summit & Exhibition on Visual Arts (ARESUVA) scheduled for September 7-13, 2008. According to its website, "the First African Regional Summit & Exhibition on Visual Arts will promote visual arts as a strategy for achieving rapid economic development in the African region as envisioned in NEPAD – New Partnership for African Development. The summit will explore the impact of the visual arts sub-sector in the 21st century as a driver of the market economy. The expected audience comprises delegates from the Visual Arts, African Government Agencies, International trusts and communities in over fifty African countries which will provide inspirational examples of transformation of places and peoples' lives through the Visual Arts. The ARESUVA initiative is spearheaded by Chief Joe Musa, Director General of the Nigerian National Gallery of Art (NGA)

Jul 12, 2008

Zac Orji comments on NF Convention 2008

The following interview with Zac Orji appeared in the Vanguard newspapers of Nigeria, and it reports on the Nigerian delegation to the 2008 Nollywood Foundation Convention in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. Nigerian Vanguard Newspapers reporter Okoh Aihe, who conducted the interview also attended the convention.

Jul 10, 2008

Doctors' Group Plans Apology For Racism

The Washington Post reports that:
The country's largest medical association is set to issue a formal apology today for its historical antipathy toward African American doctors, expressing regret for a litany of transgressions, including barring black physicians from its ranks for decades and remaining silent during battles on landmark legislation to end racial discrimination.

The apology marks one of the rare times a major national organization has expressed contrition for its role in the segregation and discrimination that black people have experienced in the United States.

In a commentary in the July 16 Journal of the American Medical Association, Ronald M. Davis, the organization's immediate past president, noted that many of the organization's questionable actions reflected the "social mores and racial discrimination" that existed for much of the country's history. But, he wrote, that should not excuse them...
(read the full story here).

Apologies of this sort have become the preferred mode of assuaging guilt over the racist heritage of many major world organizations and in recent times, there has been many such apologies. No fair-minded commentator will condemn a person or organization for apologizing for their mistakes. But forgiveness of past errors in all major religions require the offender to make restitution. It is in this regard that most of these apologies have failed. In a world where victims of other kinds of atrocities are compensated for their losses, apologies to Africans and descendants of Africans for past injustices against them have become substitutes for any redeeming actions or restitution. No doubt the AMA is sincere in its apology but we must ask what it's done since then to improve the number of African American children entering the medical field, which remains as balkanized and insular as a fringe-cult.

I once saw a movie--The Human Stain--in which the father of the protagonist works as a railroad porter and chides his son for wanting to be a boxer: boxing, he warned, will ruin his hands and prevent him from being a surgeon. The father himself had given up such dreams a long time ago for the less-respectable but obvious career choice of being a railroad attendant. He dies on the job, right after someone requesting his service called him "boy". This illustrates the fate that AMA consigned many African American men and women to in an age when black people couldn't even aspire to medical practice. Despite this, the medical field worldwide abounds in descendants of Africans who made major contributions to it but were denied credit for their work. And don't even get me started on the medical community's complicity in the use of black people as guinea pigs for drug testing which continues unabated today (major Western pharmaceutical companies routinely carry out human testing of their drugs in Africa, sometimes with devastating results but no culpability for the companies or restitution to the victims).

One can argue that such examples belong to the past and that any African American child can aspire to be a surgeon today. However, many of these children are stuck in underperforming and woefully inadequate educational environments that effectively preclude them from even imagining a career in medicine. AMA should direct its apology to these young ones who can still be helped: it should show its remorse by ensuring that African American children receive proper education that can enable them aspire to a career in medicine. But in a country with no universal health care (and where doctors make too much money to bother about the Hippocratic ethics of benefiting from a dysfunctional system) it might be too much to ask for the apologetic AMA to put its considerable imprimatur to improving educational resources for black children. I expect that a few decades from now, they will issue another apology for their lack of action on this front. But then as now, remorse without responsibility will only amount to empty rhetoric.

Jul 9, 2008

Nollywood Regenerates in Hollywood

Okoh Aihe, a reporter for the Nigerian Vanguard, attended the 2008 Nollywood Foundation Convention and filed this report.

Critical Interventions Journal, Number 2

The second issue of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture has been published and is now ready for dissemination. CI#2 focuses on the question of Visual Publics with essays from top African, American and European scholars of African art history. The journal is available from Aachron Editions and is currently receiving positive responses from scholars of African art with strong subscriptions and important collaborative agreements for distribution with major journal distributors.

Carnegie Corporation Awards $1.8 Million for African Online Journal Archive

PND News Digest reports that "Sabinet Gateway, a South African-based nonprofit that promotes and supports library and information services in Africa, has announced a $1.8 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to create an archive of African journals. Believed to be the first online archive to contain only African content, the African Online Journal Archive will make academic content from all over the continent available for research purposes to local and international organizations and academic institutions. The four-year project will involve sourcing African journal content, negotiating publisher agreements, digitizing and indexing journal content, and creating an interface that will make the journal content easily accessible to users online".

Aachronym congratulates Sabinet Gateway for its success in securing this grant and congratulates South Africa for its continued success in attracting Western patronage. At the same time, the increasing consolidation of major Western grant awards and economic initiatives in South Africa is an issue that bears scrutiny. While one accepts the argument that South African institutions have established mainstream protocols for management of major sectors of their economy, the integration of South Africa into the global economy goes hand in hand with the willful exclusion of other African countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, from the same global economy. I have stated in this blog that South Africa benefits disproportionately from its resident white population: at some point, the racist implications of this global focus on South Africa will need to be examined since it skews the perception of Africa in the global sphere. It is nice to know that there is one African country that the West takes very seriously and caters to in all manners. However, South Africa hasn't really earned its beatification since the conditions of black existence in this country continue to be abysmal and its relation with other African countries is very negligible and relies on protocols carried over from its apartheid past. The elevation of South Africa sustains the idea of an Africa devoid of black people, perceived in the West as a place in need of white control to achieve whatever destiny the West allocates to it.

A caveat here: I posted earlier about Carnegie Corporation's generous provision of $8 million dollars to support Humanities scholars in Africa. I am therefore not accusing the organization or any others mentioned here of any wrongdoing. However it is not really progress when global patronage affords South Africa opportunities to expand its control of technologies of discourse while restricting focus on Sub-Saharan Africa to the economics of charity, based mostly on the sustenance of bare life. Is the Carnegie and other such patrons interested in the production, management and dissemination of information in other African countries? Does the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation fund anything other than eradication of malaria--education of youth for instance? Will our dear sister Oprah consider building a school in Nigeria, Senegal or Kenya? Will the West ever give Africans a fair trade deal that allows people to rise out of poverty? Obviously the struggle continues.

Jul 8, 2008

Kwame Opoku Reviews Recent Publications on African Art

Guest blogger Kwame Opoku reviews two recently published books on African art.
**************************

KWAME OPOKU

EVEN THE FRIENDS OF AFRICA CANNOT ENTIRELY AVOID THE PREJUDICES EMBEDDED IN EUROPEAN CULTURE ABOUT AFRICA AND AFRICANS: REVIEW OF AFRIKA - KUNST UND ARCHITEKTUR AND AFRIKA - DER SCHWARZE KONTINENT BY IVAN BARGNA

For sometime now, I have refused to buy any introductory or general book on African art since I have a problem of space for my books and sometimes cannot find a book I need for lack of order. However, when I saw the cover of Afrika: Kunst und Architektur (1), I was struck by the impressive Mangbetu statute which I was seeing for the first time and therefore could not resist looking into the book. I then opened randomly a page (2) where Ivan Bargna makes a very a strong argument against the European prejudice that African art is “primitive art.” Among other arguments advanced by Bargna, is the fact that however one interprets “primitive”, there is always the understanding that it has, not only not developed but that it is fixed in a timeless frame. He points out that African art not only influenced European art but revolutionized European art through the works of Picasso and the Expressionists. If many Europeans do not easily recognize African art it is because of their familiarity with the African aesthetic through modern European art.

The author has made an extremely good choice of African cultural objects, especially the statutes and masks. He deals with both the traditional art, such as those of Benin, Nok, Asante, Dogon as well as the work of individual modern artists such as, Yinka Shonibare and Owusu-Ankomah. Architecture and textiles are also considered. The Kente of Asante, Ghana and the raffia textile of Kuba, Congo, are all considered. What I miss in this book is an indication about where the excellent statutes and other cultural objects shown in the book are to be found. A reader might want to know for example, where one can see the beautiful hip-mask of Queen-Mother Idia (3) or whether the huge head of gold from Asante (4) is still in Ghana.

I was rather shocked to read: Without great exaggeration, one can assert that the different African peoples consider as “beautiful” only the artistic expression of their own cultural circle. (5) It is not clear on what evidence such a statement is based nor is such a statement necessary for the exposition the author is aiming at. Are we to understand this to mean that a Sudanese cannot appreciate the beauty of Benin bronzes or that a Tuareg cannot appreciate Asante gold works or that an Asante cannot appreciate Chokwe or Fang sculptures? Would the author have dared to say that a Finn cannot appreciate Italian art or that a Frenchman could not admire a Russian painting? And none of all those involved in producing an otherwise excellent book found it necessary to challenge such an assertion? I find it difficult to understand how the author of this well-written and beautifully illustrated book could make such an assertion. Incidentally, Africa appears to be the only continent, as opposed to country, the art and architecture of which are treated in this series which is intended to deal with world history of art. Other titles in the series deal with Tibet, Persia, India and China.

By sheer coincidence, a few days after reading the first book, I saw a second book by Ivan Bargna, Afrika - der Schwarze Kontinent (6). This time, I did not even try to resist buying the book since it had on its cover one of my favourite African masks, a Chokwe Mask. This book is part of a series of an illustrated lexicon on peoples and cultures. I can only congratulate the author on his choice of material and illustrations for this excellent book. The book covers practically all aspects of the culture on the continent - religions and gods, housing, daily life, politics, literature, art and music, in the traditional as well as in contemporary society are discussed. Moreover, in this volume there is information about the location of the various cultural objects reproduced. Most of them are outside Africa and in museums in Europe and America-Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, British Museum, London, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Musée Barbier Müller, Geneva etc. I did not get the impression that the author was much worried by the fact that most of Africa’s important cultural objects of Africa are in Europe.

I was surprised sometimes by the categories used by the author. After reading about the Mande, Fulbe, Akan, I see the title “Nigerian peoples” at page 34 and wonder what that can mean. In a side column, I read “Hausa, Fulbe, Igbo and Yoruba” and I wonder whether these are the only peoples in Nigeria. The text on the opposite page mentions that there are about 250 different peoples in Nigeria. I wonder where all the other peoples are discussed since the text, with beautiful Nok sculptures, Ibo and Yoruba cultural objects and an illustration of Hausa architecture, does not mention them. The next section of the book goes on to deal with peoples outside Nigeria - Chokwe, Luba and Lunda, Kuba, Zande, Mangbetu and others. I conclude therefore that peoples like the Edo (Bini) and others have been forgotten. It is only when I reach page 117, dealing with “Power and Public”, under the subtitle, “Nigerian Kingdoms”, that I see the Edos mentioned as Nigerian people and I see the hip mask of Queen-Mother Idia and a relief plaque clearly indicated as being in the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. One may legitimately argue that lexicons should not be read through but should be consulted, chapter by chapter, as and when required. On the other hand, if I read a section entitled “Nigerian peoples” should I not expect to see most of the Nigerian peoples mentioned, if not discussed?

The author makes it quite clear in his introduction that the prejudices against Africa developed when slavery started. It was necessary to justify slavery and this could only be justified by showing that the African was not a human being or at any rate an inferior one. Moreover, the various stereotypes had support from some of Europe’s most learned scholars, especially the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Ivan Bargna quotes David Hume who in his Essay of National Characters declared: There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. (7) Bargna also refers to Hegel’s statement that Africa is the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, (is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night). The Negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state.(8) Bargna could also have quoted Kant who declared: The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling…in short, this fellow was quite black from head to foot, a clear proof that what he said was stupid. (9)

I was very surprised to see in this excellent book a map of Africa which did not appear familiar at all; it is a truncated map of Africa without North Africa! When we were in the elementary school, our Geography teacher made us recite often “Africa without Madagascar is not Africa.” He probably never imagined that anyone would write a book on Africa and add a map which leaves North Africa entirely out. The author’s reason seems to be that he is dealing with what he calls “sub-Saharan Africa.” There is no such entity as far as most of us are concerned. Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe has shown how inaccurate this notion is. (10) Given Bargna’s critical awareness of the permanent damage that the Enlightenment philosophers such as Hegel, Hume and Kant have done to the relations of Africa and Europe by their support of racist conceptions, it is ironic that the truncated map of Africa fulfils precisely the demand of Hegel: “The northern part of Africa, which may be specially called that of the coast-territory (for Egypt has been frequently driven back on itself, by the Mediterranean) lies on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic; a magnificent territory, on which Carthage once lay — the site of the modern Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. This part was to be — must be attached to Europe.”(11)

Incidentally, many European and American museums, such as British Museum, London, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Louvre, Paris, Musée du Quai Branly, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, and State Museums, Berlin all follow the Hegelian prejudice and act as if North Africa were not part of Africa. At the time of writing, I am receiving reports about the African Union meeting in Cairo discussing the action to be taken regarding the presidential elections in Zimbabwe. I see President Mubarak of Egypt and President Muamar Ghadahfi of Libya actively involved. Obviously they see the fate and history of the African Continent as connected and not, as some Europeans would have us believe, disconnected. Kwame Nkrumah and Abdel Nasser thought the fate of Ghana and Egypt were linked.

Interesting enough, the first book reviewed here, published in the same year as the second, 2008, has a full map of Africa. So why was it decided to present a truncated map of Africa in the second book? Perhaps one is being somewhat sensitive in this matter of maps but coming from a continent which has been the object of all kinds of partitions and divisions by Europeans, and which is still subject to divide and rule schemes, we cannot be too vigilant. Incidentally, I notice that in the series in which Afrika - der Schwarze Kontinent, appears, no other continent has been the subject of a book. The following have appeared:

A. Mesopotamia - Sumere, Assyrer and Babylonier.
B. Rom - Kultur der Antiken Stadt
C. China - Reich der Mitte.
D. Griechenland - Wege der Demokratie.
E. Japan - Land der aufgehenden Sonne.

So where are the other continents? Do the publishers not reproduce here the ignorant assumption by many Europeans that Africa is a small place, with not much history to tell? Though the series may be aimed at providing information for the public, the long-seated European prejudice prevents them from seeing that Rome and Africa cannot be in the same series unless one assumes that there is more to say about Rome than about the whole of Africa. It reminds me of some persons I have heard spontaneously comparing Africa and Austria, and these are by no means “uneducated persons”. Why must Africa be described as the “black continent” in a series intended to enlighten the general public? Have the publishers also attached any color description to the countries and towns they have so far written about? Is the designation Der Schwarze Kontinent not a reminder and an appeal to all the worst European prejudices about Africa and Africans? Is Africa not enough as a designation of the area of the world they want to write about? Would they write about “white” or “pale” Europe?

As already stated, the two books by Ivan Bargna are excellent both as regards the text and the illustrations chosen. It is therefore all the more a pity that certain unnecessary notions and a truncated map of Africa have been allowed to find place here. The author and publishers must make the necessary modifications in the next editions if these two books are to take the positions they deserve among general books on Africa.


NOTES
(1) Ivan Bargna, Afrika - Kunst und Architektur. Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2008, pp.71.
(2) Ibid.p.15.
(3) Ibid.p.41.
(4) Ibid.p.51.
(5) Ibid.p.13.
(6) Ivan Bargna, Afrika - der Schwarze Kontinent. Berlin: Parthas Verlag, 2008, p.384.
(7) Ibid.p.6.
(8) Ibid.p.6.
(9) For the enlightening views of the philosophers of Enlightenment on Africa, see Kwame Opoku, WHY DO EUROPEANS, EVEN INTELLECTUALS, HAVE DIFFICULTY IN CONTEMPLATING THE RESTITUTION OF STOLEN AFRICAN CULTURAL OBJECTS?
(10) Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “What is ’Sub-Sahara’?” West Africa Review: Issue 11, 2007. .
(11) Georg W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History. New York: Dover Philosophical Classics, Dover Publications, 1956, p.92

Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy

The United Kingdom-based Nigerian artist Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy has been receiving significant notice in the UK. Mrs. Chukwuogo-Roy's new website is now active and contains important details about her practice to date. According to the website, "Chinwe is a versatile artist who works in oils, etchings, monotypes, pastels and sculpture. Her subjects range from portraiture, still life and landscape, to pictures which capture the traditions and cultures of the African continent. Chinwe has exhibited widely and her work is represented in public and private collections in many countries.She received worldwide recognition for painting the official Golden Jubilee portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of The Commonwealth and for her work with a number of prominent personalities. Chinwe has featured prominently both for her art and also for her and educational work with young people. A recent biography published by Tamarind, is now studied by children in the UK as part of the National Curriculum. In 2003 Chinwe addressed the European Council Committee in Paris on Contemporary African Art and Artists, and later that year was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of East Anglia. Chinwe’s work appeared on the national postage stamps of seven countries during 2006."

Below, Chinwe's formal portrait of Chief Emeka Anwayoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth from 1990-2000, and portrait study of Queen Elizabeth II.


Jul 6, 2008

James Cuno: Apologist for Hypocrisy

I have been following with increasing disgust the public pronouncements of James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, and self-styled crusader for the right of Western museums to hold on to centuries of looted art. Cuno has recently published a book (Who Owns Antiquity: Museums and the Battle over our Cultural Heritage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, click here for description) and in the past year, he’s been ubiquitous in the global media promoting what he describes as “universal museums” (specifically referring to Western museums) and defending them against claims by several countries for the repatriation of looted antiquities and cultural artifacts. In his book, Cuno argues that modern nation-states have mostly tenuous connections to the ancient cultures whose antiquities are found within their geographical boundaries and that these antiquities and cultural treasures are best held in trust by universal museums for the common enjoyment of humanity. Not surprisingly, these “encyclopedic museums” consist mainly of museums located in former colonial powers (the British Museum is the exemplar) mostly in western European countries. Of all the canards in Cuno’s book, I take particular exception to his claim that modern countries have no greater claim than anyone else to the objects produced in antiquity within their modern borders. Although he makes a plausible argument that modern identity politics too often draws problematic connections between the present and the past, to claim that there is no credible link between ancient and modern cultures that occupy related borders is to make a literalist argument that all aspects of antiquity is up for grabs by sheer force of power (click here for a very intelligent review of the book by Roger Atwood). The problem with this argument is that it validates the colonial violence through which many African cultural objects (for example) were brought to European museums and provides undue legitimacy to the entire process of plunder and brigandage which has been studiously refuted in modern politics since World War Two.

Cuno calls for the US to renounce the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in the same manner as it refuted the Geneva Convention in pursuit of the war on terror. Cuno’s opinion thus makes him an anachronism fighting a rearguard battle for a discredited neoconservative platform that might makes right. As with all such ideologues, Cuno emerges from positions of privilege (stints at elite private universities, institutions and art contexts) which he defends vehemently as a natural order of things. Cuno currently oversees one of the most commercially successful museums in the world whose significant annual income derives at least in part from its important holdings in questionably-acquired antiquities (such as the famous sculpture by Olowe of Ise in the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection): in fact, Cuno is overseeing a multi-million dollar expansion of the Art Institute of Chicago financed in part from fees collected from visitors to the museum. The primary issue is that Cuno assumes it is right for museums that currently hold dubiously acquired antiquities to directly profit from them but that it is asinine for other nations to lay claim to those same antiquities even if we can prove a direct link between the ancient makers and their modern descendants (Cuno’s position is that we can’t prove any such link). There is as such, an appalling brain-dead interpretation of global affairs in Cuno’s assertions akin to the tone-deaf reaction of many significant interlocutors to major cultural crimes like slavery and genocide in various global contexts. Too often, those who should know better claim to see no evidence that something untoward is happening. If you run a major museum that sees itself as a representative of the greatest power on earth, you can afford to dismiss the concerns of your antagonists as mere inconvenience. But even in this regard, Cuno makes his argument with the serene hypocrisy of a hedge-fund manager arguing against usury.

The most startling thing is that Cuno’s position has gotten a lot of traction and only recently has decent counterarguments to his opinions started to emerge. My friend Kwame Opoku, a guest blogger on Aachronym, has been so incensed by Cuno’s arguments that he sends me lengthy posts refuting most of Cuno’s assertion: I have posted some of his comments on this blog and will post more in the coming weeks. As for me, I want to state clearly that Cuno is entitled to his opinion but he is not entitled to be free of criticism of his positions. In fact, Cuno's logic reminds me of the spurious arguments made in American academia in the 1990s about "the death of history", which seemed to me a convenient dodge by a Western world attempting to dodge responsibility for its debt to the rest of the world. Of course, you can declare an end of history right around the time that other global actors emerge to claim central positions in historical narratives. By doing so, you enshrine the supremacy of the Western historical narrative and delegitimize the rest. Like many canards, this problematic assertion of an end of history has fallen by the wayside. I have no doubt that Cuno's position will quickly be delegitimized. In the meantime, the fact that he uses his current position as a pulpit to enunciate questionable opinions is detrimental to the Art Institute of Chicago whose comprehensive art collection will come under scrutiny to examine just how much looted art is currently in its holdings. When that time comes, let’s hope the museum blames Cuno for calling unwanted attention to it.

When all is said and done, one of the most damning arguments against Cuno's "encyclopaedic museums" is that access to global spaces is routinely denied to Africans and other non-Western persons, which brings up the dastardly fact that African heritage in Western museums is largely inaccessible to Africans. While citizens of the Western countries that own the so-called universal museums can travel the world freely, citizens of the countries from which most of the artworks in these museums were looted from are usually barred from travel to Western countries. Kwame Opoku stated in this regard that there is no single European country that will grant an African a visa merely to visit museums abroad, and this applies to most Africans no matter their educational achievements or level of involvement with the objects in question. Consider in this regard this recent newsflash-- Bushmen denied visas to build mud-huts in Virginia, US. The story states that three "Bushmen" hired by a Virginia museum to reconstruct a !Kung dwelling for an upcoming exhibition were denied visas because they spoke little or no English, were poor and constituted a flight risk. So much for universalism.


References: Click here for what Tom Flynn (ArtKnows blog) described as a dire and rambling KCRW interview with Cuno. Click Time magazine's interview with James Cuno; click Looting Matters for a list of responses to Cuno's book and interviews.

Jul 2, 2008

Tapestry of Life--Images

Images from Ndidi Dike's recent exhibition, Tapestry of Life: New Beginnings. I contributed an essay titled Ndidi Dike: New Beginnings to the catalog of this exhibition (read the full essay here). Pictured below, from top: (a) Poster for the exhibition, (b) Ndidi Dike with Bisi Silva, Director of the Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos, during the opening of Didi's 2007 exhibition--Waka-Into-Bondage, (c) Installation view 1, (d) Installation View 2, (e) Uli Suite of Paintings, (f) Leopard in my thoughts, (g) Uli Galaxy, (h) Uli Suite, (i) Installation View 3, (j) Installation View 4. All paintings are in acrylic colors.










The Africa Convention in Los Angeles

A new organization called The Africa Convention is planning its inaugural program scheduled for Los Angeles in August 28-31 at the Hilton Universal City Hotel Los Angeles. According to its website, The Africa Convention aims to provide a platform to bring together expatriate African communities in the USA involved in art, culture and performance. Its rather Negritudist objective states that the event "is a sincere, ambitious endeavor to bring together Africans from all corners of the Diaspora and our sisters and brothers from all cultures, religious denominations and social strata in celebration and honor of our mother continent; Africa". From the website, the event seems weighted towards performing artists and as part of their overall convention program, the organizers plan to honor Zimbabwean megastar Thomas Mapfumo pictured below, for his immense contributions to African and World music. The Africa Convention 2008 is produced by "Suns of Africa" which is listed on its website as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Carnegie Corporation's Grant Program in Africa...

Philanthropy News Digest reports that the Carnegie Corporation is instituting a grant program to help develop Humanities scholarship in Africa. Given the low interest in support for humanities programs in institutional grant funding, this move could have important positive repercussions. The osting below is taken from the PND's report of the event.
*******************

Carnegie Corporation of New York Awards $5 Million to Provide Humanities Fellowships in Africa

The Carnegie Corporation of New York has announced a four-year, $5 million grant to the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) to help cultivate a new generation of African scholars in the humanities.

The ACLS will partner with African universities, councils for higher education, and other organizations working to develop scholarly capacity in the humanities to develop a program that provides approximately two hundred doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships for researchers and current faculty in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The fellowships will enable researchers and professors to pursue high-quality doctoral and postdoctoral research, provide awards allowing scholars to publish, and help establish a network of expert advisers and peer reviewers.

To complement the fellowships, the initiative will support the preparation for publication of manuscripts resulting from postdoctoral research. In addition, ACLS will develop a Web site to facilitate the applications process and disseminate information about the research and publications sponsored by the awards.

"By training scholars across the humanities, we are helping to nurture a rising generation of women and men who will contribute to the continued development of democracy and civil society on the African continent," said Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian. "There is no doubt that science, engineering, and technology are critical to development, but they alone cannot address Africa's many complex challenges, including deepening democracy, nurturing tolerance, consolidating the protection of human rights, and fostering accountability of public authorities."