Aug 26, 2009

Microsoft Photoshops Black Man Out Of European Ad

From the Huffington Post, this interesting evidence of the unstable location of black people in global space:

Doing business abroad sometimes requires companies to tweak their marketing strategies. Companies often swap idiomatic phrases or images in advertisements to better suit cultural sensitivities and achieve better sales. But do those edits ever go too far?

A black man was replaced with a white man in a Microsoft online advertisement intended for use in Poland. An Asian man in the ad apparently made the cut, and appeared in both the Polish and stateside versions of the ad.

The editorial tweak however forgot to photoshop out the black man's hand. Read the full story here. Pictured below, the original image and its doppelganger.

Aug 24, 2009

America is Changing--but are its art museums?

Interesting article from The Art Newspaper on the demographics of museum management in the USA:
Nobody seems to have any meaningful statistics. But you do not have to look at major US art museums for long to realize that most of the senior management is white, unlike staff at comparable levels in corporations, universities and government offices. When is this going to change? Those leading efforts to diversify museums say the economic reality of who pays to support institutions has not evolved sufficiently to require any lasting push for change. But American demographics are shifting swiftly. US minority groups will become the majority in a few decades. And art museums will have to diversify to survive.

Read the full article here.

Aug 22, 2009

Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles

The Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles (DFFLA: August 12-22, 2009) comes to a close today after a ten-day run. The Nollywood Foundation was represented at this event which opened with the acclaimed Spike Lee movie--Passing Strange and closes today with the West Coast premiere of Jackson 5 in Africa, a rare, never-before-seen documentary of Michael Jackson performing with his brothers in Senegal, Africa in 1974. Highlights of the DFFLA 2009 was a special African Cinema event showcasing two powerful documentaries: Jareth Mertz's sublime Soul of Ashanti and acclaimed director Euzhan Palcy's stunning Aime Cesaire: A Voice for History. The Africa Cinema event was sponsored by the Africa Channel and was a grand gala event. Below, posters for one of the numerous filmmaker receptions held at the event and the African Cinema event.

Aug 20, 2009

Hear Now, My Country

I have been mostly offline for over two months taking a break from blogging and trying to process momentous recent events in my life. In May 2008, after 16 years in the USA, I finally received American citizenship in a formal ceremony in Los Angeles. In June, I returned to Nigeria for summer research and made my first trip outside the USA on an American passport. The experience was surreally different and definitely blogworthy, given my extensive previous posts on questions of borders and access. I still don’t have the words to write up the experience but suffice it to say that it proves conclusively my earlier contention that the real and imagined borders that confront African (and black) travelers globally make mockery of the discourse of globalization. There is truly a First World and a Third World as there are immense efforts by powerful nations to ensure that neither the twain shall meet, except in the context of the rapacious and persistent exploitation of the Third World by the First World. But more on that later.

I thought I’d get back to blogging because I seem to have returned to a country I barely recognize, one tethered on the brink of a monumental disaster. I am not talking about the economic meltdown that signals the end of an age of consumption, whose toll on American eminence is yet to be tallied, though it may in part be the cause of this impending problem. In bad economic times, political problems bubble to the surface as the lubricating influence of cheap money vanishes and exposes fissures in society. I am talking about the madness (to put it mildly) of a Conservative minority increasingly tending towards lunacy. I am seeing a concerted effort by the right-wing to foment social upheaval and I think the government of President Obama doesn’t quite understand what it is up against. Under other circumstances, this wouldn’t really matter: it would all be politics. But there is a difference: commentators in major news outlets have speculated that the Obama ascendancy seemed to have driven arch Conservatives completely insane. This can be seen for example in militant efforts by the right wing to disrupt the free flow of ideas in various forms of public debate centered on health care. It is evident in the vituperative rhetoric of the right-wing media, which would, in many European countries, constitute hate speech. But it is even more evident in signs of increasing threats against the life of the President of the United States by right-wing activists.

This blog was prompted by the appearance of gun toting right wingers at various rallies on health care, and the appearance of a gun toting protester at a Presidential rally no less. Basically, a person who is not a law enforcement officer but who was openly sporting a handgun (albeit in a gun holster), was in the vicinity of the President of the United States, while holding up a placard that openly advocated political assassination in the service of “democracy”. AND HE WASN’T ARRESTED. This is a very dangerous development for a simple reason: it is in the interest of the country to ensure that that open threats against the life of the President are actively resisted but what we see happening is that threats are being made against the life of President Obama without any public concern other than inane commentary in the so-called mainstream news media. Well, I think it is important to firmly state the following: If any attempt is made against the life of President Obama, and if anything happens to him as a result of such attempt, the USA will not recover from the political and social disaster that will ensue.

Forget for a moment the fact that the President in question is the first African American president of the USA, though it speaks to the very heart of this issue. Forget also the country’s history of political assassination of both Presidents and significant African American leaders. Think instead of how the implied threat of violence encapsulated in the appearance of gun toting right-wingers at various political rallies completely undermines the very idea of free speech that protects their right to flaunt their violent opinions in public. In this atmosphere, I have been utterly astonished by the way this matter is being treated in the public space as a mere issue for debate as the right wing media continue to whip up storms of hatred in their constituents above and beyond insanity itself. (The gun-totting protester was promptly interviewed on national TV in the name of “fair and balanced” reporting, which increasingly makes mockery of the American news media in general).

The violent rhetoric is growing to the extent that well meaning commentators have found it necessary to point out its dangers. As E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post stated in his column, “try a thought experiment: What would conservatives have said if a group of loud, scruffy leftists had brought guns to the public events of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush?" I followed the virulent rhetoric that greeted President Obama’s run throughout his campaign. I have since observed closely the rising pitch of hate spewing from right wing outlets since his election. This hate is brewing irrationality and but it seems no one has any power to stop it since those who foment hate always hide behind the curtain of free speech. But what is the limit of free speech and why is it permissible to openly threaten the life of the President by appearing at his rallies with firearms? If this kind of action was not permissible under previous presidents, why is it permissible now? It is a tenet of security strategies that the main way to prevent dangerous threats is to deny them a platform for action. A lunatic fringe Republican right-winger shooting a gun at his own TV is permissible since a man’s home is his castle (though being in his own house did not prevent a rookie white police officer from arresting Prof. Gates recently). To allow such a person to show up at a Presidential rally without challenging him goes beyond the pale since you give them a chance to be in the vicinity of the President, in a situation where irrational behavior can easily lead to damaging action. It is always a straw that breaks the camel’s back. For over two hundred years, home grown terrorism against African American leaders have robbed the nation of some of its best and brightest. But they will not have this one: his detractors will flounder. I mean, how long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?

It is in our collective interest to ensure that threats against the life of public officials are answered with appropriate force. However, Dionne further comments that White House spokespersons purported to be okay with the idea of gun-totting protesters. Eight months into his Presidency, I think it is time for President Obama to counter the irrational liberal leaning that permits his opponents to foment dissent and openly threaten his very being without repercussions. His desire for collective action and deliberation is already leading his most cherished programs down a path of doom (I predict here that unless the President takes radical action, his health care reform will be defeated and as the Republicans hope for, this defeat will literally kill his presidency: click here for analysis of the Republican game plan). No one denies that being the first African American president imposes the weight of history on him but he ran for the office and worn fair and square. We get it: he is a nice guy and would like us all to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But it is clear some people are determined to remain outside of this circle of fellowship and common citizenship. This is the same kind of people that have sustained white supremacy over the ages and now agonize over the appearance of an African American president who they are busy turning into a toothless tiger through determined fundamentalist opposition. But President Obama is no coward: he is an audacious man who of late only appears to have forgotten who he is. There may be no greater story in American history than that of the African American who became the first non-white person of any ethnicity to ascend to the nation’s highest office. President Obama has already made history in this regard. He should now stop worrying about how perceptions of his race or liberal leanings might affect his actions and for God’s sake, wield the power of government that was entrusted to him. You can’t negotiate with lunatics or with people who are out to destroy you. If you do, you will end up doing their work for them. And if the President himself does not see the damage to his authority that emerges from unbridled challenges to his very existence, then perhaps we have waited in vain for his coming.

Aug 12, 2009


Call For Papers

Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture
Fall 2010


Critical Interventions invites submissions for a special issue on the question of Africa’s cultural patrimony in Western museums, especially in the context of recent international debates about repatriation of historical artworks relocated from one culture to another through conquest, colonization or looting. In the first decade of the 21st Century, demands by various countries for repatriations of significant artworks and cultural objects have shaken up established ideas about the ownership and location of historical cultural objects. While many Western museums have been willing to reach agreements about repatriating or compensating for culturally important artworks in their collections claimed by other Western countries, there has been no acknowledgment of the right of Africans to ownership of African artworks looted from Africa during colonialism, which are now held in the so-called “Universal Museums” of the West. Aside from the fact that Western museums hold large quantities of looted African artworks (the case of the British Museum’s holding of the Benin bronzes being a canonical case in point), these museums also appear to claim ownership of the cultural patrimony of these objects by enforcing copyright claims to the artworks. Since African artworks emerged as part of complex knowledge systems in various indigenous African cultures, such claims deprive Africans of any share in the economic value produced by these objects as a result of their redefinition as a canon of artworks with discursive and financial value. Western countries also routinely deny Africans access to these artworks through enforced localization (no Western country will grant an African a visa merely to visit any museum in Europe or America), which invalidates their claim of housing the artworks in “universal museums”.

To paraphrase Ivan Karp (1991) demands for recognition of Africa’s ownership of its cultural patrimony in Western museums assert the social, political, and economic claims of African producers in the larger world and challenge the right of established Western institutions to control representation of African cultures. In this regard, the proposed issue of Critical Interventions posits a fundamental question: who owns Africa’s cultural patrimony and why are African claims to their looted cultural objects held in Western museums denied in contemporary discourses of repatriation and reparations?

We seek papers that posit or contest African ownership of its cultural patrimony in the dual contexts of the relationship between African artworks in their contemporary locations (Western museums, Western private collections, the art historical construction of meanings), and the history of their origins as part of communities of objects, whose use in religious, ritual, secular, and social space formed part of knowledge systems and cultural heritage of particular African peoples. We particularly encourage submissions that interrogate the commodification of African cultural patrimony and cultural identities in the context of global capital, and examine the representational, legal, political, and cultural positions that support or deny African claims to ownership of historical art objects as relevant aspects of contemporary African cultural patrimony.

Please send articles (5000 to 9000 words preferred) and CV, by December 10, 2009, to the editors:
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie (
John Peffer (

Critical Interventions
is a peer-reviewed journal of advanced research and writing on African art history and visual culture. Submission and subscription information can be found at

Aug 10, 2009


Announcing the publication of

CRITICAL INTERVENTIONS: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture

Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture announces the publication of issue Numbers 3/4 (Spring 2009): Interrogating African Modernity. The special double issue evaluates African modernist practices in art and visual culture, and uses interdisciplinary analysis to elicit new critical frameworks for interpreting modern African art's intersection with local and global discourses of modernity. Featured authors include (in order or appearance) Everlyn Nicodemus, Moyo Okediji, Hakim Abderezzak, Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, Gitti Salami, Jennifer Bajorek, Julie McGee, Afe Adogame, Nicholas J. Bridger, John Peffer, Monique F. P. Kerman, Manfred Zylla, Cornelius O. Adepegba, Francis Ugiomoh, and Peter Probst.

Subscriptions and subscription inquiries available at

Aug 4, 2009

Summer Passing

London Heathrow, en route to Los Angeles. I am besieged by death this summer. Needing time to make sense of great losses.

And this, brief though it is, to the memory of my mentor, Martin Reinheimer, who passed away while I was away in Nigeria this summer.

Martin, a WWII veteran, was born in Germany. I met him in 1993 when I started my graduate studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He bought me my first laptop computer. In the acknowledgments for my book on Ben Enwonwu (which I could not have finished were it not that Martin provided me with free accommodations in Chicago for one year while I wrote my dissertation), I stated that he and his very dear wife, Lucy Reinheimer, were the closest things to parents I had in the USA and were the kindest people I know. Lucy took care of him in the house he built until he passed away, and with his passing, she is now perhaps the kindest person I know.

Martin "adopted" several foreign students at Northwestern and provided them with loving invitations for Thanksgiving and much assistance as they needed it. There are very successful people across Africa, Asia, and Europe who benefited from his kindness and who will equally mourn his death as I do.

I took the picture below in November 2008, when I made what now turns out to be my last visit to Martin in his Glencoe, Illinois residence. I am on the right in red turtleneck. Next to me is Lucy, Martin and Nnamdi Elleh, one of those foreign students like myself that Martin looked after as if he were his own son, as he looked after us all.

I am besieged by death this summer and I grieve for the passing of my mentor, Martin Reinheimer. May his soul rest in peace.