Nov 12, 2010

Ogbechie Lecture at UCLA: Curating Africa as a Site of Globalization

From the University of California Los Angeles African Studies Center:

Curating Africa as a Site of Globalization
Sylvester Ogbechie, UC Santa Barbara

Monday, November 15, 2010
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall (10th Floor)
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Dr. Ogbechie investigates the disjunction between curatorial representations of contemporary African arts, in which the work of contemporary artists based in the West is taken to stand in for Africa in contrast to the realities of production and representation of contemporary art on the African continent itself. Building on his recent criticism of some curators’ willful marginalization of contemporary arts in and from Africa, the speaker will engage Africa as a site of globalization and raise the question of what, if anything, contemporary curators owe to examination of lived experience of contemporary artists in Africa. He will offer thoughts about where curatorial practice is (or could be) heading in the 21st century with regard to African artistic production, and suggest how to recognize or reinsert African contemporary artists in(to) the sites of their own creative endeavors.

Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie is Associate Professor of Art History (Global African Arts and Visual Culture) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His recent book, Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist, was awarded the Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association as the most outstanding scholarly work in any field of African Studies for 2009. Dr. Ogbechie is Director of Aachron Knowledge Systems and author of the award-winning blog AACHRONYM, founder and editor of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture, and the 2010 Getty Scholar and Consortium Professor. His Getty project, The Economics of Cultural Patrimony: Politics and Poetics of Postcolonial Museum Displays, analyzes strategies of display through which African cultural objects in museum collections are converted into discursive and fungible artworks. The project defines modes of representation and display of African arts, and considers how emergent African museums can secure greater access to African cultural patrimony in Western collections.

Exhibiting Africa: Critical Curatorial Practice in the 21st Century Series

The lecture series addresses dynamic alternative approaches to Africa’s representation in museum and exhibition contexts of the 21st century. Within African art studies, exhibitions have been one of the primary vehicles of representation, with some of the most important research in the field taking shape through museum exhibitions and associated scholarly publications. Yet the display of cultures has been fraught with the politics of representation. This forward-looking series of lectures will present and envision critical curatorial interventions that embrace multiple facets of traditional, modern, contemporary, urban, and diasporic African experience. We shall seek to complicate conventional wisdoms about what it means to organize exhibitions, and to engage artists and communities in the actions of curatorial practice.

These presentations are part of the UCLA African Studies Center Monday Africa Seminar Series (MASS), funded by a grant from the UCLA International Institute. Additional funding provided by the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Cost: Free and open to the public

Nov 10, 2010

Memories of Japan

I've been thinking a lot about my trip to Japan and the sights I saw there. Travel of this sort has long-term impact in its demands on body and mind. I am used to traveling to Europe and Africa, and the long hauls from LAX to continental Europe, or the longer haul from Hartsfield-Atlanta direct to Lagos, a 12 hour trip that emerges into the random chaos of Eko, most intriguing of cities. My trip to Japan was, depending on how you looked at it, my farthest run West. I’ve basically been heading West since I was born, first from Onicha to Ibadan, then to the USA and now to Japan. If I travel further along that direction, I’ll circumnavigate the planet and return to where I started out from.
This journey West has been incremental and within the USA, I had done some of it driving rather than flying. It is hard to understand a country if you don’t pass through it literally. I remember making the run from Chicago to Santa Barbara to take up my job appointment at UCSB, a distance of about 2200 miles (about 3540 km) from State Street Chicago to State Street Santa Barbara. I drove out in a 1989 Honda Accord and made the journey in three and half days. When I crested a rise in Ventura and saw the Pacific Ocean, I drove right up the beach and put my toe in the water. On the day before I left Nigeria, I had gone to the Bar Beach on the Atlantic Coast in Lagos to gaze across the waters at the new world beyond, and I remembered standing at the water’s edge with the waves surging and ebbing around my feet. Here at the Pacific Ocean, I remembered thinking: “Man, you’ve run out of land. What now?” This question haunted me for some time. I was born on the road and have spent my life moving from one place to another. Coming to the edge of the world in California seemed too much like being left with no further choices.

But the world is full of new spaces and I was very excited about my trip to Japan. There was more land across the waters, more places to see and new things to experience. And the great Pacific Ocean that seemed like the end of the world turns out to be just another minor obstacle to the jets of this age swooping across the expanse like mighty iron birds. When you travel west in the USA, you literally travel back in time: there is a three-hour time difference between the East Coast and the West Coast. Ditto for traveling from the West Coast to Hawaii. But the curious thing is that when you travel from Los Angeles to Tokyo, you leave today and arrive tomorrow, despite the fact that you travel back in time for some part of the way. Once you cross the International Date Line, time bounces forward. Similarly, for the return trip, you leave Tokyo and arrive at your destination as if time turned backwards. It is rather disorienting.
But time is a supremely disorienting thing. In Kyoto, a city of many important temples and religious monuments, time is reckoned differently. There is a lot of history in the city and time here counts in centuries. The time of the monks differs considerably from the time of tourists, who rush through places devoted to deep meditation and the conscious slowing down of time. Near Ryoanji Temple, I saw a monk walking very slowly: I had seen a similar thing only once before, in a documentary titled BARAKA, of a Bhuddist monk making his very slow way across a busy city street, taking one step every ten seconds or so; his movements so slow that the milling crowd around him seemed to be moving in hyperspace. This frenetic pace of urban life finds its nemesis in the transit time, the interminable hours spent on an airplane as it eats up the thousands of miles between two continents, much of it spent over the broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

I thought of time while I was in Kyoto and Osaka. At Anyoji watching a caretaker make his slow methodical way through the gravestones, sweeping away leaves and the regrets of the dead, sweeping around the centuries between the founding of Yoshimizu and his own tenuous presence. Thinking of all those who have walked these same paths. We condense history into manageable bits through dates but somehow, thinking 9th Century CE doesn't quite match the thought of nine centuries of days, each one lived as single days of sunrise and sunset through the seasons. This expanse of time is etched in the worn edges of the stones, in the gnarled trees that have seen several seasons of fire. And above it all, the mountains, seemingly timeless but each wearing down slowly over the centuries. And the many people who lived here, whose history is written in the statues and stone pillars found all around the landscape. Sakamoto Ryoma of Tosa Shitenno (the Big Four of Tosa) frozen in stone; emperors and warlords in the golden pagodas, monks, and the various temples of different Bhuddist sects. The rock garden in Ryoanji whose preternatural ordering compels silence. The meticulous precision of its tiled roof.

And at the end of it all, the time of return: the time it takes to unwind from these long trips. You’ve arrived days earlier, but your spirit is still somewhere over the ocean linked to your body by a thin silver thread that takes days to reel into your body. And this time of memory, while you await the reunion of body and soul. These memories then, of Kyoto, of Osaka, and the endless time of the earth beneath our feet.

Images (from top):
1. Kinkakuji (Golden Pagoda), Kyoto.
2. Yoshimizu Inn, Kyoto
3. The Zen Rock Garden at Ryonji Temple, Kyoto
4. Sculpture Group of Tosa Shitenno, the big four of Tosa.
5. Rock Garden at Anyoji.