Contemporary African Art since 1980 - lecture by Okwui Enwezor
artikelfotoAfrica
The Museum of Art and the Museum of Ethnography
27 Apr. 2010
Cyprien Tokoudagba, Segbolissa - 1994, copyright Damiani Editore

In this sense, there are two distinct structures of analysis, of articulation regarding the last thirty years that we engage. And this is the discursive argument, or the intellectual argument, between the museum of ethnography and the museum of art.
 
This is a very rich field to engage. The curatorial impetus that underpins what the museum of art does, is involved more fundamentally on questions of aesthetics and formalism. I think it is very clear. Whereas the museum of ethnography, and I use this term advisedly, looks at the entire cultural complex, looks at other things besides formal and aesthetic choices that the artists make, even though all of those things are included in the analysis.

So on the one hand the museum of art is always into having this sanitising effect of removing the rough edges of the pillage of traditional accretion and highlighting what some people claim to be a more Western view of art. But I would like to remind you that no culture or civilisation has ever existed in isolation from other influences and impacts on conversations. And contemporary African artists are no more isolated than their peers living in London or elsewhere. They are part of these circuits of conversation and this is what we want to enable, to put forward and to describe. And to help us do that we think in these terms of the struggle between the ethnographic museum and the museum of art.

But by the mid nineteen nineties the ethnographic museum was already going below the radar in relation to contemporary African art, while the museum of art and the biennials and so on became the main platform and the ground within in which this analysis took place.

All of this for us goes back to the fact that when we think about contemporary African art, we have to think about it not only in terms of the present, but that it belongs to an archive of traditions. This for us really makes a temporal sense, that there be a linkage between the past and the present, but that the past should not be made into a pathology of what contemporary African art ought to be.
 
 



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