Contemporary African Art since 1980 - lecture by Okwui Enwezor
2000 - 2009 & Conclusion
27 Apr. 2010
Nandipha Mntambo, Beginning of the Empire - 2007, copyright Damiani Editore

Ghada Amer, another work by El Anatsui, Yto Barrada, Julie Mehretu, a much younger artist. Then an older and much more established artist, much more frequently part of the public discussion, Georges Adéagbo, again talking about this tension between tradition and modernity, the archives of tradition if you will (1). Bodo. Ingrid Mwangi, a German-Kenyan artist (2).
Tracy Rose. Her work is always somehow performative, it is not always autobiographical but it is always performative (3). Senam Okudzeto, Yinka Shonibare (4), Guy Tillim, Zanele Muholi, Hassan Musa, Batoul Shimi from Morocco, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Kendell Geers, Victor Ekpuk, Mounir Fatmi, Magdalena Odundo (5). Something about the works of artists such as Odundo, that you see both in galleries of traditional African objects and in museums. In the museum where I used to work in Chicago, her work was not in the contemporary collection. It was amongst all other classical, historical objects. Upon her coming there, she said she had the best of both worlds. She was ambivalent about being included out of time, she felt herself out of time. Why should her work be seen as timeless?

This is the work of really an astonishing young South African artist, Michael Subotzky, the youngest photographer ever to be admitted into Magnum (6). Nontsikelelo Veleko, Luis Basto, Candice Breitz again, Angela Ferreira, Fatou Kandé Senghor, Subotzky, Tayou, Wangechi Mutu, Chris Ofili (7), Marcia Kure, El Anatsui, Nandipha Mntambo, Odili Donald Odita, Nnenna Okore, David Koloane, Moataz Nasr, Julien Sinzogan, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Samuel Fosso and Anawana Haloba.

In any case, I want to conclude by saying that through what I have shown you, we basically present what we call networks of practice. That when you look at this group of work you think about globalisation, but not only globalisation, but globalisation in relation to geopolitics and more fundamentally, the emergence of geopoetics in the work of these artists. And how have they done this? They have done this through an assessment of the relationship between art and life, between spectacle and the everyday. And these are fundamentally ways in which we can begin to think about contemporary African art and to think about this orientation and about regimes of redistribution that have marked the work of these artists since the beginning of the eighties, with the structural adjustment programs.

I will here quote French philosopher Jacques Ranciére, Ranciére's terms are very important here. The global condition of contemporary art in which contemporary African art is deeply imbricated could be understood along the formulation, which Ranciére calls distribution of the sensible. He says:

I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it. A distribution of the sensible therefore establishes at one and the same time something common that is shared and exclusive parts. This apportionment of parts and positions is based on a distribution of spaces, times, and forms of activity that determine the very manner in which something in common lends itself to participation and in what way various individuals have a part in this distribution.

For us, this really encapsulates what the work of contemporary African artists always seems to aim at, the opening of a horizon. It is not a work that is trapped only within a particular framework, but that is about the construction of a horizon of possiblity, about this attempt at the distribution of the sensible.

So in these lines, Ranciére lays out a concise critical objective that, we want to argue, both delimits and enlarges the locus of contemporary African art. It shows us precisely the absence of contradiction between the idea that previously sought to delimit "traditional African arts" as antagonistic to contemporary African arts, of the two aesthetic structures as separate spheres of artistic engagement. We are not arguing that. So, by not including so-called traditional art, we are not necessarily excluding it, but we are fundamentally interested in this idea of the distribution of the sensible, by creating on the one hand shared positions, but also by creating exclusive parts. These are all possible.

So the idea to formulate a space as one global contemporary African art in which conditions, strategies, networks and institutions are delimited, is part of a larger agenda that we have sought to undertake. I think the book is far more complex than my attemp to explain it here. Thank you very much!
The numbers in the text refer to illustrations in the top right corner.

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