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DOI 10.1215/10757163-2009-008 © 2010 by Nka Publications Journal of Contemporary African Art• 26• Spring 2010 80 • Nka Nka Roundtable II Contemporary African Art History and the Scholarship Atta Kwami, Archways, 2007. Wood and paint, 305 x 549 x 122 cm. Courtesy the artist Moderated by Chika Okeke-Agulu Okeke-Agulu Nka • 81 Panelists Okwui Enwezor, Elizabeth Harney, dele jegede, Sidney Kasfir, Dominique Malaquais, Steven Nelson, Ikem Stanley Okoye, John Peffer, John Picton, Peter Probst, Colin Richards, Frank Ugiomoh, Susan Vogel, Jessica Winegar Chika Okeke-Agulu: Let me begin by mentioning that this panel (convened September 4–October 10, 2009) is the second of a three-part series on issues in contemporary African art. The first panel, which appeared in issue no. 22/23 of Nka, focused on large-scale exhibitions, which have been instrumental in bringing the work of African artists to global attention, and the third will examine the politics of contemporary African art and the art museum. Our interest here is in the scholarship of contemporary African art, and by this I mean teaching, research, and publishing in the field. We could go in a number of directions, but hopefully we will consider such questions as the place of contemporary African art in art history programs, its relationship with Western contemporary art as a subfield within art history, and the challenges of training graduate students. We will also walk on such gritty grounds as the relationship between contemporary and traditional or classical African art history, and of course the state of the scholarship. I am sure some other important topics will surface in the course of our exchange. In the meantime, let me ask: how do we as individual scholars imagine the field of contemporary African art history and our place in it? John Picton: In 1989 Rasheed Araeen curated a show at the Hayward Gallery in London called The Other Story. It dealt with the way people from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, especially countries once in the British Empire, had come to Britain, or had been brought up here, and wanted to be artists within an international modernism, and how the “art establishment” had excluded them. It proved to be the least popular show in the history of the Hayward Gallery! However, it did begin to change public perceptions, and it was followed in this country by Africa 95 and ten years after that by Africa Remix. Not only that, artists such as Chris Ofili, Yinka Shonibare, and El Anatsui have established themselves as major international figures. However, any understanding of their work demands familiarity with several art worlds—international, British, West African, and so on—and this is true of any artist working in Africa or out of Africa but drawing on the resources of Africa in whatever manner in their work. The development of the field of studies called “contemporary African art” was a necessary corrective to the widespread but ridiculous perception that this art was not really African. There is a long history of artists in Africa looking within, as it were, to entirely local resources, and looking outward to resources from farther away; and that “farther away” might be anywhere along the trade routes that tied the continent together, including the trans-Saharan trade, as well as, from the late fifteenth century on, the coastal trade with Europe. The flowering of art in Benin in the sixteenth century was contingent on that trade, but that does not make it any less African. So when we turn to the developments in visual practice beginning with photography in the nineteenth century, soon followed by easel painting, printmaking, new forms of public sculpture, and so forth, we find histories in which there are both local and international elements . Meanwhile, alongside these developments, the arts of masquerade, of dress and textiles, continue to thrive. Any consideration of a local modernity must necessarily consider all these things. (There is a useful distinction to be made between modernism and modernity.) Equally, any consideration of art as an international phenomenon must necessarily include Africa. I remember having lunch many years ago with colleagues, both academic and curatorial, at a conference of the Arts Council of the...


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