Friday, 15 June 2007

Pics from African Pavillion

Pictures are a little better. just!!!! The exhibition was a wee bit crowded for my liking with over 30 artists. But we all know Njami´s curatorial style, cf Africa Remix. Dominique and I did ask if the exhibition couldn´t have taken place with about 10 artists less especially Chris Ofili´s work (which i do love) which was as big as an ant. Njami´s unconvincing mutter was something about being ´jazzy´whatever that meant. The video section really suffered the most. It was a cacophonous affair as far as I and everyone else was concerned. A real pity and disservice to the artists especially Loulou´s work which we couldn´t hear, Amal´s work which we kept bumping into or covering in order to see loulou´s work, the noise from Minette Vari´s work disturbing the other video, the effacement of Ruth Sack´s video. All these and more - including Zouleika´s video too - were in the same space with no partition. Imagine!!!!! (sorry no installation pics - didn´t know where to start in my confusion) But the word on the streets - or is it on the canals - is that African pavillion is being considered for best pavillion award.

For more debate about Africa´s participation in Venice reading the interesting debate Dirty Laundry, Can We think beyond Venice? posted by Mario Pissarro in the forum section at

Next Stop Documenta in Kassel. Don´t go away!!!!!!!

Highlights from Venice

Wow it is a real struggle finding the time to update this blog so i will borrow from a colleague and just put 6 highlights of the trip.
1. African Pavillion Press conference.
Though arrived slightly late i managed to catch most of it. This event was much calmer than seminar the day before. Alvim outlined the difficulties of dealing with a situation in which you are invited to dinner but are not really wanted and perish the thought of eating at all. But he is happy that they could fundraise all their money from Africa, therefore not having to deal with usual hassles one grows through getting money from Europe and American and the many conditionalities that entails. Bring a team of over 90 people to Venice, and setting up the exhibition in 30 days. A feat no other curatorial team or country had to contend. And in the process they even contributed towards the funding of the renovation of the Academia building where they placed one of the powerful images to be seen in venice in the most central of locations. A coup indeed!!!

I just loved this huge billboard with all the personalities
we all love and respect in the Venetian landscape.

2. After the usual debunkering of western hyprocisy by Alvim we had the opportunity to finally hear collector Sindika Dokolo talk about his involvement. This young man (about 34yrs old) was articulate and focused in his defence of his support and patronage of contemporary art. Whilst he appreciates that African have important basic priorities such as health and education he also feels that culture needs to be put at the top of the agenda. He says it is ímpossible to have a vision on the world or the future without knowledge of one´s culture. His objectives are two fold with developing appropriate cultural infrastructure in Africa but also making sure it is visible internationally. With such a focus and committment so early in his life I am sure he will achieve much.

African Pavillion press conference. Curators Simon Njami and Fernando Alvim with Sindika Dokolo seated in the middle.
3. African Artists party

Lots of good food, meeting the artists, networking and just making merry. Sorry about the awful pics.
4. More Networking
It was great hanging out with co-jury member Ethiopian curator Meskerem and Ethiopian artist Loulou Cherie and Ingrid Mwangi

5 And a bit of ´hard´work
I also meet my co-selector portuguese curator Isabel Carlos for the Artes Mundi Prize in Venice.She is great as you can see from her big smile and I look forward to working with her. Already we are thinking of something for Lagos. So it wasn´t all fun, fun and more fun but lots of meetings with colleagues.

6 Great meeting friends
Faisal Abdu`Allah British Artists i worked with on a memorable touring solo exhibition yonks ago. And of course the background is none other than Nigerian painter Donald Odita whose work was prominent as one enters the Italian Pavillion for the second half of Storr´s exhibition at the Gardini

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Venice Biennale Begins

Dominique and Emma at the entrance to international Exhibition at the Arsenale.

No major international art event is complete without the presence of these two interesting individuals.
Our first day we went straight to the Arsenale. Dominique, Emma and myself raced through the main exhibition Think with the Senses - Feel with the mind by Robert Storr on our way to the African pavillion. On the way we stopped to admire El Anatsui's amazing installation. It was truly momentus and awe inspiring and the location was absolutely perfect for the work. Sorry but my pics are so bad that i will have to go back and take them again.
El Anatsui's monumental work at the Artiglieri
At the African pavillion we also did a quick tour of Checklist, Luanda Pop curated by Simon Njami and Fernando Alvim from the Sindika Dokolo collection. We were rushing to a symposia that was entitled 'Curating Africa' in which Simon Njami would be in conversation with Robert Storr and would be followed by a panel discussion including Ekow Eshun, Thelma Golden. The exhibition consisted of over 30 artists mainly with older pieces of work and some newly bought or commissioned work. The fact that so many artists were put into only 80 sqm was very problematic and their were some uncomfortable juxtapositions.

Congratulating Fernando Alvim outside the African Pavillion
Billi Bidjocka
At the Curating Africa session organised by International Curator's Forum, I was curious about the panel discussion about Curating Africa which featured no African curator. Things got off to a rough start as Njami took a very confrontational line of questioning towards Robert Storr. It seems there were many issues that they felt needed to be resolved in public, such as why it took so long to make a decision on the African pavillion leaving them with only 2 months to raise over 800,000 euros and prepare an exhibition for Venice something that no European or American curator had to contend with. Also why the US$ 100,000 that was promised to the chosen proposal was withdrawn by MOMA.
Alot of frustation came out during this session and efforts to move the discussion on was resisted by Njami who insisted on public clarifications from Storr. Most of the audience were left perplexed about the political wrangling going on, one or two people left in disgust and others shouted that we should move on to more substantial discussion. At that point all hell broke loose and Fernando Alvim grabbed the microphone to put his point of view across. It seems he was very,very angry about the way in which the African team had been treated by the official organisers in Venice which almost amounted to sabotage and the Herculean efforts they had to make so that the exhibition was well installed and presented in less than 30 days little or no support from anybody or anyone. Anyone who has visited or organised anything in Venice will know that is no mean feat and once again African is invited at the last minute and expected to perform miracles. And that is what they managed to achieve.

At the Curating Africa session.
After a hectic day we unfortunately got to the official opening late but were told that it was quite short and consisted of a few speeches by Storr, Njami, Alvim and the young collector Dokolo. So headed straight the island Lido for the evening performance by the Angolan band.
Emma and Dominique and Emma and Olu Oguibe dancing to the salsa beat of the Angolan band.
On our way out of the concert I greeted Sindika Dokola and I was presently surprised by this very warm, very polite and very friendly young man. In spite of the shaky beginning the day ended very well for Africa at the Venice Biennale

Venice, City of a Thousand Bridges

Finally the Grand Art Tour began on the Wednesday 6th of June with my arrival Venice. For this trip I will be travelling with friend and colleague Dominique Fontaine based in Montreal, Canada. For the first 3 days we are joined by Emma Bedford, South African curator now director of Goodman Gallery Cape Town. I am going to try as much as possible to post snippets of the art tour mainly in pictures.

Venice is an amazing and beautiful city and the people are so so warm just like us Africans. On the boat ride from the airport the architecture is amazing and I am overwhelmed with intricate artisanary dating back over 500 years. My exciting is palpable.

But there is a lot of work for me over the forthcoming 2 weeks because as a selector for Artes Mundi I have to visit as many exhibitions as possible and interact with curators and artists. Also as a member of the jury for the selection of the first official pavillion in the 100 history of the Venice Biennale I am keen to actively participate and attend events around the African Pavillion. Also this is an important professional networking opportunity. So watch this space.

Dominique Fontaine

Emma Bedford and Bisi Silva at Campos Santa Margherita not far from the appartment we are all sharing.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Nigerian Artist Olu Oguibe goes to Venice

During a visit to Cardiff last week as part of my first series of meetings at Artes Mundi, I visited Chapter Arts Centre gallery. As i walked into the adjoining bookshop a familiar image loomed large on the cover of an art magazine. Upon closer inspection I realised it was none other than the artist Olu Oguibe. Although pleasantly surprised, I was also slightly taken aback as Modern Painters was the last art magazine I thought I would see such a prominent image of an African Artist. But times are changing and it seems contemporary African art and artists are all the rage this summer. With the prominent visibility the first official African pavillion at the Venice Biennale is getting every magazine is talking with and featuring articles and interviews on African art. Oguibe will be featuring in Check List. The all male Nigerian line up includes Chris Ofili, Yinka Shonibare and Oladele Bamgboye.

Read interviews with Olu Oguibe on his website at

Friday, 1 June 2007

Artes Mundi announces selectors for 2008 Visual Art Prize

Artes Mundi announces the two Selectors for its 2008 international arts Prize and Exhibition

Artes Mundi – the biennial international contemporary visual arts initiative launched in 2004 - has today announced the names of the two independent Selectors who will shortlist the eight artists for Artes Mundi’s third Exhibition and Prize in 2008. They are Olabisi Silva from Nigeria who co-curated the Dakar Biennale in 2006 and Isabel Carlos from Portugal, who was the Artistic Director of the Sydney Biennale in 2004.

Artes Mundi is an international contemporary visual arts initiative, committed to recognising and showing some of the most exciting, emerging artists from around the world and celebrating visual culture within an international context. It highlights how artists comment on the world from very different cultural perspectives and gathers work that speaks about humanity, the human form and the human condition.

For full details visit the website at