Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Dak'Art treatment of artists and artwork is using up all its reserve of goodwill.

Gabriel Pacheco, Silence#3

When invited to contribute to this blog I considered writing about the successful curatorial structure of the 2006 Dak’art Biennale in comparison with the absence of such a vision this May 2008. However, in reading several of the wonderful contributions on the subject (put forth in the last few days) I have decided to use this space for a different sort of critique of the Dak’art Biennale: the treatment of the artists and the artwork.

One of the most upsetting events of 2008 was the inability of the Biennale to include the incredible work of Nandipha Mntambo. Through gross error and negligence on the part of the Biennale, her work did not arrive in time to be installed for the opening. A similar situation arose for the American artist Gabriel Pacheco whose work was also absent – only given a week’s notice to ship the work it did not, in the end, arrive on time for the opening.

Though the Biennale does fund the artist’s travel to the exhibition, the last minute notice of travel time and day has become a running joke. Given only a few hours to meet a scheduled flight, artists are often unable to attend. Nigerian artist Nnenna Okore was provided with less than 24 hours notice of her travel in 2006; she has young children and teaches at an American art school. Was she to abandon her classes and leave her children unattended? If given just a few days more these issues might have been sorted out so that she could have participated – instead El Anatsui, Amarachi Okafor, Bisi and I installed her work in her absence. Adding insult to injury, she has been trying to get the work back from the Biennale for the last two years and has finally given up.I understand these things are complicated and that funding issues are difficult for a multitude of reasons. However, what the 2008 biennale lacked in financial backing and curatorial vision could have been somewhat salvaged through proper treatment of the artists involved.

It is because of the artists this important event exists and without them it will fail. Here is hoping for 2010!

Lisa Binder is a curator at the Museum for African Art in New York.


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