Owkwui Enwezor

Okwui Enwezor in 2002 as he prepared the exhibition “Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994,” at what is now MoMA PS1. The work of Samuel Fosso is on the wall.
Credit…Edward Keating/The New York Times

Okwui Enwezor, an influential Nigerian curator whose large-scale exhibitions displaced European and American art from its central position as he forged a new approach to art for a global age, died on Friday in Munich. He was 55.

The cause was cancer, said his partner, Louise Neri.

In ambitious, erudite, carefully argued exhibitions staged in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States, Mr. Enwezor (pronounced en-WEH-zore) presented contemporary art against a backdrop of world history and cultural exchange.

His 2002 edition of Documenta, an important exhibition that occurs once every five years in Kassel, Germany, stands as a major achievement in recent art history. Though earlier shows like “Magiciens de la Terre” (Paris, 1989) had begun to tell a worldwide story of art, the 2002 Documenta was a testament to how widely Mr. Enwezor was enlarging art world horizons and positioning artists of the 20th century avant-garde as just a few actors in a vast ebb and flow of world civilization.

Many of his most acclaimed shows were group exhibitions and biennials. In addition to Documenta, he curated the 2008 Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, the 2012 Paris Triennale and the 2015 Venice Biennale. Yet Mr. Enwezor also curated numerous solo exhibitions, by such figures as the South African photographer David Goldblatt and the American sculptor and filmmaker Matthew Barney.

He was an educator, too, serving from 2005 to 2009 as dean of the San Francisco Art Institute [when Jenn was a student there]. And from 2011 until last year he was director of the Haus der Kunst, a leading Munich museum. There he helped organize the monumental “Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic” (2016—17).

Self-assured, peripatetic and unfailingly dapper — he favored dark double-breasted suits and the occasional neckerchief, and once made the cover of Men’s Vogue in Italy — Mr. Enwezor never doubted that an African had every right to take the lead at Western art institutions.

“Coming from Nigeria, I felt I owed no one an explanation for my existence, nor did I harbor any sign of paralyzing inferiority complex,” he told the Nigerian art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu in 2013.

That sense was reinforced after he had moved to the United States to study in the 1980s.

“What was apparent was that most Americans I knew and met were actually not worldly at all, but utter provincials in a very affluent but unjust society,” he said. “And when this became clear, I saw no reason why I could not have an opinion or a point of view.”

Okwuchukwu Emmanuel Enwezor was born on Oct. 23, 1963, in Calabar, a port city in southern Nigeria near the border with Cameroon. During the Biafran war of 1967-70, he and his family were forced to move dozens of times, settling at last in the eastern city of Enugu.

 

Mr. Enwezor in 2011 outside the <a href="https://hausderkunst.de/en/">Haus der Kunst</a>, a leading Munich museum, where he was its director from 2011 to 2018. One of the first shows under his leadership was an exploration of art and ideology during the Third Reich.
Credit…Andreas Gebert/dpa, via Associated Press

Living through war and resettlement, he told The New York Times Magazine in 2002, “I learned what it means to be the Other, even within the rooms of one’s own home.”

He began his university career in Nigeria before moving to the United States in 1982, living in the Bronx and enrolling at what is now New Jersey City University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

After graduating, he moved to downtown Manhattan, where he performed poetry at venues like the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, attended gallery openings and danced all night at clubs like the Palladium and the Roxy.

Yet the young Mr. Enwezor was “not overly awed or impressed by what the art world was throwing up,” he recalled this year in a New Museum show catalog. African artists, whether on the continent or in the diaspora, had almost no exposure.

He decided to fill the gap by starting Nka, a magazine of contemporary African art, which he co-founded with Mr. Okeke-Agulu, the scholar Salah M. Hassan and the scholar and artist Olu Oguibe. Its first issue came out in 1994. (Its name was taken from the Igbo word for art or creation, as well as the Basaa word for discourse.)

Nka set out to overturn the “entrenched pejorative viewing of contemporary art from Africa,” as Mr. Enwezor wrote in an editor’s letter in the first issue. Instead, he said, the magazine would advocate for art rooted in Africa but global in scope.

Nka became a touchstone in debates about art and postcolonialism, and it led the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York to invite him to be co-curator of an exhibition of African photography. The show, “In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present” (1996), was one of the first museum exhibitions to present imagery from Africa by Africans themselves, beyond the stereotypes of Western ethnography.

It gave dozens of African artists, like the acclaimed Malian photographer Seydou Keïta, their first American exposure. “In/Sight” also insisted on an understanding of Africa that stretched past the black experience, by including Arab artists, white photographers from Zimbabwe and South Africa, and African artists of Asian descent.

The same pluralist approach framed Mr. Enwezor’s show “The Short Century,” at the Villa Stuck in Munich in 2001, and later at MoMA PS1 in New York. This broad exhibition of African art and independence movements interwove the work of four dozen living artists with archival materials, music and photography from popular magazines.

Roberta Smith of The Times called it “one of those rare occasions when the usually hyperbolic term ‘landmark exhibition’ is not an overstatement.”

“The Short Century” came with a hefty catalog, chock-full of essays, images and primary sources, which would become a signature of Mr. Enwezor’s shows. (For “Postwar,” his last major historical exhibition, the catalog bulged to 850 pages and weighed more than 10 pounds.)

Mr. Enwezor, second from right, appeared in September at a Prada Foundation event connected to Milan fashion week. Here he was joined, from left, by the artist Theaster Gates and the directors Spike Lee and Dee Rees.
Credit…Flavio Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

In 1998, on the strength of “In/Sight” and an acclaimed biennial in Johannesburg, Mr. Enwezor was named artistic director of the 11th edition of Documenta, one of the world’s best-attended art shows, with a budget that year of more than $20 million.

Only 34, he was the first non-European to get the job, and he recast the show in Germany as only one node in a constellation of Documenta platforms, which included conferences on transitional justice in New Delhi and on postcolonial literature in the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia. Mr. Enwezor was proposing that an art exhibition mattered as much for the discourse it produced as for the works it presented.

More than half of his Documenta’s 117 artists and groups hailed from the developing world. Europeans and Americans like Louise Bourgeois, Joan Jonas and Steve McQueen had equal footing with African, Latin American and Asian colleagues.

Lucid, rarefied and uncompromisingly serious, Documenta 11 stomped on the Western-centric “internationalism” familiar from humanist blockbusters like “The Family of Man,” Edward Steichen’s 1955 photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, and replaced it with a historically engaged view of the whole, roiling planet, where artists and images were in constant motion.

Mr. Enwezor’s return to Germany to direct the Haus der Kunst, an exhibition hall built by the Nazis, was considered a coup for Munich. One of the first shows under his leadership was an exploration of art and ideology during the Third Reich.

But his relationship with Bavaria’s cultural officials soured, and his time at the Haus der Kunst was marred by an embarrassing scandal involving a senior manager who had pressured employees to join the Church of Scientology — activity that began before Mr. Enwezor’s arrival but that continued under his leadership.

Mr. Enwezor resigned in 2018 for health reasons. Afterward, a new leader cited “management mistakes” as the reason for canceling shows by Ms. Jonas and Adrian Piper. More traditionalist German painters were invited to exhibit instead.

The ailing Mr. Enwezor hit back, asserting that the Bavarian authorities had underfunded the museum for decades and calling his treatment by the new leadership “an insult.”

In addition to Ms. Neri, a director at Gagosian Gallery, Mr. Enwezor is survived by his daughter, Uchenna Enwezor; his mother, Bernadette Enwezor; and four sisters, Rita Ogor Enwezor-Udorji, Maureen Enwezor, Francesca Enwezor-Onyia and Nkiru Enwezor-Onyanta. He was previously married to Muna el Fituri.

Mr. Enwezor’s commitments to cosmopolitanism and expanded historical narratives were crystallized early in his career. In South Africa in 1996, shortly after his appointment to direct his first major show, he watched the waves crash at the extreme southern tip of the continent.

“I was astonished by the experience of standing there, where the two oceans met,” he later remembered. “I knew at that very moment this would be my concept: the meeting of worlds.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 19, 2019, Section A, Page 24 of the New York edition with the headline: Okwui Enwezor, Curator Who Interwove Art Worlds, Is Dead at 55.

Charmaine A. Nelson

Charmaine A. Nelson’s research and teaching interests include postcolonial and black feminist scholarship, Transatlan­tic Slavery Studies, and Black Diaspora Studies. She has made ground­breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, and Black Canadian Studies. Nelson has authored six books, including the edited book Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010), and the single-authored books The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (Minneapo­lis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (London: Routledge/Taylor Francis, 2016). Nelson’s passion for connect­ing with the lay public is demonstrated in her active media presence which includes work with The Montreal Gazette, The Toronto Star, CTV News, the BBC, and CBC Radio. She has also written for The Walrus and blogs for Huffington Post Canada. Nelson has held several prestigious fel­lowships and appointments, including a Caird Senior Research Fellow­ship, National Maritime Museum, UK (2007), a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair (2010), University of California-Santa Barbara, and a Visiting Professorship in the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2011). In 2016, she was named as a Fellow – :he Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars, Artists, and scientists and in 2017-18 she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University.

 

A talk by the scholar Charmaine A. Nelson planted the seed for my interest in creating this glossary.

 

Metaphysics of Presence

Deconstruction argues that certainty about determinate meaning is an impossibility founded upon the unverifiable notion that there is some sort of absolute ground of signification. Practitioners of deconstruction see this hope for a guarantee of meaning as utopian (see utopia) and metaphysical. Since presence indicates the hypothetical guarantor, “metaphysics of presence” simply means the delusion that words are objects and that they have stable meaning, instead of the absence and indeterminacy recognized by deconstruction or the unstable social relations studied by Marxism and feminism. See also interpolation.

 

Source: Sharon Grace Glossary

Interpolation

The drawing of a conclusion about some missing information by a process of deduction or induction based on present information. For example, given only the fragmentary statement “Claudel made__ version of the work: one she placed in the Hotel Biron and on she gave to ___,” we can interpolate that Claudel made two version s of the work, but we cannot tell to whom she gave one of them. In its simplest sense, interpolation means that we are able to reconstruct some lost portions of a damaged work, as is routinely done in archaeological reconstruction. On a more complex level, interpolation is one of the stages in the phenomenology of interpretation, since meaning is currently understood as something theoretically infinite produced by a finite number of indications within a text. Compare metaphysics of presence.

Source: Sharon Grace Glossary

Ethnography

The focus of ethnographic research continues to be what anthropologist Tim Ingold describes as “entangled relationships” among humans, nonhumans, and natural, social, and virtual environments. “The environment,” Inglold writes, “comprises not the surroundings of the organism but a zone of entanglement” (2008, 1797). The methodology described [in the text A Different Kind of Ethnography] flows from theoretical approaches that assume that ethnographic knowledge emerges not through detached observation both through conversations and exchanges of many kinds among people interacting in diverse zones of entanglement. This is what we mean when we refer to ethnography as a methodology of inquiry into “collaborative” or “co-creative” knowledge making.

– Dara Culhane

Source:

A Different Kind of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies
Edited by Denielle Elliot and Dara Culhane

 

 

The systematic study and description of peoples, societies, and cultures.

Etymology: combining forms

Source: Oxford English Dictionary.

Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour has many faces. He is known to many as an ethnographer of the world of everyday technology who in meticulous studies has shown how seemingly trivial things, like a key or a safety belt, actively intervene in our behavior. Others know Latour as an essayist very well versed in theory who charged the philosophers of postmodernity—principally Lyotard and Baudrillard but also Barthes, Lacan, and Derrida—that their thinking merely revolves around artificial sign-worlds and who confronted them with the provocative assertion that “we have never been modern.”1

Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law are attributed to the development of Actant-Network Theory

 

1.
Bruno Latour in Pieces: An Intellectual Biography
Henning Schmidgen
Translated by Gloria Custance
Series: Forms of Living
2015
Published by: Fordham University Press

Actor Network Theory (ANT)

Actor-network theory (ANT) is a sociological theory developed by Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, John Law and others.

Actor Network Theory can more technically be described as a “material semiotic” method. This means that it maps relations that are simultaneously material (between things) and “semiotic” (between concepts). It assumes that many relations are both material and “semiotic” (e.g. the interactoin ina bank involve both people and their ideas, and technologies. Together these form a single network.)

Sources:
In Defense of Sociology: Aesthetics in the Age of Uncertainty, Janet Wolff
Actor Network Theory, unpaginated
Actor Network Theory and Anthropology after Science, Technology, and Society, Robert Oppenheim

Actor Network Theory is an approach to research that sits with a broader body of new materialism; a body of work that displaces humanism to consider dynamic assemblages of humans and nonhumans. Originally developed in the social studies of science and technology undertaken in the second half of the 20th century, Actor Network Theory has increasingly been taken up in other arenas of social inquiry. Researchers working with Actor Network Theory do not accept the unquestioned use of “social” explanations for educational phenomena. Rather, the social, like all other effects, is taken to be an enactment of heterogenous assemblages of human and nonhuman entities. The role of the educational researcher is to trace these processes of assemblage and reassemblage, foregrounding the ways in which certain entities establish sufficient allies to assume some degree of “realness” in the world.

Aligning most closely with ethnographic orientations, Actor Network Theory does not outline a method. However, it could be argued that a number of propositions are shared in Actor-Network-Theory-inspired approaches:

1. The world is made up of actors (or actants), all of which are ontologically symmetrical. Humans are not privileged in Actor-network theory.

2. The principle of irreduction—there is no essence within or beyond any process of assemblage. Actors are concrete; there is no “potential” other than their actions in the moment. Entities are nothing more than an effect of assemblage.

3. The concept of translation and its processes of mediation that transform objects when they encounter one another.

4. The principle of alliance. Actants gain strength only through their alliances. These propositions have specific implications for data generation, analysis, and reporting.

Source: Oxford University Press

Further Reading:
On actor-network theory. A few clarifications plus more than a few complications (Bruno Latour)

Rhizome

Rhizome Entanglement. Image by Jenn Karson. A decaying cluster of caterpillar cocoons, skins, silk and debris. The caterpillars defoliated nearby trees before cocooning and then swarmed the trunks of trees as moths before dying, many turning to dust on the ground. This complex network of materials, time, space and transforming bodies is a rhizome in the philosophical sense. 

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between thing, interbeing, intermezzo…The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation direction, a transversal movement that sweeps on and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle.

The rhizome itself assume very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulb and tubers. When rats swarm over each other.

The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing. Make a map, not a tracing. The orchid does not reproduce the tracing of the wasp, it forms a map with the wasp, in a rhizome. What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real.

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

In Botany:

An elongated, usually horizontal, subterranean stem which sends out roots and leafy shoots at intervals along its length.

-Oxford English Dictionary

Alpinia purpurata. Image by Filo gèn’. This image illustrates the botanic meaning of Rhizome. Deleuze and Guattari create a new philosophical definition in A Thousand Plateaus