Ėyė kò lè fi apá kan fò Birds can't fly with one wing (Team-work/cooperation is crucial)
ọmọdé gbn, Àgbà gbn la fi dá Ilé-If The combined wisdom of the children and those of the aged were used to create Ile-Ife
Amâno yafuma mwifwesa yaingila mu cûlu Wisdom came out of a small anthill (ifwesa) and went into a big one (Elders may also benefit from the sayings of children)
Àtùpà kì í níyì lsán, ⋅ugbn a máa gbayì lj al A lamp is typically of little value in the afternoon, but does get appreciated at night (There's always a right time and place for everything)
These proverbs from the Yorùbá of southwestern Nigeria and the Bemba of Zambia are a few examples that can be found in many Africa languages. While these proverbs are rich in philosophical sayings and muses, many are being forgotten because fewer and fewer people possess deep knowledge of languages, and in the arts, Africans tend to look to the Global North for theoretical frameworks to examine their art and other cultural properties. The title of this piece is therefore an identification with the potency of the proverbs because of the trends of collaboration that I have noticed in the last few years in African Art Studies. It could also be said to be a call to look into what could be shared within Global Souths in terms of an available knowledge base that could be used to forge ahead rather than subjecting thoughts and knowledge to the Global North.
The second inspiration for this piece draws from Costandius (2007: 8), who suggests the “inclusion of African Indigenous Knowledge in multicultural educational curricula in South Africa.” Other scholars (Mbiti 1997; van Wyk and Higgs 2004; Waghid 2016) have argued that the African philosophy of learning1 can be used to enhance educational practices. These educational practices and philosophy could be a powerful tool in the production of knowledge with public concern (Waghid (2016). Furthermore, Venter (2004: 156) has argued for the inclusion of the ubuntu view in education. Can we then begin to critically look at and make use of these philosophies as we engage with the various aspects of the languages? Ubuntu means “humanness”—I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am—which relates to the idea that a person can only be a person through others (Van der Walt 1997; Mbiti 2002).
In this First Word, I highlight some of these events, programs, and conferences that have worked with collaborative models and consider their implications for the study of African art. These events demonstrate my thoughts about what artists, professionals, art historians, curators, cultural executives, and other stakeholders should be doing more of in order to achieve a holistic program for the arts of Africa. While a number of such interventions are already taking place, I point to a few examples that I have engaged with in one way or another. Importantly, a great number of events—big and small, some without funding—are taking place in many African states and communities. These events seek to bring art back to the doorstep of the people. A number of these are run by young artists and other collaborators.
The Arts of Africa and Global Souths research program2 headed by Ruth Simbao has developed various forms of collaboration with scholars and artists from different African contexts, including Makerere University, Uganda, where she served as an external examiner from 2015 to 2017. This appointment, which involved annual travel from South Africa to Uganda, surprised me. At ọbáfemi Awólw University in Nigeria, where I have lectured since 2002, external examiners were usually invited from universities less than 300 km away, making it difficult to secure the best people to examine students if they were from a different part of the country, let alone outside the country. This is partly because of inadequate funding in the system. The appointment by Makerere reveals a reaching out that provides the opportunity for scholars and artists on the continent to collaborate more, creating opportunities to further place Global Souths at the forefront of knowledge making and knowledge sharing.
In July 2017, a group of scholars and postgraduate students from Uganda, South Africa, and Nigeria attended the PROSPA Publishing Workshop,3 which was held in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, cohosted by Amanda Tumusiime from Makerere University. Participants were drawn mostly from academic institutions, and the workshop aimed to further strengthen some of the collaborations springing from different parts of Global Souths (Simbao 2017).4
The intensive four-day workshop consisted of discussions about scholarly publishing in the arts with a particular focus on Africa. Participants presented draft papers and received verbal and written feedback. At the end of the workshop, there was a city tour, which involved studio and gallery visits, as well as a visit to the Department of Fine Arts at Makerere University, where the work of students was exhibited. It was clear at the end of the workshop, particularly for those who experienced such an event for the first time, that more such interventions are needed within Africa so that we can play “an important role in shifting the center of gravity in the global academy” (Simbao 2017: 1). It was extremely beneficial for scholars from different parts of Africa to travel within the continent to further our interactions and scholarly engagements.
The 2018 PROSPA Writing Workshop organized by the Art of Africa and Global Souths, was held at Rhodes University from November 19–24, 2018. Six scholars from Kwame Nkruma University of Technology Kumasi (KUNST), Ghana were joined by Ruth Simbao, Rhodes University, South Africa, Stephen Fọlárànmí, ọbáfmi Awólw University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and Adépéjú Láyíwọlá of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. The six artists and scholars from KUNST were drawn from blaxTARLINES.5 As part of the workshop, Rachel Baach of the Fine Art Department, Rhodes University, also joined an interactive session with a few postgraduate students from Rhodes University. The platform provided an avenue for the students to present their current research activities and artistic practice to members of blaxTARLINES. The workshop ended with visits to some of the MFA candidates in their studio spaces. It was indeed fruitful and a worthwhile period not only to these students, but also to the visiting scholars and artists. A new chapter for future collaboration was indeed opened up within a few days of interaction.
The year 2017 was an eventful and fruitful year for African arts as a discipline, and a number of notable events took place on the continent (Simbao et al. 2018: 4). One of the high points for 2017 was the ACASA triennial conference held at the University of Ghana in Accra—the first time it had been held in Africa—and it provided an avenue for many artists and art historians on the continent to fully participate in academic discussions about the arts of Africa. This was a significant change from the usual United States venues, which pose a series of obstacles for scholars on the continent. Nadine Siegert comments on the importance of this change:
To organize the ACASA Triennial conference on the African continent for the first time in 2017 has been an already belated initiative. In the broader context, to decolonize African Studies and African Art Studies in particular, one might wonder why this conference that is regarded as the most important one in the discipline still takes place in the USA. This produces high travel costs not only for the colleagues in Africa but also those based in Europe and Asia, not speaking about the visa issues yet. On the other hand we all know that the logistics and costs of hosting such a big conference are far beyond what most of the African institutions can provide on their own.
The ACASA conference in Ghana 2017 has shown that through the collaborative effort of a fantastic team, a great event can be realized [emphasis added]. It might not be an exaggeration to say that more African colleagues than ever have been able to participate and present their work to colleagues. A number of collaborations have been started due to the fact that scholars met in person for the first time. The impact and proximity to the “field” not just through research but also through physical practices such as eating, dancing, and traveling together cannot be underestimated for a decolonial approach of future conference-making.
One option for the future might be to abandon the idea of the big conference and break it up into several smaller ones that are thematically focused. These could take place in different venues in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas and thus also enable smaller institutions to host such a conference.6
Perhaps it can also be said to have marked a shift in the knowledge-making and the beginning of many more ACASA Triennials held in other parts of Africa in the near future. ACASA member, conference attendee and recipient of a 2017 ACASA travel grant, Jimoh Ganiyu comments:
ACASA 2017 was a great exposure for me in terms of networking with art scholars. It was great because it was the first ACASA Triennial on the continent! It created ambiance for on-site cross-fertilization of knowledge about African art. The panels were educating, informative, and impressive. Having won a travel grant for the Triennial, I had opportunity to meet the top shots in African art from continents other than Africa. The reception by the local organizers was great. The only problem was that the hotels around the venue were somehow very expensive for some Nigerian participants, because of exchange rate, I think, and because most do not have grants to attend the conference.7
Issues of funding earlier mentioned surfaced in Ganiyu's comments, strengthening the advocacy for increased funding by ACASA and many other institutions, especially on the African continent, if we are to continue to propagate its arts and scholarship. In a related comment, Tolúlopé Sóbòwálé was of the opinion that
ACASA being held on African soil is the best particularly when the visual products of the continent is the reason for the existence of ACASA. That it took place in Ghana once again opens up Africa to the world economically, socially, and intellectually as well as giving the first-timer on African soil a practical experience of the people's hospitality thereby erasing any misconceptions.8
In another commentary, Péjú Láyíwọlá says “the inclusiveness of ACASA is what I am particularly excited about. In my view, this was the icing on the cake and reiterates the importance of participation of more Africans in the study of the art and culture of this vast continent.”9
In Lagos, Nigeria, two important events took place late in 2017: the inaugural Lagos Biennale, which started in October and ended in November, and the second edition of Art X, which also took place in November. Lagos has been particularly busy for a while, and a number of important events have involved not just Nigerians, but many artists from all over Africa. Before 2017, there were interventions such as Art Expo Nigeria,10 which had about three shows consecutively (2008–2009); the African Regional Summit and Exhibition on visual Arts—ARESUVA,11 which had two editions, and Lagos Photo.12 While Art Expo included mainly Nigerian artists and scholars, the first ARESUVA was a conglomeration of many artists and scholars drawn from sixteen African countries and the Diaspora. Due to a lack of funding, ARESUVA and Art Expo had not taken place since their second and third editions respectively. The Lagos Biennale and ART X were therefore perhaps some of the major events in Nigeria after ARESUVA and Art Expo.
At the Lagos Biennial,13 Jelili Atiku's performance was particularly striking for me. Titled Red Day (Fig. 1), it took place as a procession within Lagos and parts of the riverine communities. This performance by Atiku was enacted as a collaborative performance involving several other artists as well as members of the different communities the procession passed through. His work can thus be related to what Waghid (2016) proposes about the attention of knowledge producers having public concerns. In Red Day Atiku expresses the effects of global violence and warfare affecting several parts of the world. This kind of collaborative performance was also displayed during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2017, where the audience, some of whom were artists, took part in a collaborative performance by Ghanaian artist Bernard Akoi-Jackson.
The first edition of ART X Lagos was held November 4–6, 2016. Curated by Bísí Silva,14 over sixty established and emerging contemporary artists from ten countries in Africa, including Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Mali, took part in this edition. Through the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Lagos, Bísí has over the years fostered several collaborative efforts, reaching out to many African artists and scholars within and outside the continent to work together through exhibitions, workshops, and short residences. The debut fair welcomed 5,000 visitors from around Nigeria, Africa, and the world. The 2017 edition was bigger and more publicized. It also featured three days of robust discussions and conversations around the art, hugely supported by a very ambitious exhibition with participants in both the shows and discussions coming from all over Africa and the Diaspora. ART X Talks explore a range of themes pertinent to the state and evolution of contemporary art in Africa.15 The 2018 Art X Artist's talks and discussants included artists and scholars such as Yinka Shonibare, Péjú Láyíwọlá, Chile Aniakor, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Yvonne Fasinro, Meskerem Assegued, Níke Òkúndáiyé Davies, Duke Asidere, Dotun Pópóọlá (Fig. 2) and many others drawn from Nigeria and many other parts of Africa.
In May 2018 another conference was held with the theme Women on Aeroplanes16: Search and Research—Looking for Colette Omogbai at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Lagos, Nigeria. The participants, who were drawn from various African countries, Germany, and the United States, spent four days interrogating issues around this theme as it relates to African art. The participants were Garnette Cadogan (Jamaica), Rahima Gambo (Nigeria), Lungiswa Gqunta (South Africa), Gladys Kalichini (Zambia/South Africa), Maryam Kazeem (Nigeria), Jihan El-Tahri (Egypt), Fabiana Lopes (Brazil), Seloua Luste Boulbina (Tunisia), Temitayo Ogunbiyi (Nigeria), Wura-Natasha Ogunji (USA/Nigeria), Nadine Siegert (Germany), Michael C. Vazquez (United States), and Ndidi Dike (Nigeria). All participants, with the exception of Nadine and Michael, were from the Global South. Participants at these conference rallied to collectively look at the different ways of theoretical and artistic, academic and nonacademic strategies of investigation, especially as they relate to issues of erasures and nonrepresentation of women in African art. Through a collaborative effort, participants from different geographic locations used the conference as a platform to interrogate artistic issues within their own countries.
The collective responsibility in seeking answers to questions is at the heart of these interventions. One finds this relevant when we consider another proverb among the Bemba or Ichibemba of northern Zambia: Umunwe umo tausala nda (“One finger cannot pick a louse”).
From June 28–July 8, 2018, the annual National Festival of Arts in Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa, also took place. This festival is said to be the largest arts festival on the African continent and one of the largest performing arts festivals in the world in terms of visitor numbers. It brings together artists from Africa and around the world, with shows, talks, lectures, and performances. Two events were of note for me: the Arts Lounge Africa17 and Converge exhibition at the new Raw Spot Gallery.18 Both the Arts Lounge discussions and Converge exhibition were organized by the Arts of Africa and The Global South research group at Rhodes University. The exhibition (Figs. 6–10) was curated by Brunn Kramer (a student at Rhodes) and Professor Ruth Simbao and included artworks, video screenings, and performances produced by artists from six countries in Africa who had in one way or another collaborated with the Arts of Africa and Global Souths team.19 The idea of convergence captures the ways in which artists based on the African continent might converge in terms of collaborations and possible resonances, but inevitably diverge in other ways.20
The collaborative nature of these performances and exhibition was intriguing. The works and performance of Rachel Baach (Fig. 6) shows the audience participating in an e-waste funeral performance. The performance took off from the Raw Spot Gallery to the Makhanda Monument,21 and back to the Art Lounge, where the interment of the e-waste took place. The dynamics that played out would not have been possible without such collaborative and sometimes spontaneous efforts of the audience. Similarly, Bernard Akoi-Jackson's performance titled On
Dictation Dictatorship and Other Extreme Tropes of Governance Authority was also a collaborative performance (Fig. 10). The collaborations played out intensely, particularly where the audience, some of whom were also artists and art historians, became actively involved in the performances of Samkela Stamper and Bernard Akoi-Jackson. For instance, Igshaan Adams (Fig. 10), South African artist and the winner of the 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist Award performed an ad hoc role in the Bernard's performance as an audience member, as audience participation was critical to this performance. The discussions at the Art Lounge were robust with visitors and collaborators from different parts of the world.
The reaching out and looking in of these events can be expressed in other proverbs, such as the Shona proverb of Zimbabwe, rume rimwe harikombe churu (“No matter how strong an individual is, he/she cannot surround an ant-hill on his/her own”).22 In essence, this speaks about extending hands of fellowship through collaborative efforts, reaching out from one artist to another, one scholar to the other, and from one country to another on the African continent, creating a chain effect where each link strengthens the other so that their voices could be heard and knowledge shared. The effects of their intervention, their practice, and methods could reach far.
These collective interventions, therefore, are most beneficial when ideas and resources (both human and financial) are pulled together. I believe they are yielding some results, slow and small as they may look at the present. Some of these events, such as the African biennials, have sometimes been questioned. Are they the solutions to the problem for African art's global reach (Kasfir 2018: 5–6)? If they are not, what must we look towards, and in what ways should we continue to engage and support the arts and artists of Africa? How could funding opportunities be of benefit to artists and scholars on the continent? However, these little sparks of fire are more beneficial than not making any effort. To borrow the words of N'goné Fall, “the conversations have just started. It should not stop. It cannot stop. We have to keep producing, disseminating, and sharing our knowledge” (Simbao et al. 2018: 6). Finally, as the Yoruba say, igi kan kò leè dá gbó ⋅e—“a tree cannot make a forest.” Artists and scholars on the continent should continue to look for ways to reach out and address issues on sharing knowledge and knowing more about one another for the benefits of the art on the continent and in the Diaspora.
The utilization of various African philosophies from different parts of Africa could be the platform on which research-based learning and interrogation can dwell. I have recently found out that a number of Western theories and methodologies actually have parallels in different African cultures. More of these need to examined and used in African art studies, as rightly suggested by Rowland Abíọdún (2014). See also Simbao (2017: 6).
The Arts of Africa and Global Souths research program comprises the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, and the Mellon Publishing and Research of the South: Positioning Africa (PROPSA) program.
The annual PROSPA workshops are organized by the Arts of Africa and Global Souths research program at Rhodes University, South Africa, and run by Ruth Simbao in collaboration with colleagues at various Africa-based universities. The 2017 workshop funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was the second in the series of such workshops. One goal of the workshop was to collect publishable material produced by scholars based on the African continent for African Arts (Simbao 2017: 6). Two of the papers presented in Uganda were published in African Arts vol. 51, no. 2 (2018), while three more articles appear in this volume.
Other Ugandan participants included Rose Namubiru Kirumira, Philip Kwesiga, Annette Sebba, Justine Nabbagala, Sarah Nakisanze, Joan Kekimuri, Dorah Kasozi, Margaret Nagawa, and Edward Nobel Bisamunyu. South African scholars included Ruth Simbao, Rachael Baasch, and Amanda Hlengwa from Rhodes University and Mduduzi Xakaza from the Durban Art Gallery. Scholars from Nigeria included Ganiyu Jimoh from the University of Lagos, and Tayo Ijisakin and Stephen Fọlárànmí from Obafemi Awólw University Ile-Ife.
The blaxTARLINES is an art incubator at the Fine Art Department of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, and the 2018 PROSPA participants included kąkạchä seid'ou, Kwaku Boafo Kissiedu, George Ampratwum, Edwin Bodjawah, Dorothy Amenuke, and Ibrahim Mahama. The group of nine scholars and artists met to discuss a forthcoming special issue of African Arts that will consider collaborative practices in art departments on the African continent, with a particular focus on the work of blaxTARLINES (https://www.facebook.com/blaxtarlineskumasi/posts/2212743442181214)
Personal correspondence with Nadine Siegert, Deputy Director Iwalewa Haus, University of Bayreuth Germany. November 10 and 15, 2018.
Personal correspondence with Ganiyu Jimoh, October 27, 2018.
Personal correspondence with Tolulope Sobowale, October 25, 2018.
Personal correspondence with Peju Layiwola, October 27, 2018.
The first edition of the Art Expo in Nigeria took place from August 27–31, 2008. It started as a collaborative engagement between the government-funded National Gallery of Art, which is a parastatal under the Ministry of Culture with private galleries in Nigeria. One mission of the Art Expo was to create an international platform for Nigerian artists and foster a relationship with other African and international artists. The second edition of the Art Expo took place from August 22–30, 2009.
ARESUVA was the brainchild of the National Gallery of Art, Nigeria-NGA. The first edition in which I participated was held in August 2008 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, Nigeria, while the second and last edition was held in 2009. It brought together artists and scholars from Africa and the Diaspora to participate in an exhibition and symposium on the art of Africa.
Lagos Photo, founded by Azu Nwagbogu and organized by the African Artists Foundation, was launched in October 2010 and opened to the public on October 25, 2014. Unlike ARESUVA and Art Expo, Lagos Photo had been consistent with its programs and events and has turned out to be one of the international events that artists in Africa and beyond look forward to annually.
About forty-one artists reflecting diverse background and countries, genres, and practices participated for the duration of the Lagos Biennale. The narrative of the biennial further shares its title with the 2012 project of Mozambican artist Mário Macilau; this, the organizers say, was expanded to accommodate the geographical, spiritual, and most importantly, the psychological ramifications of living on the edge. Artists from different parts of Africa and the diaspora participated in the 2017 Biennale, with series of workshops, live shows, video screenings, and performances. See Folakunle Oshun, artistic director of the Lagos Biennale 2017 (https://www.lagos-biennial.org/biennial-2017).
Bisi Silva is a Nigerian contemporary art curator based in Lagos. She is the founder and artistic director of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Yaba Lagos.
Women on Aeroplanes is a research-based project curated by Annett Busch, Marie-Hélène Gutberlet, and Magda Lipska, coproduced by Iwalewahaus, Universität Bayreuth, funded by the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation in collaboration with Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos / Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw / The Showroom, London.
The participating artists in the Converge exhibition were Bernard Akoi-Jackson (Ghana), Jelili Atiku (Nigeria), Moffat Takadiwa (Zimbabwe), Rachel Baach (South Africa), Rehema Chachage (Tanzania), Stacey Gillian (Uganda), Stary Mwaba (Zambia), Natasha Bezuidenhout (South Africa), Wallen Mapondera (Zimbabwe), Sonwabiso Ngcai (South Africa), Samkela Stamper (South Africa), Gladys Kalichini (Zambia), and Dylan McGarry (South Africa).
Converge curatorial statement.
The 1820 Settlers Monument is in the process of changing its name from Grahamstown to Makhanda.
The Shona and Bemba proverbs in this paper were shared with me on November 9, 2018 by Baranabas Muvhuti (Shona-Zimbabwe) and Andrew Mulenga (Bemba-Zambia), both are PhD candidates at Rhodes University, Makhanda (Grahamstown).
Stephen Fọlárànmí is a postdoctoral research fellow with the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa at the Fine Arts Department, Rhodes University, South Africa and an artist and lecturer in the Department of Fine & Applied Arts, ọbáfmi Awólw University Ilé-Ifè Nigeria. His research interests include Yoruba art studies/African mural art, and architecture. His articles have been published in journals, conference proceedings, and edited books. He was a recipient of the first Höffmann-Dozentur für Interkulturelle Kompetenz at University of Vechta, Germany for the 2008/2009 session. email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.