Author: Emeka Okereke

Poétique du Lieu: au-delà du «Focus Afrique» de la Foire Art Paris Art Fair. Traduction par Janine Gaelle

Dans le train de Paris à Berlin, j’ai beaucoup réfléchi aux événements des jours précédents. C’était le dernier week-end de mars 2017, et la scène artistique parisienne était mouvementée. Paris a décidé cette année de suivre la grande tendance du moment: Focus sur le continent africain et ses artistes. De nombreux évènements, dont deux principaux – Art Paris Art Fair et 100% Afriques – , se sont vus décomposés en programmes satellites d’expositions et de conférences dans des lieux tels que La Villette, les Galeries Lafayette, la Galerie Des Galeries, La Colonie et bien d’autres encore. La foire Art Paris Art Fair, cependant, était la plus claire dans sa revendication de se concentrer sur l’Afrique en adoptant comme sous-titre «Afrique Invité d’Honneur». Dans une démarche bien intentionnée, il s’agissait de dérouler le tapis rouge aux artistes africains et de leur offrir une scène internationale où exposer et vendre leurs productions artistiques. Art Paris Art Fair s’est tenue au Grand Palais, haut lieu historique pourvu d’une salle d’exposition construite en 1897 en vue de l’exposition universelle …

Poetics of Location: Beyond “Africa Focus” of the Paris Art Fair 2017

Version  fraiçaise traduite par Janine Gaelle In the train from Paris to Berlin, I reflected on the events of the previous days. It was the last weekend of March 2017 and the Parisian art world was busy. This year, Paris decided to jump on the bandwagon of one of the most fashionable rave: the renewed focus on the African continent and its artists. The events, grouped under two main headings  – the Art Paris Art Fair and 100% Afrique – were further broken down into satellite programs of exhibitions and talks in such places as La Villette, Galeries La Fayette, Galerie Des Galeries, La Colonie and many more. The Art Paris Art Fair, however, was the most literal in its claim of focusing on Africa by adopting “Africa Guest of Honour” as its subtitle. In this, the well-meaning intention was to give African artists a world stage and the corresponding red carpet to showcase and sell their artistic productions. The Art Fair took place at the Grand Palais, a large historic site and exhibition hall built in 1897 in preparation for the Universal …

On Permanently Temporary Lives: Reflections on Somolu/Bariga – Lagos

In the first quarter of 2016, I made an off-handed decision to find some semblance of coordination in the otherwise chaotic over-the-place kind of life I have led for a long time. This decision could easily have been inspired by the sheer weariness from answering questions like “where are you based?” that often serve as openers to conversations. Not that it mattered much what image people had of me, but at some point, I began asking the same question to myself – “where are you based?”. It was not in a bid to find a fixed answer. As a matter of fact, just as nature abhors a vacuum, I abhor anything that attempts to permanently occupy a vacuum. I can invariably say that all my life, I have been hopping from one box to another in order to escape the very notion of finality. I am not wired to think of life in any way order than a perpetual journey of which all who are born will die on the road. The question of where …

Africa: A new game of “Scrabble”

We are in Amsterdam. We have been invited in the context of the 5th edition of the Unseen Photo Fair/Festival which takes places every year. We are African artists, curators and cultural operators. I have been scheduled alongside these proactive African cultural CEOs and Artistic Directors to speak in a panel. The panel in question is called ‘Platforms in Africa’. A couple of days ago, I was interviewed by a writer from Volkskrant, a very popular newspaper in The Netherlands with a readership of about 270,000. The content of this interview revolved around the most sensational perception: the sudden attention and renewed fixation on ‘Africa’ So here we are to discuss our various initiatives. We are set to go. After rounds of gruellingly long introductions by the moderator which made the whole affair seem like a live performative reading of the “About” page of websites and artists bios, we run out of time. I was disappointed to say the least. I have been invited one time too many to this kind of panel discussions, that …

A Photographer’s Note (I)

These notes are jottings inspired by the reading (and being in the sense) of John Berger’s Understanding a Photograph. Sometimes I paraphrase or quote the said author, and other times I form thoughts of my own that elaborate as much as extend certain remarkable impulses: 1. Something propels me to photograph. It is there or it isn’t. What is this? That’s the big question. I do not know. Some say it is intuition. But has intuition not been exhausted in definition? So much that by now I should know for certain? Perhaps it’s a thing. The only thing that I am. 2. Oftentimes I ask myself why I photograph. Times like this I  resort to looking at images in general – mostly of others, but also of mine. I look through images shared on social media (since the aim of sharing here is to engage socially) by many professional/amateur photographers. I realise that there is a tendency to beautify. To take what we already know and present them in the form of consumerist beauty. One that …

What to Make of Differences in the African Experience (1)

In Berlin, I had the pleasure of catching up with some longtime friends and colleagues. Luckily it was in a low key Nigerian restaurant that allowed for conversations in off-pitch tones and wild laughter. On the table was a Nigerian and a Cameroonian who had been living and working in Berlin for 20 years or thereabout; two Ghanaians who just flew in for a performance—one of them of Romanian origin; a Nigerian who arrived Berlin from Libreville; and myself, a Nigerian who just got in from Amsterdam. There you have it: a heterogeneous mix of Africans that immediately trumps a simplistic notion of Pan-Africanism. It was the perfect setting for an impromptu debate about what Africa, or blackness should and should not be. It was a rich conversation, cutting across many historical pointers but geared towards one question: How do we change the status quo and inspire progress that breaks away from the pitfalls of neocolonialism? A departure point for me was to scale back to the time of Kwame Nkrumah, the symbolical figure of Ghana’s independence and a key pioneer of the concept …

Black Portraitures: Whose Black is it?

Some days ago, I joined a host of brilliant and beautiful artists, scholars, writers, cultural operators and art enthusiasts of African descent (about 900 of them) in Florence to discuss topics related to the narratives and realities of Blacks. This ambitious undertaken was put together by New York University (Tisch School of Arts and NYU Florence) under the coordination of Professor Deborah Willis, Professor Awam Amkpa and many others. It is important to note that this came on the heels of a previous conference of equal intentions held in Paris in 2013.  In the backdrop of artistic and architectural opulence underlined by the impressiveness of NYU’s Villa La Pietra, the ever-present legacies of the Medici dynasty and warm temperatures that got everyone spotting the best of their lean clothing; Florence promised a perfect host more than any other city. But beyond the atmospheric, the conference is taking place at a time when many thousands of African immigrants are drowning in the shores of Italy, the disquietude of Xenophobia in South Africa, the upheavals in the …

Once Upon a Time in Cold Berlin – Part 2

Before I delve into the reason that prompted a return to this subject, it is imperative that I continue from where I left off in Once upon a Time in Cold Berlin – Part 1. As we would normally do at the debuting episode of a new season, let’s go back memory lane! 1. I traveled out of Nigeria for the first time in 2003, and since then I have not stopped. I am one of many Nigerians who are usually harassed and humiliated even before there was a reason for it – and usually for no reason other than my “green passport”… 2. In February 2010, one of my trips within Europe was brutally cut short and I was forced out of the continent. What did I do? I exceeded my visa for a period of eight days! I was stopped at the Schonefeld airport in Berlin by the Polizei (German federal Police), as I arrived from Paris. What followed next was a journey through the nightmares of so many immigrants and deportees of …

We Must Find Another Way To Win: a brief reflection on Selma, The Movie

In Berlin, I finally got the chance to see Selma. Sitting in the theatre, I went into oblivion before a torrent of advertisements and teasers – no popcorn, no beer (in Holland and Germany beers are allowed to go with your popcorn in Cinemas – a good enough reason not to go the cinema in France or Nigeria where it’s all soft drink). Eventually the movie kicked off. Like many movies of this kind which before getting to see them have been inundated with hypes and buzz, especially with its controversial outing at the Oscars, I usually come in with a certain level of apprehension coated with cynicism. Nevertheless, I brazed myself for the two-hour journey through this reenactment of a history we’ve come to know as pivotal in the repositioning of Black American narrative with regards to legislative rights. In the first few minutes, I found myself paying too much attention to the artifacts that are often the consequences of attempts to set a movie within a certain era, be it in the past or the future: the almost-forced accent and dress codes of the 60’s Alabama and Washington; …

Exploring a Void – “The Middle Ground”

In my previous writing, A Border Philosophy, I discussed the nature of a border, as something porous but concurrently has the tendency to be a vacuum as a result of the various positionings of what it tends to separate. In taking that argument further, I propose to discuss this vacuum as a space that is no longer a space of nothingness but an In-between or an “Interstitial” space (Bhabha, 1994) – within which the negotiations of many intersecting factors give form to the nature and potency of a given border condition. Often times when we make references to a border, it is in relation to an outward physical quality that imposes one form of limitation or the other – be it in our everyday lives or in the more institutionalized context of borders between nations. A visual rendition of a border might lead us to conjure a thick mass of matter the size of one’s imagination obscuring further vision or the possibility of a more distant horizon. It could also come to us in form …