Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Decoding Basquiat" now available

To list to "Decoding Basquiat" by the British poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, click here
* This link is valid for 7 days

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Plea?

I have been reading quite a bit recently about El Anatsui's two major retrospectives in Toronto and Tokyo, and I cannot help but plead with all this commentators...actually, it is not a plea; it is a threat: if I hear or read one more time  scholars, critics or roadside commentators describe Anatsui's work as "fabric", "textile" or "wall hanging" I will throw up my cyberguts on their virtual faces!
I used to consider these descriptions of the artist's sculptures naughty or simply stupid. But now I believe it amounts to denial of the status of these works as Sculptures, and of the artists achievement in this genre, and I am having none of that. It makes me think of the days when African sculptors were described as "carvers." So, people, help me keep down my Thanksgiving turkey.

For CBS's helpful coverage of the Toronto show, click here

Benjamin Zephaniah on Basquiat: BBC Radio 4

[Program Announcement] 
Zephania with Anina Nosei, (Basquiat's Untitled, 1981); courtesy BBC 4
"Decoding Basquiat" - BBC Radio 4 - 11.30am Tuesday 30th November

50 years after the birth of one of America’s most enigmatic visual artists, Benjamin Zephaniah visits New York to read between the lines of Jean Michel Basquiat’s graffiti-inspired paintings.
When he died at the age of 27 Basquiat had been painting for less than a decade, but had achieved a unique feat: rising from graffiti writer to international art star. Basquiat’s prodigious talents and “cool status” made him a hero of the converging disco, hiphop and no-wave music scenes. By 1983 Basquiat had given up graffiti and was one of the most sought-after art commodities on the planet, surrounded by a string of sometimes contradictory mythologies: bohemian, ladies’ man, genius, drug addict, poet, inarticulate.  
Text was a constant in Basquiat’s work. From his street poetry, to his vast canvasses filled with lists from various sources: medical terminologies, Greek mythology and jazz LP liner notes. Benjamin will attempt to interpret his texts and symbols, to get beyond Basquiat’s artist as rockstar mythology. Can we draw conclusions about Basquiat's inner world from the words he used? 
Contributors include gallerist Annina Nosei who gave Basquiat his first solo show, Art historian Richard Marshall, art writer Michael Holman, music journalist Greg Tate, composer Lisle Ellis, Chika Okeke-Agulu from Princeton University and Basquiat’s long term girlfriend Suzanne Malouk.

“SAMO as an end to mindwash religion, nowhere politics and bogus philosophy”

- Basquiat street tag, 1979

December 22nd 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Basquiat’s birth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Panel on African Independence


Scholars from the fields of art history, history, economics, political science and journalism discuss the legacy of African Independence in recognition of the 17 African nations that gained independence in 1960. Cosponsored by Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and George Washington University Department of History.

Keynote address by Chika Okeke-Agulu, Princeton University
"Postcolonial dilemmas: African Independence and the politics of cultural autonomy"

Howard French
Columbia University, School of Journalism

Todd Moss
Center for Global Development

Markus Goldstein
World Bank

Moderated by Nemata Blyden
George Washington University

Thursday, November 11
1—4 pm
George Washington University Campus
Marvin Center, Grand Ballroom, 3rd floor
800 21st Street NW (between H & I Streets)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New PhD in Africana Studies at Brown University

Brown University has just launched a brand new Ph.D. Program in Africana Studies, which is an important landmark for this Ivy League university. Described as "an interdisciplinary program focusing on the artistic, historical, literary, and theoretical expressions of the various cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora," it should be a grade-A destination for ambitious, high-achieving graduate students. As is now customary for similar programs in the League, the Brown Graduate School offers incoming doctoral students five years of guaranteed financial support, including a stipend, tuition remission, health-services fee, and a health-insurance subsidy. This support--which may take the form of a teaching assistantship, research assistantship, fellowship,or proctorship--helps to defray the cost of tuition, and also provides a stipend to assist with living expenses during the student’s program

The program is now accepting Ph.D. applications for Fall 2011.

For more information: Click here

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ACLS African Humanities Program Fellowship

The deadline for applications for the 2010-2011 ACLS African Humanities Program fellowship competition is less than one month away!  Please take a moment to remind your colleagues, students, and other contacts of the deadline, and to encourage all who are eligible to apply. Your help is an important link in ACLS' attempt to reach all of our colleagues based on the continent, and to encourage those eligible for the fellowships to apply!

The deadline for electronic submission of applications is 1 December

-Fellowships support projects in the humanities, broadly defined.

-Applicant must be a national of a country in sub-Saharan Africa.

-Dissertation completion fellowships are available for the final year of dissertation writing. The applicant must be PhD candidate at a university in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, or Uganda. The applicant must be in residence at that university during the fellowship year.

-Early career postdoctoral fellowships are available to humanities scholars who completed the PhD in the last five years. The applicant must be in residence at and affiliated with an institution of higher education in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, or Uganda.

Application materials and further information about the program are available at the AHP website:

Contemporary Art and the Nigerian Law Makers

Yesterday, I received a copy of a document that is supposed to be a bill for a new Nigerian Gallery of Art law soon to be authorized by the House of Representatives in Abuja. When I first heard that a new bill was in the making, I thought, finally, someone has found the courage to do the right thing by providing a more sensible mandate, but also more crucially a framework for establishing a serious institution comparable to what exists elsewhere in the sane world. I thought, finally, perhaps there will be a law stating that the government will commit to building a national gallery of art in Abuja, rather than the disgraceful infrastructure lacking decent proper spaces or resources to exhibit and conserve any contemporary art worth its name. I thought, finally, the law makers would enable a process that will lead to construction of at least just one GALLERY OF ART for a nation that in spite of its wealth, has up till now not done what so many countries in Africa have accomplished--even the ones whose entire annual budgets are not up to the amount Nigeria spends on importing generators for federal agencies--which is to actually BUILD a decent national gallery however modest. I thought perhaps someone feels ashamed that in the 50th year of Nigeria, the so-called golden anniversary national art exhibition last month had to be mounted in the Abuja sports stadium, rather than in a proper gallery space.

Well, as it turns out, I must have been drinking something more intoxicating than "Sapele Water." For the document I saw yesterday is nothing but a plan by some conniving crooks to kill and to totally mess up what is already a lackluster contemporary art industry in Nigeria. Rather than consider laws that should strengthen the National Gallery in terms of making it a semi-autonomous progressive institution not stage-managed by civil service bureaucrats and politicians, this bill-in-the-making is a shameless attempt to hijack and micromanage key aspects of contemporary art transaction in Nigeria. It looks like some people have suddenly realized that there is money in art, and thus are scheming for a way to milk this cow, legally. I am under no illusion that some folks are trying to legalize what is clearly a parasitical impulse, especially with the relatively high sale numbers turned in by new private auction houses in Nigeria.

I do not know who is behind this bill (sponsored by Tunde Akogun) from within the art industry, but it must be said that THIS NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART BILL STINKS! and must be rejected by anyone who cares about the present and future of contemporary art in Nigeria. Let me be clear that if this bill passes, it will have a most devastating effect on artists, collectors, private galleries, and everyone involved in the field of contemporary art. Just imagine the nonsense about registration of all artists practicing in Nigeria, including those who do not live in Nigeria but wish to have their works exhibited or sold in Nigeria. Not even in efficiently managed dictatorial regimes did government mandate registration of all artists, including those who never wished to do business with government. Moreover, I am sure the National Gallery of Art could spend its time taking care of the works in its collection, rather than be turned into a money collecting and management agency. Just imagine the scale of transactions in contemporary art in Nigeria, and you would realize what it means for the NGA to supposedly micromanage every art sales and auctions, every building construction funded by government, and the registration status of art and artists. To me, this bill effectively kills the hope that some of us have that the National Gallery of Nigeria will one day become the type of institution imagined by the visionary members of the Federal Society of Art and Humanities in the 1960s.

Finally, if you don't believe me when I say that this bill has been drafted by people who are more interested in money that in art, consider this. Twice in the bill we are told that works of art without proof of paid royalty or clearance permit will be DUMPED in the National collection of the NGA. So, here you go. The bill effectively will legalize the transformation of the NGA such as it is currently into a dump.

Just in case you wonder what has got me this riled up, here below are a few of the clauses in the proposed bill:

  • Every contemporary visual work of art sold in this country or otherwise shall attract a 5% deduction from the total cost, paid in cash as royalty to the original artist estate whether he is alive or dead.
  • This royalty shall be made payable to the Embellishment Committee of the National Gallery who shall within one month remit same to the estate of the affected Artist after a 1 % administrative deduction from the gross sale.
  • Every contemporary visual work of art engaged in an exhibition, displayed for sale which does not comply with section 19 shall be confiscated and dumped in the National Collection for art until the royalty of 10% of the sale and another 5 % as fine is paid by the artist selling, auctioning or exhibiting.
  • Where the Director-General or the person authorized in writing by him is certified that the object is a contemporary works of art, he may issue permit hereinafter called "Clearance Permit'1 in respect of that object or where he is satisfied that the object is contemporary works of art and that the object is not the property of another artist, he shall issue a "Clearance Permit" and a number identifying such work of an where there was none existing pursuant to section 19 of this Act.
  • Where a permit is not produced and surrendered within one month, the Gallery shall dump it in the national collection of art at the National gallery of Art.
  • Every contemporary visual work of art originating in Nigeria or not originating in Nigeria but is being sold or auctioned or exhibited for sale in Nigeria, shall be registered, stamped. and issued a number by the Gallery.
  • The number so issued shall be unique to the art work and shall be issued-to identify the art work throughout Nigeria and to locate the estate of the original artist.
  • Every Artist or Art collector practicing in the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall register and obtain a registration number from the National Gallery of Art—