Mourning the Passing of Okwui Enwezor

The Nigerian Okwui Enwezor, the designated director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich. The picture shows him at his presentation, eight months before the start of service (01.10.2011).

Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of art critic and curator Okwui Enwezor, who co-edited our book Antinomies of Art and Culture and contributed to Other Cities, Other Worlds. He was also co-founder and co-editor of our journal Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art.

The first African-born director of the Venice Bienniale art exhibition and the first non-European curator of the Documenta art exhibition, Enwezor promoted through his works a more globalized world of contemporary art and art history. His chapter in Other Cities, Other Worlds, “Mega-exhibitions: The Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form,” begins,

“In the last few years a new figure of discourse, one that seeks to analyze the impact of global capitalism and media technology on contemporary culture, has asserted that the conditions of globalization produce new maps, orientations, cultural economies, institutional networks, identities, and social formations, the scale of which not only delimits the distance between here and there, between West and non-West, but also, by the depth of its penetration, embodies a new vision of global totality and a concept of modernity that dissolves the old paradigms of the nation-state and the ideology of the ‘center,’ each giving way to a dispersed regime of rules based on networks, circuits, flows, interconnections.”

Antinomies_of_Art_and_Culture_coverIn Antinomies of Art and Culture, Enwezor’s chapter, “The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent Transition,” considers that modern art occupies an intersection between imperial and postcolonial discourses. “Any critical interest in the exhibition systems of Modern or contemporary art requires us to refer to the foundational base of modern art history,” he writes. “Its roots in imperial discourse, on the one hand, and, on the other, the pressures that postcolonial discourse exerts on its narratives today.”

In 1994, Enwezor co-founded Nka, leading the journal as co-editor and writing the introduction of the first issue, now freely available here for one year. Nka publishes critical work that examines contemporary African and African Diaspora art within the modernist and postmodernist experience. Since its inception, it has contributed significantly to the intellectual dialogue on world art and the discourse on internationalism and multiculturalism in the arts.

Looking back on Enwezor’s work, Duke University Press Editorial Director Ken Wissoker reflects that they “literally redefined the field.”

“The phrase “another world is possible,’ is used to keep people hopeful, imagining that things could be different,” Wissoker continues. “In his too short life, Okwui Enwezor actually made another world possible. In exhibition after exhibition and book after book, he showed us all a different and more global art history, art present, and art future.”

We send our sympathy to Enwezor’s family, friends, and colleagues. Joining them in remembering such a prominent and revolutionary figure in the art world, we echo Wissoker’s sentiments:

“We have lost him far too young at 55. He had so much more to teach and show us. Brilliant and kind, he leaves the rest of us a lot to do in his wake.”

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