Chika Okeke-Agulu: Clearly we have followed different trajectories to the business of curating the work of African artists, and that is good reason to expect that our views of the both the field and our curatorial practices within it are bound to be different! Two urgent matters, already insinuated in some of the opening statements, ought to be addressed right away. The first is how we imagine the field of contemporary African art as a subject of curation within the museum. Let me state my own position, in the hope that it will provide the grounds for the necessary disputation I envisage: contemporary African art, to me, is the work of African artists who can talk back to us as curators within the discursive spaces we ourselves occupy. Let me clarify with an anecdote. Several years ago, when I was still practicing primarily as an artist in Nigeria, I had interviewed Simon Ottenberg who had just retired as an eminent anthropologist from the University of Washington, Seattle, but had just started researching the work of artists associated with the Nsukka School in Nigeria. I remember asking him what he felt was the difference between his experiences as an anthropologist working notably among the Afikpo Igbo, and his new engagement with artists mostly based at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His response was something like this: “it is the loss of power; because while the Afikpo artists could never challenge my interpretation of their art and culture, you are most likely to be in the audience where I discuss your work at a conference.” In other words, the power relationship that was skewed in his favor earlier on more or less disappeared once he took up the work of the Nsukka artists. So, when I think about contemporary African art, I mean the work of artists who inhabit the same dynamic space as the curator, critic or historian; artists who at least theoretically can understand my interpretative “language”, and could talk back. I would be surprised if anyone agreed with this view of what constitutes contemporary African art!
The second question is difference in how the work of African artists is presented in art and ethnology museums, but we can take this on, once we dispose of the first.