Okeke-Agulu: On the question of geography, authenticity and artistic media, I cannot agree more with Clive, pretty much everyone else. However, it is not only western institutions and curators/scholars that sometimes insist on marking authenticity boundaries between African artists within and outside of the continent. A few years ago, I was embroiled in a debate in Lagos with colleagues who declared, without irony, that installation art was a western invasion of Nigerian art. The argument, absurd as it seemed to me, was that while painting was the authentic medium through which Nigerian artists expressed themselves, installation was a manifestly inauthentic medium because it was proliferating in the work of western contemporary artists (there was also a similar debate in the Dialog pages of African Arts about two years ago). And I am sure many of us came across a ridiculous riposte by a US-based Nigerian scholar recently criticizing Okwui Enwezor for, as the author claimed, misrepresenting Africa through exhibitions that include many Africans residing outside the continent. Though I do not take these kinds of fallacious critiques seriously, they nevertheless are indicative of the persistence of the notions about artistic authenticity and national/ethnic purity.
Moreover, this idea that contemporary African art has a unique birth mark–in terms of media and artistic sensibilities–that differentiates it from contemporary art elsewhere, or that it must be physically located within Africa’s national boundaries, is not new. Back in 1966 when the Nigerian artist Okpu Eze stated, that “People want to create boundaries for art as though there can be Nigerian science or Nigerian mathematics,” he was responding to the kind of parochial ideas about what Nigerian art must look like. And when critics and commentators vilify exhibitions including the work of Africans working outside the continent, one wonders what such critics make of the fact that since Aina Onabolu traveled to Europe in 1920 African artists have lived and worked outside of their home countries or the continent for brief or long periods of time and for diverse reasons, like their counterparts elsewhere.
Finally, and on a different note, Christa makes a crucial point about the museological space as a contested terrain; a space in which curators and museums must constantly question the kinds of knowledge produced by their collecting, installation and exhibitionary practices, and how accessioning of works from previously ignored or underrepresented parts of the world challenges the usual ways of imagining the work of the museum and about its collection. With regards to contemporary art, I see the efforts to rethink permanent installations of works by modern/contemporary artists from different parts of the world as similar to the recent conversations and debates in art history scholarship about what a global art history might look like. In both cases, two trends are emerging: the first, which seems the less risky is a vision of global art that simply means finding a space where possible for the “new” work from what I like to call the Euro-American elsewhere within the modified, old art historical narrative (in Africanist collections, this is analogous to placing contemporary artists within the traditional/classical art collection in order to make sense of them; and in Africanist scholarship to inserting the work of contemporary artists to chapters organized by “culture areas,” ethnic groups, and regions ). The second, more ambitious and difficult, trend is to do away with the canon by acknowledging the heterogeneous histories of art and using that as a basis for a comparative rather than narrative art history. Incidentally, Christa’s Newark Museum already anticipated this trend because of its longstanding view of the art and material culture outside of national, regional, civilizational boundaries.