Kinsey asks to know if African curators are more qualified to exhibit contemporary African art any more than others. The simple answer is not necessarily. To begin with, I am not sure that the question of curatorial authenticity has been an issue in the field, and I do not know that anyone has suggested that African-born curators were any more qualified than their colleagues from elsewhere. But there is a fact that must be acknowledged, which is that the African-born curators most of who work as independent curators in the international art scene came to the field–and yes, helped define it–when it was unfashionable or totally ignored in museums, the academy and international contemporary art scholarship. It seems to me that what has happened is that some of these curators have kept up their work, becoming in the process important voices. That is to be expected. But it gives them no right to make claims to the field more than their work can demonstrate. At the same time, non-African curators ought not expect to be privileged simply because they occupy curatorial positions in the important museums. If the contemporary African art field has grown as quickly as it has, there is no doubt that it is because of the diversity of perspectives, voices and, yes, agenda it accommodates. This is what differentiates it, to a large extent, from earlier African art studies and curatorial practices.
The second point about the complexity North Africa brings to the idea of contemporary African art is to me a mute one, since most curators who do not have the baggage of imperial anthropological discourse as well as those with a keen sense of Africa’s history see the North as a crucial part of the continent (Okwui and I made this point in The Short Century, while the second African Pavilion organized by Forum for African Art at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 was curated by Gilane Tawadros from Egypt). Any contemporary art exhibition about Africa must contend with the racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity of the continent; it must overcome the fiction of the Sahara as the great border. It seems to me that this is part of the reason contemporary art tends to confound certain ideas about the continent—including ideas about how its peoples, cultures and arts were (some might say, are) classified in both the scholarship and the museum–much of which are remnants of colonial imagination.
But, Kinsey, I am not quite sure you what mean by asking if the idea of “African curators curating contemporary African art” does not amount to “conflating the continent’s diversity.”