Kellner: In response to Kinsey’s comments and in particular her post scrip question; are African curators more qualified to exhibit contemporary African art than others? It is a provocative question because it is a complex one. Within its signification are a range of concerns. I would like to separate out two such concerns as a way of addressing the question. The one concern is that of identity and the other of specialization. The first implies an identification with a person in terms of their nationality, race, gender etc. (which can obviously also be conflicted); the other is an area of professional practice where a curator or expert specializes in a particular field or topic. They need not necessarily be the same thing. If so, then African curators whether by birth or as part of the diaspora wouldn’t be in a position to curate anything outside of African art, like conceptual or western artists. Kynaston McShine’s 1970 Information exhibition at MOMA wouldn’t exist. When I was curating an exhibition on contemporary digital and video art on Africa for Videobrasil in Sao Paulo some years ago, I approached Steve McQueen to participate in the exhibition; he indicated to me that he didn’t see himself as African but as British. This may appear self-evident today given his prominent showing at Venice in the British Pavilion and it suggests interesting question of what might constitute Britishness today? But ten years ago, McQueen could have easily have exhibited in the exhibition together with artists like Oladele Bamgboye, William Kentridge and Zwelethu Mthethwa. There was an article in the NY Times that asked the question whether white people could speak about black culture and experiences? The question was put to Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. who responded, “race should not dictate what an author can or cannot write about… Ultimately, history is no one’s property. It belongs to all of us.” However, the question shows just how difficult an area this is or can be and the kinds of sensitivities that are required when dealing with other cultures, identities and peoples histories.
In a recent book review article in the Art Newspaper, “Tiffany Jenkins believes museums are suffering from a ‘crisis of cultural authority’ because of unremitting questioning of their ‘foundational purpose,’ which she isolates as the ‘pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.’ She wishes museums were still seen ‘as a distinct realm, removed from social and political forces. She seems to want museums to separate themselves from a world changed by postmodern relativism, cultural theory and postcolonialism, to rediscover their earlier ‘implicit universalism’ and to ditch today’s ‘explicit subjectivism.’” I make reference to Tiffany Jenkins because in so many ways it is still a view that is dominant of and about Africa (its civilizations, histories, geography, diasporas, languages, innovations, technologies) apart from the idea of a museum as a “universal” place untouched by society, politics and subjectivism, if ever museums were? Because Africa is a discursive location, it is a construct rather than merely a physical geography, and North Africa’s identity is automatically entangled in that of the continent of Africa.