Spring: In answer to the first part of Chika’s question, I think that one of our priorities (and there are many) must be to encourage museums in Africa to collaborate with contemporary artists, to acquire their work and perhaps to offer them positions as curators. One way we can facilitate this process is to support organizations like Triangle Arts by holding artists’ workshops in collaboration with museums and other cultural institutions in Africa. These workshops respond to local needs and are run by artists and owned by artists (depending on funding the participants in these workshops are usually divided 50/50 between artists from the host country and the international community); in the past three years the BM has supported three such workshops in Mozambique, in Ghana and in Nigeria. A huge number of benefits accrue to all involved, not least the establishment of a growing network of artists and event coordinators. Also, because these workshops take place over 2-3 weeks, often in very public spaces, they attract a huge number of people who witness international contemporary practice at first hand.
One problem, of course, is in convincing Western museums and funding bodies to take these workshops seriously and to realize that they can be at least as empowering for museums in Africa, and the communities they serve, as more conventional training courses in various aspects of museum work. However, even if we are unable to support such workshops directly, we can act as mediators in bringing together artists, curators and potential funding bodies for organizations such as Triangle—I can think of at least two such projects where this has happened through the BM in the last few months. I mention Triangle simply because I have firsthand experience of working with them, but I’m sure there are other organizations working in similar or related ways with contemporary artists in Africa, which would benefit from our support.
The greatest challenge facing contemporary African art as a subject of museological and curatorial attention at present and in coming years? On the one hand trying to keep up with a tidal wave of remarkable work and at the same time acquiring examples which will give our public at least an inkling of ongoing contemporary practice. On the other hand to show some of this work as part of a continuum which finally exorcises the ghost of the “ethnographic present” which for so long has haunted perceptions of African art. Better still, to curate bold, touring exhibitions which can travel to venues throughout Africa and around the world—and never let recession cramp our style!