Emeka Ogboh wins artwork competition for the Peace and Security building of the African Union / Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
29 Sep 2014

Emeka Ogboh wins artwork competition for the Peace and Security building of the African Union / Addis Ababa

© The Progress of Love exhibition project

Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh wins competition to produce an artwork for the Peace and Security building of the African Union in Addis Ababa.

The selection committee met last weekend to choose the artist to produce the art for the new Peace and Security building of the African Union in Addis Ababa.

The jury voted unanimously to commission Emeka Ogboh to produce a work with local references. The work is to be based on an adaptation of the hymn of the African Union, which highlights the principle of “Unity in Diversity.”

Emeka Ogboh’s first reaction to the news that he had won the competition was as follows:

“This is great news for sound art and aspiring sound artists on the continent.”

The jury’s decision signals a fundamental change in direction with respect to art in public spaces. Emeka Ogboh specializes in digital auditive media and is one of Africa’s most promising young artists. A native of Nigeria, Ogboh is co-founder of VAN (Video Art Network) Nigeria. His impressive soundworks have been presented at a number of international exhibitions and art projects. The work he plans to develop for the African Union building will address the history, present, and future of the association of African states, forging connections between the building, its surroundings, and the city.

The jury’s statement explains:

“Emeka Ogboh’s proposal is a poetic and yet enigmatically familiar  sound installation combining recorded audio fragments to create an immersive but non-intrusive experience. It balances the intimacy of personal encounter and memory with a sweeping meditation on time, space,  and language. The artwork is  an intangible  journey linking  the African  Union Peace and Security building to  its garden,  as well as to the AU compound  and  the city of Addis Ababa. It  highlights the inherent tensions between ‘without’ and ‘within’, opening up a transitory space  and locating a hidden pause within even the most fleeting, seemingly ordinary, moments. The result is an unpredictable  imaginative  experience embracing the cultural  commonalities that  define the soul of the  African continent. This  sound installation is an invitation to  pause, to listen closely,  and to escape. The jury hopes that it will give users and visitors of the building the inspiration to find the  creative solutions  that the increasingly complex problems they face daily so urgently require.”

The jury, chaired by the internationally renowned artist Olafur Eliasson, brought together experts from all over Africa: N’Goné Fall, a curator from Dakar; Stacy Hardy, an art expert and author from Johannesburg; Patrick Mudekereza, a cultural producer from Lubumbashi; Alya Sebti, director of the V. Marrakech Biennale (2014); and Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew, rector of the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design in Addis Ababa.

Entries for the competition were submitted by a large number of artists from all over Africa. Alongside the winner Emeka Ogboh, the work of Theo Eshetu (Ethiopia/Senegal) and Anawana Haloba (Zambia) was singled out for praise. The jury sessions were attended not only by the all-African jury with voting rights, but also by several non-voting members: representatives of the German Foreign Office, the African Union, and the Stuttgart-based ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Institute for international cultural relations.

Recognizing Addis Ababa’s significance as the headquarters of the African Union and as a city with a booming art scene, the German Foreign Office seeks to support the efforts of African societies to gain more self-assurance and strengthen their identity. The decision to stage a conference alongside the competition gave rise to some highly productive discussions between participants from different African contexts and generated ideas for new coproductions.

The jury’s decision last Saturday was preceded by an intensive three-day conference (September 16–18, 2014) entitled “Future Memories” at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Addis Ababa. It was jointly conceived and organized by ifa and the Alle School and financed by the German Foreign Office. It provided a forum for African art experts and cultural scholars to discuss cultures of memory and the significance of art in public spaces in African contexts.

Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew, rector of the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, commented:

“The three-day international Future Memories conference was a critical and successful platform in which existing cultures of memory and memorials in different African cities were presented and discussed by professionals representing various African countries. The role of art in public spaces and how memory should be preserved, represented, constructed and maintained through the rapidly changing urban landscape of many African cities was reflected. The conference also generated an opportunity to develop alternative ways of thinking about how we understand memory and memorials, which actually informed and productively influenced the discussion and decision of the jury members evaluating the public art project proposals to take place in the African Union compound, at the Peace and Security building.”

Elke aus dem Moore, ifa (Director of the Art Department at the Institute for international cultural relations), summed up the process:

I am absolutely thrilled about how fruitful the discussion has been and about the jury’s final selection of the sound artist Emeka Ogboh, which sends a crucial signal. Ogboh’s artistic practice constitutes a clear rejection of the monumental in art—of the manifestation of remembrance in monuments. The jury’s decision was clearly informed by the impressive discussion that took place at the Future Memories conference. At the same time, it represents a continuation of the trans-African discourse by other means.”

As an organization with excellent contacts in the African art scene, ifa was charged by the German Foreign Office with staging the competition and with overseeing the process of producing the winning work.

The German Foreign Office is financing the construction of the Peace and Security building in Addis Ababa as a visible contribution to strengthening the strategic management capability of the African Union with a view to conflict avoidance and conflict control. The building will be used to plan and administer future African Union peace missions.


About ifa

The ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen – Institute for International Cultural Relations) promotes art and cultural exchange in exhibitions, dialogue and conference programs. As a competence centre for foreign cultural diplomacy, it facilitates links among civil societies, cultural practice, art, media and research. It initiates, moderates, and documents discussions on international cultural relations.


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