The artistic director of the 56th Venice Biennale and long-term director of the Haus der Kunst in München, has died after a long illness at the age of 55.
“I have worked with contemporary artists of my generation from all over the world since the very beginning. But I think there is this narrative that Africa is not contemporary or international. Having said that, I think that our work to come will involve a disciplinary stage that we have to take up from an intellectual commitment towards contemporary African art.”
Okwui Enwezor, visionary, leader, pioneer, intellectual, author has passed away today.
His books and catalogues were so self-evidently overwhelming in size and weight, that our little C& library nearly trembled and bend every time we put an „heavy Okwui“ in. As heavy was the impact he had not only on our work at C&, but for cultural producers literally all over the world.
Okwui Enwezor was an intellectual trailblazer in his own right. Over decades he tirelessly worked towards balancing the narratives of contemporary Art from Africa and the Diaspora while at the same time effortlessly moving beyond any categorizations. Nobody was ever able to put him in a box.
His publications of epic depth established their spots on global art worlds shelves as “classics” before the ink of the press had even dried. His large – scale exhibitions – from the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1996-97) to “The Short Century” (2001) and documenta 11 (2002) to the Triennale d’Art Contemporain of Paris (2012) and the Venice Biennale (2015) just to name a few – where exhibitions and archives at the same.
He could do it all. And it all looked deep and effortless at the same time.
For example when he as a young artistic director of the documenta 11 in a perfect bespoke suit, walked through the opened show holding his little daughter in his arms, surrounded by the excited media. Or when curating the main exhibition of the Venice Biennale bringing together positions from all over the globe without even pointing that out.
We had a longer conversation with him about his position as artistic director of the Venice Biennale in 2015. And in many ways his thoughts on how to move beyond attributions and expectations the art world might have towards cultural producers from Africa and the Diaspora are very much resonating with us:
“… within the discipline of art, there are artists who create from so many different impulses but they don’t all need to go London to get these impulses. They, too, are challenged to present. To make an international exhibition in Africa, not an exhibition that plays with the expectations of what most people think is Africa, good artists need to take up that challenge.”
Rest in Power Okwui. Thanks for all the trails you blazed, we are ready to continue walking on them.
Born in Calabar, Nigeria, in 1963, Enwezor was the first non-European artistic director of documenta 11, 2002 in Kassel, he curated the main exhibition of the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, and was from 2011 to 2018 director of Haus der Kunst in Munich, where he resigned in June last year for health reasons after considerably strengthened the museum’s international reputation. Enwezor curated major exhibitions like The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 (2001, Vila Stuck Munich), Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (2008, ICP New York) and Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965 (2016, Haus der Kunst) accompanied by important publications. Just last week, the impressive retrospective of El Anatsui co-curated by Enwezor opened in the Haus der Kunst. See Installation Views of the show here. In 2017 he received the International Folkwang Prize for his services to the mediation of art.