This Week in African Art and Culture (February 11-16, 2024)

Dear Friends, 

While 2024 may be far too gone to say the rhetorical “Happy New Year,” it still feels quite needed, considering this is my first column to you this year. Now, in February, the year has started in earnest for most with a lot happening in the African art and culture scene to show for it—which is why I must bring you up to date with the most compelling stories from the African art scene you may have missed.

Seeking “Refuge” at the 2024 Lagos Biennial

I live and work from Lagos, Nigeria, arguably one of Africa’s most vibrant art-centric cities. One of the events particularly anticipated in the new year was the 2024 Lagos Biennial. 

Titled Refuge, with Folakunle Oshun and Kathryn Weir as artistic directors for this edition, the biennial took place at the Tafawa Balewa Square—a historical site named in honor of the first Nigerian Prime Minister—now renowned for accommodating some of the city’s largest gatherings. The organizers brought together over 80 international artists who explored an operative notion of refuge that can offer alternate paths towards constructing renewable communities.

For such a large space, the overall presentation of the biennial felt small, drowning in its vastness. However, this fact did not dim the shine and brilliance of the works on view. The exhibition is now closed, with the biennial having run from Feb. 3-10, 2024. Still, while reflecting on it, some of the most striking works that have stayed with me since then include an installation by Victor Ehikhamenor, Miracle Central (2024); Ibrahim Mahama, Yakachana (2012-2024); Kukily Afrofeminist Arts Collective, XTRÆNCESTRAL (2019-ongoing); Ste’phanie Brossard, Boukan (2024); Chinenye Emelogu, Human Hive 3 (2024) and Rabeeha Adnan, A Word Fell Down (2024).

Zeitz MOCAA Collaborates With Athi-Patra Ruga for Annual Gala

There’s only one word to describe renowned South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga—a radical icon. Those are two words, but yeah, you get the gist. Phenomenal in the way he presents his work in vibrant colors and striking style, he uses performance, photography, video, textiles and printmaking to explore notions of utopia and dystopia, material and memory to satirize and scrutinize the prevailing political and social norms.

It was both thrilling and fitting to learn of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa’s (Zeitz MOCAA’s) collaboration with Ruga for its gala event, which took place last Sunday, Feb. 11.

A standout feature of the gala was a special art auction organized by Strauss & Co, presenting pieces generously given by a globally recognized group of artists. This roster includes William Kentridge, Senzeni Marasela, Mary Evans, Zandile Tshabalala, Unathi Mkonto, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Abdoulaye Konaté, and Alfredo Jaar. Particularly notable is the generous financial contribution from South African artist Cinga Samson in support of the institution’s initiatives.

The proceeds from the gala go towards supporting Zeitz MOCAA’s curatorial and educational programs.

Lesley Lokko Receives Royal Gold Medal 2024 for Architecture

Exciting news! Ghanaian Scottish architect Lesley Lokko has been awarded the Royal Gold Medal 2024 by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for her dedication to diverse architectural practices and education. The medal, a prestigious honor presented on behalf of His Majesty the King, recognizes Lokko’s advocacy for equitable representation in architecture and her exploration of the relationship between architecture, identity and race.

Lokko’s career spans over two decades, during which she has championed underrepresented voices and reshaped architectural education to promote inclusivity and progress. In 2021, she founded the African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra, Ghana, aiming to revolutionize African education, research, and public discourse. 

Before establishing the AFI, Lokko held significant roles in architectural education worldwide, including founding and directing the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. Her contributions were recognized with an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to architecture and education in 2023.

Lokko’s appointment as curator of the 18th International Architecture Biennale in Venice showcased her commitment to centering Africa in architectural discourse. 

In response to the news, Lokko expressed gratitude and highlighted the collaborative efforts that contributed to her success. She emphasized the transformative power of architecture in shaping her worldview and fostering hope.

A hearty congratulations to Lesley Lokko!

Efemia Christiana’s Chicken Makes Caine Prize Short List and Goes to Screen

Check this out, folks! Efemia Christiana, a Zambian Ghanaian writer, whose short story, Chicken, was nominated for the Caine Prize, is now getting the big screen treatment. How cool is that? The story is optioned for film by Kethiwe Ngcobo and Bridget Pickering at the Johannesburg-based film production company, Collecting Treasures.

Christiana’s had quite the journey, growing up in Zambia, England, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa. She studied at Rhodes University in South Africa and even did a stint in France. Her stories and poems have been seen all over the place, from Brittle Paper to PEN Passages: Africa.

Chicken is her first published piece. Originally part of the Feast, Famine, and Potluck collection, it became popular when it nabbed third place at Short Story Day Africa, getting another nod in 2014 for the Caine Prize. 

The story is about a young girl in her early 20s, fresh out of college, figuring out life, love and herself. A classic coming-of-age story. She has a tough choice: chase after a lawyer gig or dive deeper into self-discovery, even if it’s a bit murky. 

Christiana paints her as a bold, adventurous spirit—a real force to be reckoned with. You can read the story here.

Nigerian Art Scene Mourns Herbert Wigwe, Renowned Art Patron

I was at a recital staged by Vesta Orchestra ahead of the Valentine’s celebration, in one of the amphitheaters at Mike Adenuga Cultural Center in Ikoyi, Lagos, when I received the news of the passing of renowned art patron Herbert Wigwe. It seemed as though we all heard the news at the same time as several heads huddled together, whispering it. Our high spirits died, leaving a sober crowd to face the performers. 

While most of the country knew him as the CEO of Access Holdings, parent company to one of the leading commercial banks in Nigeria, Access Bank, the art world knew him as a patron. He loved the arts, and this has been seen particularly in the annual ACCESS ART X Prize grants awarded to emerging African artists since 2016.

Until his demise on Feb. 9, caused by a helicopter crash on a trip from California to Nevada, which also claimed the life of his wife, son and a former president of the Nigerian stock exchange, Herbert Wigwe was a known philanthropist and a visionary leader with plans to institute one of the best universities in Africa. 

Where To Go, What To Do & What To See

Investec Cape Town Art Fair (Feb. 16-18, 2024)

Feed Me Not: A group exhibition at ARTCO Gallery, Berlin (Until April 6, 2024)

Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys at Brooklyn Museum, N.Y. (Feb. 10-July 7, 2024)

transfeminism: Chapter 1 at Mimosa House, London (March 8-April 20, 2024)

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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