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Arts

AfricaThe Postcolonial, Postmodern, And Transnational

In the early twenty-first century contemporary African art is no longer confined to the works of black artists; it now includes those produced by artists of European, Arab, and Asian descent. That it has come of age is evident in the creative ways it often combines ancient African elements with new and frequently Western materials, forms, and techniques to reflect the peculiarity of the continent's history and the complexity of its encounters with other cultures. No wonder that contemporary African artists have been receiving more invitations to participate in international exhibitions and biennials. Africa itself has become the site of major expositions such as the Cairo International Biennial in Egypt, first held in 1984; the Dakar Biennial (Dak'Art) in Senegal, first held in 1992; and the Johannesburg Biennale, South Africa, first held in 1995.

The strong visibility of contemporary African art on the world stage was reflected in the inclusion for the first time in a 1996 major textbook on world art (Stokstad) the works of two contemporary African artists, Magdalene Odundo of Kenya and Ouattara of Côte d'Ivoire. In 1998 curator Okwui Enwezor of Nigeria, the founder of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, was appointed the artistic director of Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany—the first time an African would be trusted with such a major responsibility. A year later, the Egyptian artist Ghada Amer won the UNESCO Prize at the Forty-Eighth Venice Biennial in Italy. As Barbara Pollack aptly observes in the April 2001 issue of Art News: "While the political upheavals in … [African] … countries serve as a backdrop to their work, many of these artists struggle to make individual statements that transcend politics and nationality. By so doing, they are transforming our very definition of African art" (p. 124).

As the postcolonial period in Africa coincided with the postmodernist deconstruction of the Eurocentric hegemony in the visual arts, the question has been raised as to whether the two phenomena are related. They are, insofar as the multiculturalism promoted by the postmodern movement has opened new doors for contemporary African art, enabling it show the world that the creativity formerly associated with its past has been rejuvenated. Yet, and as Kwame Anthony Appiah points out, much of the so-called postcolonial African art is not as independent as implied in the rhetoric of decolonization. For despite an increase in local patronage, contemporary African art still depends largely on the European-American market, which in turn exerts a considerable influence on its materials, techniques, form, and content as well as on what is produced and where it is exhibited overseas. In other words, elements of the colonial—now neocolonial—still lurk in the postcolonial like an old masquerade in a new costume. No wonder some critics see a kind of "neoprimitivism" in the emphasis on self-taught art in major exhibitions such as "Magiciens de la Terre," organized in 1989 by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and "Africa Explores," organized in 1991 by the Center for African Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (Oguibe and Enwezor, p. 9; Picton, 1999, pp. 120–125; Hassan, 1999, pp. 218–219).

Lastly, it is significant to note that many African artists have been living permanently abroad wince the middle of the twentieth century, if not earlier. Many have become naturalized English, French, Belgian, or American citizens, yet they retained strong ties with Africa. This has produced a "double consciousness" that often resonates in their work, transcending racial, geographical, and national boundaries while at the same time identifying the black self in a largely Caucasian ambience—a new home away from home in the global village that the world has become.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Babatunde Lawal

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