In Conversation with Elvira Dyangani Ose
Elvira Dyangani Ose has been Curator International Art at Tate since November 2011 when she was appointed and took up the dedicated curatorial post at Tate Modern created to focus on African art as part of a partnership between Tate and the Nigerian Guaranty Trust Bank. Born in 1974 in Cordoba, Spain, Dyangani Ose is a well-known curator and scholar in the field of African art. She is completing her PhD in History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University, New York. She holds a Master’s degree in Theory and History of Architecture, from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, and a BA degree in Art History, from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
As Curator International Art, Elvira Dyangani Ose leads the development of links with African based artists and exchanges knowledge and expertise with Africa’s artistic community. Taking inspiration from art spaces, art organizations and art festivals in Nigeria and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the Curator is implementing a program that shows contemporary African art to a wider audience as possible thanks to the use of new media, seminars and displays both at Tate and in Africa. As well as exploring contemporary practice in the region, Elvira Dyangani Ose contributes to deepen knowledge and understanding of the impact of art from the African continent.
OM: Tell us more about your background before joining Tate:
I applied to Tate while I was undertaking my doctoral studies at Cornell University, Department of History of Art and Visual Studies. I was working as a freelance curator at the same time. I curated several projects the year before, such as the first European retrospective of artist Carrie Mae Weems at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo in Seville, where I served as Curator from 2006 to 2008, and Arte Invisible in ARCOMadrid, a platform showcasing artists and artistic platforms from Africa. Over the course of two years, the project included artists such as Donna Kukama, Michael Tsegaye, Gugulective, Otobong Nkanga, Nàstio Mosquito and Emeka Ogboh, and platforms such as DESTA for Africa, Kwani, Studios Kabako, Ker Thiossane, Chimurenga, Contemporary Image Collective and Art Bakery. I was appointed Artistic Director of the Rencontres Picha. Biennale de Lubumbashi as well before joining Tate.
OM: Where do you think is contemporary African art heading to according to your research?
There is a strong sense of awareness in terms of ownership. There is a need for a sustainable local art scene in each particular country, but also within the region. The key factor here for an artist is to be able to produce her or his own work and get it on display, for a scholar or a curator to produce knowledge and distribute it, and for a cultural entrepreneur to nurture a local audience and in doing so call the attention of an international one. Artists are doing just fine. When they do not have representation, they create associations, art centres, even biennales. Local platforms – cultural endeavours, interdisciplinary festivals and educational initiatives – are essential in that equation. Those platforms have proven successful, while at the same time they have created a great demand for professionals in the field: curators, scholars, critics, exhibition designers, conservators, etc. Bringing up those professionals locally is a role that universities, art schools and other educational endeavours currently have in their hands. Some places are better adjusted than others, obviously. In summary, contemporary African art is heading towards the place it deserves in its own right.
OM: What are the major platforms for contemporary African artists at present?
The Dakar Biennale known as Dak’art continues to be a great platform, particularly for those enduring artists producing work in arenas lacking of a structural professional support. There is a general feeling of anticipation regarding this year’s edition of the Dakar Biennale. In addition, platforms such as the Biennale de Lubumbashi, Rencontres Bamako, Addis Photo Fest and the Joburg Art Fair are fundamental tools for artists aiming to disseminate their work internationally. One shouldn’t forget the attention that certain local platforms receive in the international arena such as the Bisi Silva’s Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, and dedicated online platforms such as Contemporary &, which follows in the path of printed journals such as Nka, Revue Noire and Savvy Contemporary.
OM: How do you think is contemporary African art perceived outside Africa?
As I mentioned before, I believe the perception has shifted, although there is a lot yet to be done. The presence of artists in major group exhibitions, the increasing number of African galleries represented in international art fairs, the first edition of the fair 1-54, the global ethos of many major art fairs and festivals, and particularly last year Golden Lion for the Best National Participation to Luanda, all seem to indicate a transformation in how African art has now become represented in the world.
OM: What is Tate focusing on in terms of research into contemporary African art?
In the past two years, we focused our interest in defining the prerogatives by which Tate will collect modern and contemporary African art. Whereas adding major figures from African Modernisms continues to be a long-term scope, we are currently focusing in contemporary practice, including both established figures and emerging artists.
OM: How representative is Tate\\\\\\\’s collection of contemporary African art at present?
It is important to recall, first of all, that there is not an African art collection as such. Tate’s collection is an international one, which includes British art from 16th century and international art from 20th century. What we are doing is increasing the presence and visibility of African art within Tate’s collection. Before launching the Africa Acquisitions Committee and the partnership with Guaranty Trust Bank, the gallery had already acquired works of artists such as Santu Mofokeng, Wangechi Mutu and William Kentridge, just to name a few. Since 2011 with the support of the committee and GTB, Tate has increased the presence of artists from the continent and its diaspora, including works like Meschac Gaba’s Museum for Contemporary African Art, Ibrahim El-Salahi’s Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams, and Samuel Fosso’s Self-portraits, and there are others in process of being accessioned
OM: Can you name some of the most promising African based artists?
I can’t, as there are so many good ones!
At present Elvira Dyangani Ose is working on a two-year project entitled ‘Across the Board’ that launched at Tate Modern on November 2012 and that comprises events in different locations and interdisciplinary practices. The project will conclude in Lagos, Nigeria in spring 2014.
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