Okwui Enwezor photographed by Juergen Teller at the London offices of architect David Adjaye. Image via WSJ.com.
Next year, the Nigerian-born curator and writer will become the first African director of the Venice Biennale, where he’ll continue his career-long project of challenging the status quo
Text | Zeke Turner for The Wall Street Journal
Published | September 8, 2014
Since his 1996 breakthrough as a curator of In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to Present, an exhibit of 30 African photographers at the Guggenheim Museum, Okwui Enwezor has alternated between ambitious international exhibitions that seek to define their moment—biennials in Johannesburg, Gwangju and beyond, along with the Paris Triennale in 2012—and historically driven, encyclopedic museum shows centered on topics such as African liberation movements in the 20th century, the arc of apartheid and the use of archive material in contemporary art. Enwezor is the first curator of his generation and the second ever to command two of Europe's most precious cultural territories—Documenta, the five-yearly exhibition in Kassel, Germany, and now the Venice Biennale—and the first African to direct either one.
In/Sight was one of the first shows anywhere to put contemporary art from Africa in the historical and political context of colonial withdrawal and the emergence of independent African states. Its success led to Enwezor’s appointment as the curator of the second Johannesburg Bienniale in 1996. Enwezor used that platform to show that he could not only execute a biennial but could curate shows around big ideas. Deploying the idea of trade routes, he theatrically changed the terms of the show, bringing in a team of international curators. “I didn’t want to do an African show; I wanted to do an international show,” he says.
"He's a towering figure who really believes in dealing with the misrepresentation of history," says British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye. "Okwui is a unique character in the sense that his experience of globalization and the way he sees the world have created who he is."
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