A Weekend in New York with Olaju
There is an undeniable, cultural awakening concerning the African continent. More often, we are seeing the tremendous influence of our people presented in popular culture. For many, this is a point of pride, a time where being “African” is no longer a mark of embarrassment but something distinctively “cool”. However, to the observant, we are treading cautiously and simply asking for some respect on our name.
In comparison with other categories of visual arts, there are limited opportunities for the public to engage with contemporary African art. Therefore, it is critical that when opportunities for cultural representation arise, it is done appropriately. In the midst of many cultural debates, it is still an exciting time for the “African Renaissance”. This past weekend, New York City was the site of multiple events focusing on contemporary African culture. As a representative of Olaju, I was able to break away from the Texas hustle and participate in some of the action. During my stay in New York, I divided my time between viewing operations of established organizations and developing relationships with emerging talents. This is the first post to a mini-series of my encounters.
Day 1: Friday, May 6
1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair
The main attraction for me traveling was unanimously the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair held at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This weekend event featured over a dozen international galleries showcasing their top artists alongside a series of panel discussions related to the industry. As a new entrant to the field, my purpose for attending was to observe activity and identify opportunities.
Panel Discussion; Beyond Cultural Polarities: Africa’s Creative ‘Repats’
During my bus ride to Red Hook, I happened to sit across from Nigerian filmmaker, Andrew Dosunmu and exchanged pleasantries as we walked to the venue. Dosunmu sat on the panel of the first discussion, “Beyond Cultural Polarities”, which explored the experiences of Africa’s creative repatriates. He was joined by former model, Nina Keita and journalist, Elinyisia Moshal while Claude Grunitzky of TrueAfrica moderated the talk.
The conversation opened with showing the trailer to “Mother of George”, a film directed by Andrew Dosunmu telling the story of a newly married Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn. It was a fitting introduction to a discussion exploring the globalization of African arts and culture. I believe the film deserves particular attention because for one, it’s a magnificent body of work and two, it is a medium of the arts which is deserving of greater recognition.
The accomplishments and aspirations of all panel members provided authentic insight to elements affecting entrepreneurs. Each speaker made reference to the fact that traditionally, Africans have not considered the arts to be a serious profession which translates to undervaluing our culture.
“Creative industries in Africa is not an Option”, Nina Keita
Nina Keita made the point that “creative industries in Africa is not an option” when describing her attempt to repatriate to Abidjan. After a successful international career as a model, she totally switched industries and entered the public sector. Keita’s history as a model came with perceived implications to her character, with many professionals discrediting her capabilities. Unfortunately, these experiences in her hometown proved overwhelming and she is currently living in New York while re-strategizing her approach.
For me, the most memorable point made was by Elinyisia Mosha, journalist and film director, on the topic of empowering ourselves during the current rise of Africa’s creative revolution. She pointed to marketing and distribution as areas of immediate attention in providing control and growth to our respective fields. Mosha’s career with BBC and other media outlets coupled with international experiences growing up as a “UN brat” puts her in a position to shape cultures across Africa. Her business-minded approach to cultural development is refreshing in an environment heavily influenced by capitalism. Without thorough understanding of these principles, we will not have jurisdiction over our own culture when it is being presented.
It is interesting to see the overlap between creative industries –film, fashion, journalism- and issues that affect their development. Attending this panel provided an hour of critical thought among influential leaders of the current African arts scene. For those aspiring to enter the field of creative arts, being able to learn from the experiences of successful individuals is a huge advantage.
To view the full program schedule and panel member bios, visit http://1-54.com/new-york/forum/