Workshop #3 and ACASA Conference

ACASA 17th Triennial Symposium on African Art (August 8th-13th 2017)

“Collections as Networks, Artworks as Agents: African Modernism and Institutional Art Collections”

Sunday, 11.08.2017, Main Conference Room, University of Legon

9h-12.30h Presentations with Nadine Siegert and as Chair
Chika Okeke-Agulu as Discussant

This panel presented the research project “African Art History and the Formation of a Modern Aesthetic” – a cooperation between the Iwalewahaus (Bayreuth), Makerere Art Collection (Kampala) and the Museum of World Cultures (Frankfurt) that are all connected to German collecting activities. Based on the assumption that African Modernism is linked with the imposition of modernity, the colonial experience and decolonization in the context of the independences, the works from the collections reflect African artists’ encounter and critical response to the modern condition but also the engagement of European art patrons and collectors, whose motivations undoubtedly shaped thecomposition of collections of modern African art. Therefore we examine not only the individual collections but also the links between them. This is done by critically reconstructing them as networks and by exploring object biographies of selected works. The first part of the panel presented rather conceptual and methodological approaches of the project whereas the second part focused on different individual research
projects within the research group.

  • Collections as Networks: Methodological Approaches within the Research Project, African Art History and the Formation of a Modern Aesthetic (Lena Naumann)

This paper seeks to examine the methodological approaches within the research project „African Art History and the Formation of a Modern Aesthetic“. It explores the three collections of Iwalewahaus, University of Bayreuth, Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt and the Makerere Art Gallery, Kampala from an innovative angle by highlighting the complexities and interconnections that lie behind all collections and their very own histories. The project will map the trajectories that the artworks in focus have followed, the networks that both formed and have been formed by the collections through time and the various kinds of agency interacting with them. The histories of the collections will be examined by applying basically three different methodological approaches, which are reconstructing object biographies, investigating collections as networks including Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory and considering collection strategies and agencies. The idea of object biographies builds on the concept of sequences of production and consumption of artifacts and underlines how practices of exchange, ownership and use affect the way in which an artifact is understood. An analysis of networks shall be carried out, thus taking the collections and artworks serious as agents active in forming social relationships. By reference to selected examples out of the collections like the „Devil’s Dog“ by the Nigerian artist Twins Seven Seven, the paper will present intermediate results and outcomes.

  • The Construction of a Modern Artist: The Phantasy Africa of the European Art Patrons Ulli and Georgina Beier (Katharina Greven)

This presentation deals with images sensu lato produced by the European art patron, literary critic, linguist and teacher Ulli Beier and his wife, the artist Georgina Beier, who lived in Nigeria from 1950 to 1967, and again from 1974 to 1978. Their archive includes a collection of predominantly modern art from Africa, the estate containing various documents and photos, and the institutions they created in Nigeria (as well as in Papua New Guinea, Germany and Australia). It also shows first of all how the Beiers generated their own image of Africa developed during the time they lived in Nigeria and how they perceived their own role within the emerging art scene as well as the construction of the ‘modern artist’. However, these personal matters were clearly linked to the political climate in the newly independent Nigeria, to the emerging generation of postcolonial intellectuals, and to the merging of different narrations and interpretation of individual and collective histories. An exemplary iconological analysis of images, proposed as one possible reading of an archive, covering a period between 1950 and 1982 from the Beier archive is provided, following common steps, i.e. description, interpretation and analysis (according to Panofsky 1975) and will show their artistic and political agenda, their idea of a ‘modern art’ canon but also their personal search for a ‘new home’: a place of belonging and existence, where they could live their phantasies and fulfill their desires.

  • Nigerian Modernism and the Iwalewahaus Collection (Smooth Ugochukwu-Nzewi)

The emergence of nation-states in postcolonial Africa helped to fashion national modernisms out of the multivalent idiosyncratic sensibilities of the different cultural groupings in each of the countries. These many modernisms would evolve as countries grappled with the cycles of nation building, moving from the promises of political independence to the nightmarish realism of the postcolonial. The 1980s was a decade of transition in the fields of culture and the arts as a result of changes in the economic and political fortunes in many African countries. As postcolonial aspirations unraveled, artists began to seek individual career opportunities, moving outside of their countries of origin, and establishing contact with networks with western institutions. Germany was a receptive space for African artists through the Goethe-Institut, which facilitated linkages and exchanges between African artists and a coterie of German institutions. Established by the late Ulli Beier who had a longstanding relationship with Nigeria, Iwalewahaus was one of the few exceptions that forged direct linkages with artists. It served as an important gateway for African art in Germany in the 1980s. Many Nigerian artists, including Obiora Udechukwu, Rufus Ogundele, and Muraina Oyelami, spent considerable amount of time in Bayreuth making art and participating in a range of activities under the auspices of the artist residency offered at Iwalewahaus. My paper explores a domineering portrait of Nigerian modernism that has since emerged at Iwalewahaus by looking at the institution’s activities, exhibitions, and collecting practices particularly in the 1980s.

  • Trajectories of Modern Artworks and Collections: A Study of Links Between Uganda and Germany (Katrin Peters-Klaphake)

This contribution is a presentation of my on-going research on concepts and manifestations of modernism in the collection of Makerere Art Gallery/ Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration (IHCR), Kampala, and in collections comprising of artworks assembled by German collectors mostly in the Makerere environment between the 1960s and 1990s. The estate of the late Jochen Schneider is a large private collection that has been incorporated into the collection at the Museum of World Cultures in Frankfurt/Main. Another smaller one is still with its German collector Klaus Betz in Kampala. Since the repository at Makerere Art Gallery/IHCR can be seen as a source for the other collections, the comparative analysis of the three collections and their specific histories is a core element of my study. The research aim is a reconstruction and analysis of the entangled collection histories through an examination of the trajectories of individual objects as well as the transition of collections. Another important part is the research of the very under-documented history of exhibition practices in Uganda and of art from Uganda abroad. The presentation will take an exemplary look at the biographies of selected objects by taking the histories of the collections into consideration, i.e. Makerere collection as an archive of the art school, Schneider’s and Betz’ different approaches to private collecting and Agthe’s acquisition of art works within the strategic framework of building a collection of contemporary art from African countries in an ethnographic museum in Germany.

  • Modern Art in Uganda in the last 15 years: Stretching the Boundaries (George Kyeyune)

Ronex is a painter who graduated from Makerere Art School in 2000, at the time of reawakening and expansion of Uganda’s visual culture. Ronex has argued as follows “I did Fine Art at Makerere …. no it does not feature [the technique], but I did learn the basics. Art education is a springboard…. no one can teach you art, but it is good to know the history and principles” (Ronex interviewed by Mildred Apenyo, Dec. 3rd, 2012). Ronex represents a new dynamic in art in Uganda where college art education has found itself often at variance with the realities and expectations of local audience. Yet at the same time, Ronex’s remarks also suggest that within these apparent regimented training conditions it was possible for a blend of tradition in the wake of modern realities to occur. The Ugandan audience today is varied and complex, so is the art produced. While the expatriate community still control much of the art market, and therefore have in certain ways influenced its direction, the mediation of the private sector and progressive collectors have in the recent past made it possible for artists to hold their own. The scope of art has expanded from a narrow and predictable “painted image” to more versatile and adventurous bold statements. Artists are unbounded by the phobia of approval. This paper examines these new strands in Uganda’s art production, education consumption and display in the last 15 years; strands that have changed our perception and
appreciation of art.

  • Modern Aesthetics? A Study of the Work of Kamala Ishaq (Siegrun Salmanian)

Throughout the oeuvre of one of the first female Sudanese artists in the 20th century, Khartoum School Graduate Kamala Ishaq, the engagement with the features of the human face constitutes the pertinent characteristic. This paper analyses selected pieces from her work and also examines it in relation to a specific subject matter appearing in the compositions of Ibrahim El Salahi. Both artists, from the same century concentrate in many works on the capture of the human and the suffering. Their works represent a fruitful comparison as El Salahi and Ishaq make use of similar expressive iconography in parts of their work. Regarding the evolution of modern aesthetics in (African) art history, this presentation seeks to decipher significant elements beyond form. This research is part of the project African Art history and the Formation of a Modern Aesthetic. It is part of the field of (Re-)Writing African art history, which aims to position the work of African artists in the context of broader art history and to contribute to its critical debate.

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