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Okwui Enwezor

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Okwui Enwezor
Okwuchukwu Emmanuel Enwezor

(1963-10-23)23 October 1963
Calabar, Nigeria
Died15 March 2019(2019-03-15) (aged 55)
Munich, Germany
Spouse(s)Jill S Davis (divorced)
Muna El Fituri (divorced)

Okwui Enwezor // (23 October 1963 – 15 March 2019)[1] was a Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, poet, and educator, specializing in art history. He lived in New York City[2] and Munich. In 2014, he was ranked 24 in the ArtReview list of the 100 most powerful people of the art world.[3]



Okwui Enwezor (pronounced /ɛnˈwzər/ en-WAY-zər)[4] was born on October 23, 1963, to Okwuchukwu Emmanuel Enwezor in Calabar, the capital city of Cross Rivers State in south-south Nigeria, he was the youngest son of an affluent Igbo family from Awkuzu, Anambra State in the southeastern part of Nigeria. He is related to Walter Enwezor. Okwui Enwezor moved around several times with his family on account of the civil war before settling in Enugu where he spent most of his formative years. He commenced tertiary education at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) but, in 1982 at the age of 18, he moved to the Bronx, New York, and transferred to the New Jersey City University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science.[5]

When Enwezor graduated, he moved to downtown New York City and took up poetry. He performed at the Knitting Factory and the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village.[6] Enwezor's study of poetry led him through language-based art forms such as Conceptual Art to art criticism.[7] Teaming up in 1993 with fellow African critics Chika Okeke-Agulu and Salah Hassan, Enwezor launched the triannual Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art from his Brooklyn apartment; "Nka" is an Igbo word that means art but also connotes to make, to create.[6] He recruited scholars and artists such as Olu Oguibe and Carl Hancock Rux to edit the inaugural issue and write for it.[6]

After putting on a couple of small museum shows, Enwezor had his breakthrough in 1996 as a curator of In/sight, an exhibit of 30 African photographers at the Guggenheim Museum.[8] 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.[6]

Curator Okwui Enwezor in a suit on a green meadow.
Okwui Enwezor on the poster of an Oliver Mark exhibition in 2002.



Enwezor was the director of the Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany. He also had the roles of adjunct curator of the International Center of Photography[9] in New York City, and Joanne Cassulo Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.[10] In 2013, Enwezor was appointed curator of the 2015 Venice Biennale,[11] making him the first African-born curator in the exhibition's 120-year history.[12]

Previously, Enwezor was the artistic director of the Documenta 11 in Germany (1998–2002),[13] as the first non-European to hold the job.[4] He also served as artistic director of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1996–97), the Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporaneo de Sevilla, in Seville, Spain (2006),[14] the 7th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (2008), and the Triennale d’Art Contemporain of Paris at the Palais de Tokyo (2012).[15] He also served as co-curator of the Echigo-Tsumari Sculpture Biennale in Japan; Cinco Continente: Biennale of Painting, Mexico City; and Stan Douglas: Le Detroit, Art Institute of Chicago.

Enwezor was named an adjunct curator at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998.[4] He also curated numerous exhibitions in many other distinguished museums around the world, including Events of the Self: Portraiture and Social Identity, The Walther Collection, Germany; Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, International Center of Photography;[16] The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994,[17] Villa Stuck, Munich, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and P.S.1 and Museum of Modern Art, New York; Century City, Tate Modern, London; Mirror’s Edge, Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Tramway, Glasgow, Castello di Rivoli, Torino; In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940–Present,[18] Guggenheim Museum; Global Conceptualism, Queens Museum, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, List Gallery at MIT, Cambridge; David Goldblatt: Fifty One Years, Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, AXA Gallery, New York, Palais des Beaux Art, Brussels, Lenbachhaus, Munich, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, and Witte de With, Rotterdam.

He organized The Rise and Fall of Apartheid for the International Center for Photography, New York, in 2012, co-curated with Rory Bester[19] and "Meeting Points 6", a multidisciplinary exhibition and programs "which took place in nine Middle East, North African and European cities, from Ramallah to Tangier to Berlin", then at the Beirut Art Center in April 2011.[20] His last exhibition, "El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale," co-curated with Chika Okeke-Agulu, opened on 8 March 2019 at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, before it opens at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art on 30 September 2019.

Enwezor served on numerous juries, advisory bodies, and curatorial teams including: the advisory team of Carnegie International in 1999; Venice Biennale; Hugo Boss Prize, Guggenheim Museum; Foto Press, Barcelona; Carnegie Prize; International Center for Photography Infinity Awards; Visible Award; Young Palestinian Artist Award, Ramallah; and the Cairo, Istanbul, Sharjah, and Shanghai Biennales. In 2004 he headed the jury for the Artes Mundi prize, an award created to stimulate interest in contemporary art in Wales.[21] In 2012, he chaired the jury for Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics.[22][23] He was also a member of the jury that selected Isa Genzken for the Nasher Prize in 2019.[24]

Rape Allegations


Just as Museum of Modern Art adjunct P.S.1 prepared to open the ambitious The Short Century: Liberation and Independence Movements in Africa, 1945-1994 on February 10, 2002, Enwezor, then curator of the show, was hit with allegations of rape and violence against women. An email purporting to be from a non-existent group called South African Women against Abuse in the Arts circulated to art-world inboxes with a series of ugly accusations against Enwezor, then also curator of Documenta 11, in Kassel, Germany.[25] The authors of the email provided no proof of their allegations, leading some in the world to see the email campaign as an attempt to dent Enwezor's rising career.[citation needed]



From 2005 to 2009, Enwezor was Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice President at San Francisco Art Institute.[26] He held positions as Visiting Professor in art history at University of Pittsburgh; Columbia University, New York; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and University of Umea, Sweden. In the Spring of 2012, he served as the Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor at Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.



As a writer, critic, and editor, Enwezor was a regular contributor to numerous exhibition catalogues, anthologies, and journals. He was the founding editor and publisher of the critical art journal Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art established in 1994, and currently published by Duke University Press.[27]

His writings have appeared in numerous journals, catalogues, books, and magazines including: Third Text, Documents, Texte zur Kunst, Grand Street, Parkett, Artforum, Frieze, Art Journal, Research in African Literatures, Index on Censorship, Engage, Glendora, and Atlantica. In 2008, the German magazine 032c published a somewhat controversial interview with Enwezor, conducted by German novelist Joachim Bessing.[28]

Among his books are Contemporary African Art Since 1980 (Bologna: Damiani, 2009) co-authored with Chika Okeke-Agulu, Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), Reading the Contemporary: African Art, from Theory to the Marketplace (MIT Press, Cambridge and INIVA, London) and Mega Exhibitions: Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form (Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich), Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, and The Unhomely: Phantom Scenes in Global Society. He is also the editor of a four-volume publication of Documenta 11 Platforms: Democracy Unrealized; Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation; Creolité and Creolization; Under Siege: Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos (Hatje Cantz, Verlag, Stuttgart).



In 2006, Enwezor received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism from the College Art Association.[29] Enwezor was ranked 42 in ArtReview′s guide to the 100 most powerful figures in contemporary art: Power 100, 2010.[30] In 2017 he was awarded the International Folkwang-Prize for his great services in promoting art and making it accessible to a wide public.

Illness and death


In June 2018, Enwezor signed a separation agreement with Munich Haus der Kunst, partly because his battle with cancer took a more challenging turn.[31]

Enwezor died on 15 March 2019 at the age of 55.[1]


  1. ^ a b Russeth, Andrew (15 March 2019). "Okwui Enwezor, Pivotal Curator of Contemporary Art, Is Dead at 55". ARTnews. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  2. ^ Rutger Pontzen, "I have a global antenna" (Interview with Okwui Enwezor), in Virtual Museum Of Contemporary African Art.
  3. ^ "2014 POWER 100". Art Review. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Celestine Bohlen (12 February 2002), "A Global Vision For a Global Show; Documenta Curator Sees Art As Expression of Social Change", The New York Times.
  5. ^ Okiche, Wilfred (2019-03-24). "Obituary: Okwui Enwezor, giant of contemporary art". YNaija. Retrieved 2022-08-17.
  6. ^ a b c d Zeke Turner (8 September 2014), How Okwui Enwezor Changed the Art World Wall Street Journal.
  7. ^ Roberta Smith (28 October 1998), "Nigerian to Direct Next Documenta", The New York Times.
  8. ^ Adam Shatz (2 June 2002), "Okwui Enwezor's Really Big Show", The New York Times Magazine.
  9. ^ "Interview With Okwui Enwezor, part 2 | BaseNow". 8 March 2012. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  10. ^ "Okwui Enwezor La Triennale". La Triennale de Paris. 2012. Archived from the original on 18 April 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Okwui Enwezor leitet Venedig-Biennale". Monopol Magazin. 2013. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  12. ^ Javier Pes (4 December 2013), "Okwui Enwezor named director of the 2015 Venice Biennale", The Art Newspaper.
  13. ^ "Documenta 11: Okwui Enwezor". Universes in Universe. 2002. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  14. ^ OKWUI ENWEZOR – San Francisco Art Institute Archived 22 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Journal des Arts number 334 (5–18 November 2010), page 3.
  16. ^ Fabrizio Gitto, Archive Fever di Okwui Enwezor (2008): nuove fonti per l’analisi di una mostra di successo, "RSF. Rivista di studi di fotografia", IV, number 8, pages 108–122 [1]
  17. ^ Roberta Smith (17 February 2002), "A Show That Dares To Span a Continent", The New York Times.
  18. ^ Holland Cotter (5 July 1996), "Mostly African Scenes, All by Africans", The New York Times.
  19. ^ "Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life". International Center of Photography. 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  20. ^ "Meeting Points 6. Locus Agonistes: Practices and Logics of the Civic". Beirut Art Center. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  21. ^ Alan Riding (30 March 2004), "Artist Who Worked With 9/11 Dust Is the First Winner of a Welsh Prize", The New York Times.
  22. ^ Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, The New School, New York.
  23. ^ Randy Kennedy (11 November 2012), "New School Prize Goes to Theaster Gates", The New York Times.
  24. ^ Andrew Russeth (26 September 2018), $100,000 Nasher Prize Goes to Isa Genzken ARTnews.
  25. ^ "Artnet News, 1/17/02". www.artnet.com. Retrieved 2022-08-17.
  26. ^ Carol Vogel (5 December 2013), "Okwui Enwezor to Be Visual Arts Director of Venice Biennale", The New York Times.
  27. ^ "NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art" at Duke University Press.
  28. ^ Joachim Bessing, "The only thing that modernity teaches us: there are no innocents", 032c issue 15 (Summer 2008).
  29. ^ "Awards". The College Art Association. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  30. ^ "2010 POWER 100". Art Review. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015.
  31. ^ Ulrike Knöfel (August 2018). "'It's An Insult, Yes': Okwui Enwezor on his Ignominious Farewell from Munich - Frontpage - e-flux conversations". conversations.e-flux.com. Retrieved 15 March 2019. (Originally published in German at Spiegel Online, 17 August 2018.)


  • "From South Africa to Okwui Enwezor", Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderna, 1998.
  • Carol Becker, "Interview with Okwui Enwezor" in Art Journal, 1998.
  • Carol Becker, "A Conversation with Okwui Enwezor" in Art Journal, 2002.
  • Okwui Enwezor, "Life and Afterlife in Benin", about Alex Van Gelder's twentieth-century African photography collection. Phaidon Press, London, 2005.[1]
  • "James Casebere speaks with Okwui Enwezor", La Fábrica, 2008.
  • "Interview with Okwui Enwezor" in BaseNow: Mixing business with pleasure, 27 March 2009 (2 parts).
  • Okwui Enwezor, "Documentary / Verite: Bio Politics, Human Rights, and the Figure of Truth in Contemporary Art" in The Green Room: Reconsidering the Documentary in Contemporary Art #1, Eds. Lind, Maria; Hito Steyerl. Sternberg Press (Berlin: 2009). pages 62–104