Okwui Enwezor

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Okwui Enwezor
Okwui Enwezor 01.JPG
Born23 October 1963
Calabar, Nigeria

Okwui Enwezor (born 23 October 1963) is a[1] Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, poet, and educator, specializing in art history. He lives 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 en-WAY-zor)[4] was born as the youngest son of an affluent family of Igbos in Awkuzu in Nigeria in 1963.[5] In 1982, after a semester at the University of Nigeria, Enwezor moved to the Bronx at the age of 18.[5][6] In 1987 he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political sciences at the New Jersey City University.

When Enwezor graduated, he moved downtown and took up poetry. He performed at the Knitting Factory and the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village.[5] Enwezor's study of poetry led him through language-based art forms like Conceptual Art to art criticism.[6] Teaming up in 1993 with fellow African critics Chika Okeke-Agulu and Salah Hassan, he 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.[5] He recruited scholars and artists such as Olu Oguibe to edit the inaugural issue and write for it.[5]

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.[7] 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.[5]


Enwezor is the director of the Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany. He also has the roles of adjunct curator of the International Center of Photography in New York City, and Joanne Cassulo Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.[8] In 2013, Enwezor was appointed curator of the Venice Biennale 2015,[9] making him the first African-born curator in the exhibition's 120-year history.[10]

Previously, Enwezor was the artistic director of the Documenta 11 in Germany (1998–2002),[11] 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),[12] the 7th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (2008), and the Triennale d’Art Contemporain of Paris at the Palais de Tokyo (2012).[13] He has 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 has 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; The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994,[14] 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,[15] 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, Witte de With, Rotterdam.

He organized The Rise and Fall of Apartheid for the International Center for Photography, New York, in 2012[16] and "Meeting Points 6", a multidisciplinary exhibition and programs "which will take 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.[17]

Enwezor serves 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 art award created to stimulate interest in contemporary art in Wales.[18] In 2012, he chaired the jury for the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics.[19]


From 2005 to 2009, Enwezor was Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice President at San Francisco Art Institute.[20] 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 Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor at Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.


As a writer, critic, and editor, Enwezor has been a regular contributor to numerous exhibition catalogues, anthologies, and journals. He is 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.[21]

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, German magazine 032c published a somewhat controversial interview with Enwezor, conducted by German novelist Joachim Bessing.[22]

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.[23] Enwezor was ranked 42 in ArtReview′s guide to the 100 most powerful figures in contemporary art: Power 100, 2010.[24][25]


In a March 2017 scandal that made international media, Okwui Enwezor fired a member of the Church of Scientology from Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany because of the man's religious affiliation.[26][27]


  1. ^ http://blog.thisisbase.com/2009/04/interview-with-okwui-enwezor-part-2/[permanent dead link]
  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 New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Zeke Turner (8 September 2014), How Okwui Enwezor Changed the Art World Wall Street Journal.
  6. ^ a b Roberta Smith (28 October 1998), "Nigerian to Direct Next Documenta", New York Times.
  7. ^ Adam Shatz (June 2, 2002), "Okwui Enwezor's Really Big Show", New York Times Magazine.
  8. ^ "Okwui Enwezor La Triennale". La Triennale de Paris. 2012. Archived from the original on 18 April 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  9. ^ "Okwui Enwezor leitet Venedig-Biennale". Monopol Magazin. 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  10. ^ Javier Pes (4 December 2013), "Okwui Enwezor named director of the 2015 Venice Biennale", The Art Newspaper.
  11. ^ "Documenta 11: Okwui Enwezor". Universes in Universe. 2002. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  12. ^ OKWUI ENWEZOR - San Francisco Art Institute Archived 2008-04-22 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Journal des Arts no. 334 (5–18 November 2010), p. 3.
  14. ^ Roberta Smith (17 February 2002), "A Show That Dares To Span a Continent", New York Times.
  15. ^ Holland Cotter (5 July 1996), "Mostly African Scenes, All by Africans", New York Times.
  16. ^ "Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life". International Center of Photography. 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  17. ^ "Meeting Points 6. Locus Agonistes: Practices and Logics of the Civic". Beirut Art Center. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  18. ^ Alan Riding (30 March 2004), "Artist Who Worked With 9/11 Dust Is the First Winner of a Welsh Prize", New York Times.
  19. ^ Randy Kennedy (11 November 2012), "New School Prize Goes to Theaster Gates", New York Times.
  20. ^ Carol Vogel (5 December 2013), "Okwui Enwezor to Be Visual Arts Director of Venice Biennale", New York Times.
  21. ^ "NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art" at Duke University Press.
  22. ^ Joachim Bessing, "The only thing that modernity teaches us: there are no innocents", 032c issue 15 (Summer 2008).
  23. ^ "Awards". The College Art Association. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  24. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20110913160955/http://www.artreview100.com/people/672/. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2011. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "2010 POWER 100". Art Review. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015.
  26. ^ "Scientology als Kündigungsgrund"
  27. ^ "Has Munich’s Haus der Kunst Been Infiltrated by Scientology?"


  • "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.
  • "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). pp 62 – 104

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