Opening the 15th edition of Sharjah Art Foundation’s annual March Meeting, art historian and critic Terry Smith spoke with a voice that resonated with grief. His keynote lecture “Renewing African Art Discourse within the Postcolonial Constellation” focused on the meteoric career of his dear friend, the late writer and curator Okwui Enwezor, who died in 2019 at the age of 55. His presence was evidently missed, not only by Smith but by many others in attendance at the three-day conference, titled “The Postcolonial Constellation: Art, Culture, Politics after 1960” (March 9-11).
Smith and Enwezor first met in New York in 1999 while working on the curatorial team of “Global Conceptualism Points of Origin: 1950s-1980s” at the Queens Museum. Enwezor had relocated to New York as a teenager from Nigeria. In the 1990s, he began publishing art criticism and art historical texts about what he termed the “postcolonial constellation” and that would eventually total more than one million words. During his talk Smith recalled a conversation three years prior to Enwezor’s death in which his friend had asked him to facilitate what Smith had long felt was missing, “a place where a reader might go to sense the evolution of Enwezor’s main concerns and the comprehensiveness of his thought.” Two forthcoming volumes, Selected Writings of Okwui Enwezor: Toward a New African Art Discourse, edited by Smith and published by Duke University Press, will serve as an invaluable resource for historians and critics of contemporary art, especially in the fields of African art and photography, both local and diasporic – Enwezor’s chief areas of interest and expertise.
This year’s lineup of speakers and the audience at March Meeting spanned a range of renowned scholars, curators, and artists committed to exploring topics closely related to those elucidated across Enwezor’s myriad writings and exhibitions. In addition to curatorial approaches to global art and visual culture, discussions spanned anticolonial movements emerging from the Global South since the 1960s; Third World imaginations; transnational anticolonial networks; migration and migrant labor; urbanization and megacities; racism within art criticism, institutions, and politics; Indigenous persistence across Oceania and the circumpolar region; global Black consciousness movements; colonial and postwar trauma; the concept of the archive in connection with collective memory, and reparations for colonial wrongdoing, truth-telling, and the repatriation of museum artifacts. The foremost question framing these interrelated topics was: how should we write historically in the present?
Read more: Art Asia Pacific, 134, Jul/Aug 2023.