Okwui Enwezor

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history, modernity, post-colonialism, Society
Visual Arts (curating art)
Africa, Western, America, North
Nigeria, United States of America
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June 4, 2010
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Okwui Enwezor
Okwui Enwezor. Photo: Sebastian Bolesch


"Nations don’t interest me, ideas do”

Born 1963 in Kabala, Nigeria, Okwui Enwezor is one of the most influential curators and theorists in contemporary art. In 1998, he became known to a broader public when he was appointed as the first representative of a non-Western country to be artistic director of the documenta 11. In 2002, he set a new attendance record for a medially and regionally diverse exhibition in Kassel. Five international "platforms" preceded the actual exhibition, creating an impressive format and expanding it to a global scale both theoretically and conceptually.
Enwezor grew up in Enugu in eastern Nigeria. He moved to the US in the early 1980s, where he earned a BA in political science at Jersey City State College. During this time he developed an interest in art and exhibitions and concluded that African artists were under-represented in the art market. From this standpoint, Enwezor began to develop and sharpen his profile as an art critic.

He contributed significantly to the international art market’s rejection of solely focusing on art within a Euro-American context, and globalized the art world both commercially and intellectually. The founding of the magazine Nka - Journal of Contemporary African Art ", published by Cornell University, became of singular importance as the mouthpiece for post-colonial criticism and theory. Conceptually Enwezor repeatedly insisted on making a distinction between economic globalization, which essentially reinforces the supremacy of the old elites, and a true internationalization not only of the art market, which focuses on participation in political, social and cultural spheres. In this respect, he reflected the format that he himself frequently dealt with: "Mega-Exhibitions and the antinomies of a Transnational Global Form" is the title of one of his lectures held 2002, in New York.

Since the mid-nineties Okwui Enwezor has primarily worked as a curator and has published extensively. In 1995-96, he was director of the second Johannesburg Biennale, suggestively titled: "Trade Routes: History and Geography". In 2001, the Villa Stuck in Munich opened the exhibition "The Short Century. Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994,” which subsequently was shown in Berlin, Chicago and New York. It offered the most comprehensive survey of late-and post-colonial art on the African continent to this day, and was framed by the two dates in contemporary history: the Pan-African Conference in Manchester in 1946, on the one hand, and the electoral victory of the ANC in South Africa in 1994 on the other.

Photography plays an integral role in his curatorial vision, and is reflected in the exhibition "In / Sight. African Photographers 1940 to the Present.”

With essays such as "Between Two Worlds: Postmodernism and African Artists in the Western Metropolis" and "The Enigma of the Rainbow Nation: Contemporary South African Art at the Crossroads of History" he has contributed significantly to the theoretical foundation of his exhibition practice. His publications include: "Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace". In 2002, the German version of his volume “Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation („Experimente mit der Wahrheit. Rechtssysteme im Wandel und die Prozesse der Wahrheitsfindung von Versöhnung“) edited jointly with Ute Meta Bauer and others, includes key issues which play a prominent role in 2010 for his curated series at the Berlin Documentary Forum 1.

Okwui Enwezor is currently Dean and Vice President of the San Francisco Art Institute. Two new books will soon be published: "The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art and the Global Stage" and "Archaeology of the Present: The Postcolonial Archive, Photography and African Modernity." He lives in New York, Chicago and London and is both a Nigerian and U.S. citizen. In his own simple and concise words, Okwui Enwezor commented: "Nations don’t interest me, ideas do.”
Author: Bert Rebhandl


Okwui Enwezor was born in Calabar in Nigeria in 1963. In January 2011, he was appointed Director, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany.


Events of the Self: Contemporary African Photography from the Walther Collection

Published Written,

Contemporary African Art Since 1980

Published Written,
With Chika Okeke-Agulu. Damiani Editore

Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity

Published Written,
Ed. with Terry Smith, Nancy Condee. Duke University Press

Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art

Published Written,

Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace

Published Written,
Ed. with Olu Oguibe. INIVA und MIT Press

Artistic Direction/Curated Exhibitions (Selected)

Exhibition / Installation
The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, International Center for Photography, New York (2012); 7th Gwang-ju Biennale (2008), Gwang-ju, South Korea; Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo de Sevilla (2006-07), Sevilla, Spain; documenta 11, Kassel (1998-2002), Germany; 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1996–1997), Johannesburg, South Africa; Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, International Center of Photography, New York City, USA; The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994: Museum Villa Stuck, Munich and Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and P.S.1 and Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA; Century City, Tate Modern, London, UK; Mirror’s Edge, Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada, Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland; Castello di Rivoli, Torino, Italy; In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940–Present,:Guggenheim Museum; Global Conceptualism, Queens Museum, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, USA; List Gallery at MIT, Cambridge, UK; David Goldblatt: Fifty One Years, Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, Spain; AXA Gallery, New York, USA; Palais des Beaux Art, Brussels, Belgium; Lenbach Haus, Munich, Germany; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Echigo-Tsumari Sculpture Biennale, Japan (co-curator); Cinco Continente: Biennale of Painting, Mexico City, Mexico (co-curator); Stan Douglas: Le Detroit, Art Institute of Chicago, USA


Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism from the College Art Association (2006)


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Meeting Points 6

Contemporary Art Festival from the Arab World

(12 January 12 - 14 January 12)

Berlin Documentary Forum 1

New practices across disciplines

(02 June 10 - 06 June 10)

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)


Interview in: Review of Contemporary African Art

"I have a global antenna". By Rutger Pontzen. First published 2002.

Interview in: Base Now

Interview With Okwui Enwezor, part 2 (04.03.2009)

Interview in: 032c.com

By Joachim Bessing