17 September 2009

At the beginning of 2009 the SMBA team started a research project under the title ‘Africa Reflected’. This project looks closely at representations of Africa within contemporary art production, with the aim of finding alternatives to predominantly stereotypical mass media representations. The research is designed to arrive at a critical discourse: it is after all about how our images of Africa are shaped, and how we seek to nuance this with the support of visual art, and not about ‘development work’ which reinforces the average European citizen’s dominant image of Africa.

Africa Reflected is comprised of manifold research components ranging from literature study to (inter)national studio and gallery visits, expert consults and a curators' meeting to take place in October, 2009. Parts of the program for the curators' meeting will be open to the public so that curators, artists, students and other parties will have opportunities to exchange views and discuss representations of Africa in relation to contemporary art and exhibition practices. After all, the research project is meant to serve as a basis for future exhibition projects.

Each year SMBA organises an annual curators meeting, which brings international curators together with cultural producers active in Amsterdam. Unlike earlier editions, this year’s get-together is accompanied by a public side-program consisting of a seminar, a lecture and a video screening. The lecture as well as the video screening will be freely accessible to the public, while students for the seminar will be selected on the basis of their motivation. Information on all events and short biographies of this year’s invited curators are to be found hereunder.

Monday, October 12, 1 - 6 p.m.


A semi-public seminar with Kobena Mercer

During the seminar we wish to discuss diverse views on Africa as they are represented in contemporary art. The focus will lie on artistic projects and approaches which are different from and sometimes critical or subversive towards globally dominant mass media representations. We will have a close look at some specific ways in which artists from Africa and elsewhere engage in contemporary globalized cultural production.

In an introductory lecture Kobena Mercer will present a critical overview of key issues arising in the reception of international exhibitions of African art over the last ten years or so. His talk highlights some of the limitations of existing conceptual frameworks while pointing to opportunities opened up by art-historically grounded conceptions of modernity and globalisation. After this theoretical part, the African curators will present impressions of their work. The seminar schedule allows substantial time for questions and discussions between the participants. Our aim is to encourage the exchange of knowledge and ideas between professionals and students.

In relation to Mercer’s lecture we have compiled a reading list with some relevant key texts, which will be made available two weeks before the seminar. The texts will not be directly discussed during the seminar; rather they serve as a common ground on which discussion is based. The authors of these texts provide their readers with introductions to complicated and disputed terms like globalisation, post-colonialism and contemporary art. Students interested in participating can send an email to: You will then receive more information.

Location: Institut Français des Pays-Bas (Maison Descartes), Vijzelgracht 2A, Amsterdam

Monday, October 12, 8 – 10 p. m.


As a component of ‘Africa Reflected’ a video screening will take place for which SMBA has asked various curators and artists to provide a contribution, and if possible to also introduce it themselves. The programme is comprised of artist's films and videos which, coming from different points of view, all focus on themes and ideas relating to the continent. Works by Jude Anogwith, Leo Asemota, Theo Eshetu, Salifou Lindou, Vincent Meessen, Marcel Odenbach, Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo, Guy Wouete, Emeka Ogboh and others will be screened. There will also be short presentations by Vincent Meessen and the curators Oyinda Fakeye (CCA, Lagos), Koyo Kouoh (Dakar), Didier Schaub (Doual’art) and others.

Location: Netherlands Media Art Institute, Keizersgracht 264, Amsterdam

Wednesday, October 14, 8 – 10 p.m.


A public lecture by Simon Njami

In this lecture Simon Njami reflects on the idea of the ‘African artist’. According to him, the difference made between African and Africa, between identity and nationality, between expression and politics is in itself political. His argument is based on the conviction that true expression does not exist without political reference. The artists talked about all have one thing in common: Africa. And yet, Njami advocates that the way of being African is individualistic and not self-evidently connected to a collective concept. “We might argue here” he writes in an abstract of his lecture, “that one is not born African – one becomes African”. In his abstract Njami further accentuates the centrality of the performative power of language in the formation of the African artist. This becomes apparent when he announces that: “Becoming is tantamount to expressing a viewpoint of the world. And there is no expression without language. Understanding so-called African artists means being able to decipher the original language in which each one recounts his belonging to the world in his own way. For belonging to a territory must not make us lose sight of the fact that any territory is, first and foremost, a part of the world”. After the lecture, visitors will have the change to ask questions.

Admission is free but reservation is recommended: please mail to

Location: Institut Français des Pays-Bas (Maison Descartes), Vijzelgracht 2A, Amsterdam

The Africa Reflected research project was initiated by Jelle Bouwhuis and Kerstin Winking.

Short biographies:

Oyinda Fakeye turned from studying Nutritional Biochemistry at the University of Nottingham, to fashion (as a commentator) and now to the visual arts, at the moment working for the Center of Contemporary Art (CCA) in Lagos as a trainee curator. There she is currently preparing the exhibition ‘Identity: An Imagined State’, to be seen in the CCA in October, 2009. Fakeye is also involved with the Ocean Beach Golf and Leisure Resort in Lagos, where she assists with the cultural programming.

Koyo Kouoh is a curator and cultural manager. She is the founder and artistic director of RAW MATERIAL COMPANY, a mobile site for art practice and critical exchange. From 1998-2002 she was the coordinator of Cultural Programs at the Gorée Institute. She collaborated with the Dakar Biennale of Art from 2000-2004 and co-curated the Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine in Bamako in 2001 and 2003. She served as advisor to the artistic director for documenta 12and curated Philip Aguirre’s project “Gaal Gui” for the Beaufort Triennale 03. Her latest exhibition 'Hypocrisy: the Sitespecificity of Morality' co-curated with Stina Högkvist was on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo. Currently she is working on 'Make Yourself at Home' an exhibition and community program for Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen.

Nontobeko (Nonto) Ntombela Mabongi is an artist and curator and currently pursuing her master’s degree of Fine Arts at the Durban University of Technology, where she is also working as a curator at the University’s Art Gallery. She is a member of several cultural boards, for example the Visual Arts Network South Africa (VANSA) and Artists for Human Rights Trust (AHRT). In 2007 Nontobeko Ntombela co-curated the exhibition ‘From Here to There’ with Storm Janse van Rensburg, at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town. In 2008 she curated ‘Modern Fabrics’ at the BAG Factory in Johannesburg.

Kobena Mercer writes and teaches on the visual arts of the black diaspora and is an inaugural recipient of the 2006 Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing. He was Reader in Art History and Diaspora Studies at Middlesex University, London, and has taught at New York University and University of California at Santa Cruz, and was Visiting Professor at the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University in Spring 2009. In addition to Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (1994), he is the author of monographs on James VanDer Zee, Isaac Julien, Adrian Piper and Rotimi Fani-Kayode. He is series editor of Annotating Art’s Histories, whose titles include Cosmopolitan Modernisms (2005), Discrepant Abstraction (2006), Pop Art and Vernacular Cultures (2007) and Exiles, Diasporas & Strangers (2008).

Simon Njami is an independent lecturer, curator, novelist and art critic. Besides being a consultant in visual arts for the Association Française d'Action Artistique, he is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine ‘Revue Noire’. Since 2001, Njami has been the artistic director of the Bamako photography biennale. Together with Fernando Alvim he curated the first African pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. He has also written numerous publications on and curated many exhibitions of African art and photography, including the travelling exhibition ‘Africa Remix’ and the first African Art Fair, held in Johannesburg in 2008.

Didier Schaub is a freelance curator and co-founder of as well as creative director at doual’art, a centre for contemporary art in Douala, Cameroon. From 2000 to 2004 Schaub was the consultant for the European Commission and head of the Contemporary Art Department of Central Africa. In 2007 Schaub was the artistic director and co-curator of the first edition of the Salon Urbain de Douala, also known as ‘SUD 2007’, an international public art festival. SUD is organised as a triennial urban program of cultural and artistic activities directed and designed by doual’art. The second edition of the Salon ‘SUD 2010’ is co-curated by Simon Njami and expected to take place in December, 2010.