Leading Art Curator, Okwui Enwezor Bows Out

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By Yinka Olatunbosun

Barely a month after the art community in Nigeria and beyond lost one of its frontline curators, Bisi Silva to cancer, another Nigerian curator, art critic, writer and poet, Okwui Enwezor has died in Munich at 55, after a long battle with cancer.

Enwezor who has curated large-scale exhibitions and biennials on the global stage including the 2002 edition of Documenta, an exhibition in Germany which takes place once in five years. He was the curator behind the 2008 GwangjuBienniale in South Korea, the 2012 Paris Triennale and the 2015 Venice Biennale, making him the first African born curator for the exhibition in its 120 years.

Between 2005 and 2009, he was the Dean of San Francisco Art Institute and from 2011 till 2018, he was the director of a leading Munich museum, Haus Der Kunst.

Born Okwuchukwu Emmanuel Enwezor in Calabar, he held a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the New Jersey City University. He reportedly studied only for a semester at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka before leaving for the US.

Upon his completion of the first degree programme, he began to perform poetry at downtown Manhattan at clubs, cafes and gallery openings. He co-founded a magazine of Contemporary African Art, NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art with scholars like Okeke Agulu, Salah M. Hassan and Olu Oguibe. Its first edition was published in 1994. NKA drew international attention upon its arrival on the scene. Thus, he was invited to be a co-curator at the exhibition of African photography. The show was an illumination on several African artists like the Malian photographer, Seydou Keita.

As the director of the 11th edition of Documenta, which is rated as of the best attended art shows, Enwezor was the first non-European to get the job. It was no wonder that half of the selected artists for the exhibition were from the developing world.

A cosmopolitan curator, he was ranked 24 in 2014 on the ArtReview list of the 100 most powerful people of the art world.