Presentation Okwui Enwezor at ECF conference on engaged art

April 2004 -

From 11 to 14 March, the European cultural Foundation (ECF) organised the conference Almost Real in Utrecht. Some one hundred and fifty visitors from Europe and the rest of the world participated in workshops and debates about art and social changes. The high point of the conference was a presentation by Okwui Enwezor titled The Artist as Producer in Times of Crisis.

Okwui Enwezor is a Nigerian art critic with an impressive career history. He founded Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, and has held positions including curator of the second Biennial in Johannesburg and Documenta 11 in Kassel. During his reading at the ECF conference Almost Real he advocated engaged artists collectives.

The artist as an individual with a voice that is as authentic as possible is a product of the capitalist West, according to Enwezor. In periods of crisis, these individuals can achieve nothing. But if artists join forces in a collective, they can offer a response to dominant trends such as globalism.

Post-colonial African states are experiencing a crisis. Societies there are suffering from poverty and dictatorial governments. According to Enwezor, assistance programmes from the World Bank only deepen the misery. Artists who have been able to achieve social change in these countries temporarily exchanged their individual voices for a collective.

Enwezor discussed the example of the Congo artists collective Group Amos. This collective organized the largest demonstration that has ever been held against Mubutu. Their creative, non-violent actions included radio broadcasts, articles, workshops and videos: activities that go beyond the limits of a museum.

Enwezor claimed that this artistic collectivity is becoming a fashionable trend. This worries him. He hopes this phenomenon will not be welcomed by museums as an ornament or radical chique. If that happens, the critical power would be lost.