Bisi Silva on the African art scene

September 2006 -

Bisi Silva, one of the six curators of the seventh Dak’Art Biennial, recently came to Amsterdam within the framework of the Mondriaan Foundation’s visitor’s programme. She talked with the Power of Culture, a site she regularly views.


As independent curator and critic, Bisi Silva’s view of the art scene in Africa is broad as well as that of an insider. "The Dak’Art Biennial holds a unique position: at this time it is the only event on the continent that devotes attention to artists from Africa as a whole. A curatorial team lead by artistic director Yacouba Konaté was appointed this year, making the quality more consistent and higher." Based on Silva’s suggestion, extra attention was devoted to representation of the host country, Senegal, so as to stimulate the local art community. The informal Dak’Art OFF section also strengthens the city’s involvement.

However, even though funding was available for studio visits, even though the directors of the important Biennials keep coming back, more cultural infrastructures need to be built. A real contribution in that respect is now within sight. One absolute achievement of this Dak’Art edition is the arrival of Res Artis in Africa. At the initiative of N’gone Fall, a Senegalese curator, this world-wide network organisation of artist residencies has already offered eleven artists the opportunity to undertake fully paid residences abroad, according to Bisi Silva. She refutes the assumption that African artists will utilise any opportunity to leave. "That is the exception, not the rule. Artists from stable countries, like Senegal and Cameroon, see no need to leave."

She is also convinced that Diasporic artists have devoted more attention to their homelands in recent years. Yinka Shonibare, for example, purchased works by Nigerian artists. Otobong Nkanga, who lives in Amsterdam, called Silva to talk about setting up projects, including in Nigeria. Thus rather than an alleged brain drain, the infrastructure is being strengthened.
Globalisation appears to be bearing fruit in this respect, facilitating mobility for Africans: "We are breaking down colonial boundaries and Dak’Art is good for that," Silva concludes.