Bisi Silva: "Artists from Africa and India have much in common"

May 2009 -

The Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Lagos, Nigeria is placing its bets on contact, exchange and cooperation in the southern hemisphere. Early in April 2009 the CCA successfully participated in the Johannesburg Art Fair, and on the 17th of that month the exhibition Chance Encounters was opened in the Sakshi Gallery in Mumbai, India. This exhibition consists of works by seven contemporary African artists. Bisi Silva, director of the CCA, compiled the exhibition.


'India' by El Anatsui

"The CCA is an independent institution offering a platform to new media and experimental audio-visual art by primarily Nigerian and West African artists. The international programme is an integral part of our art centre," says Silva. "In the past, I was both surprised and frustrated by the scarcity of exchanges between countries within the African continent. Exchanges with the rest of the southern hemisphere were few and far between. But we have so much in common based on our colonial past, as emerging economies and, of course, by the still relatively informal nature of our artistic infrastructure and cultural experiences," says Silva.

Silva met the director of the Sakshi Gallery, Geeta Mehra, during the Artes Mundi awards ceremony in Wales. During the train trip back to London, the two started talking about contemporary art and realised they knew virtually nothing about one another's context. The conversation resulted in an invitation by the renowned Indian gallery for Silva to compile an exhibition on contemporary African art.

"Chance Encounters was extremely well received, by both the Indian public and the press. Artists and art collectors are keen to learn more about these African artists and their work. We organised an informal discussion session for this group. A fascinating dialogue developed that led me to conclude that, like in Africa, Indian artists believe that there is too much focus on the West. The contextual similarities, including the tension between traditional and contemporary, urban and rural and rich and poor, and between the past as a British colony and the search today for an individual identity, were striking. What is more: no one believed that the usual discourse on colonial relationships of power was relevant to the discussion, and I thought that was a refreshing change."