Engage Symposium: Transcending Boundaries in Contemporary African Art was inspired by the two main gallery exhibitions of the Fall 2021 - Spring 2022 Exhibition Season at MoAD and focused on the art of Amoako Boafo and Billie Zangewa. The event featured scholars, artists, curators, and art writers who joined us for insightful conversations centered on the changing aesthetics, themes, and art markets for contemporary artists from Africa. The day began with a keynote address from independent curator and writer Natasha Becker, the inaugural Curator of African Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Thank you to everyone who participated in Engage Symposium 2022. The conversations were electric, timely, and gave us so much to think about.
Watch the Event
10:00 – Opening – Keenan Webster – Kora Player
10:10 – Welcome – Monetta White & Demetri Broxton
10:15 – Keynote – Natasha Becker
10:45 – Session 1 – Case Study: A New Generation of Ghanaian Figurative Painters
Elena Gross (Moderator)
Accra, Ghana is rapidly becoming one of Africa’s major art hubs. The capital city of Ghana has birthed art stars for decades, most recently Amoako Boafo and our guest Annan Affotey. A large number of Ghana’s emerging artists are working in a distinctly figurative style. This panel will examine where Ghana’s figurative painters are studying and how they are influencing the future of the genre.
11:35 – Tour - Sedey Gebreyes leads a tour of Amoako Boafo & Billie Zangewa
12:10 – Session 2 – Decolonizing Aesthetics in Contemporary African Art
Ekow Eshun (Moderator)
One cannot discuss contemporary African aesthetics without addressing the impact of colonialism, de-colonialism and post-colonialism. Until very recently, the western world held tight expectations for artists from Africa and the African diaspora to produce work falling into narrow categories of aesthetics. Often artworks produced by Africans were expected to maintain close ties to traditional arts and cultural practices. As collectors, galleries, and scholars have embraced a wider range of aesthetic production from contemporary African artists, the variety of art work being shown is expanding exponentially. This panel will examine the changing aesthetics in contemporary African art and the promise of an African canon which is divorced from Eurocentric expectations.
1:00 – Session 3 – Contemporary African Art and Emerging Art Markets
Ayodeji Rotinwa (Moderator)
Touria El Glaoui
The international market for contemporary African art has seen an explosion in the past five years, contributing $13 billion in revenue toward the global economy in 2018. While art fairs such as the 1:54 Art Fair founded by Touria El Glaoui in 2013 have played a major role in the international thirst for contemporary African art, the continent is also seeing an increase in its own markets, with several galleries and art fairs opening up all across the continent. This panel will explore the role of the art markets both inside and outside of Africa and how this is spearheading more artists and galleries to remain on the continent.
1:50 – Adjourn & Virtual Networking
Born and raised in South Africa, Natasha Becker is the inaugural curator of African art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, joining the Museums in December 2020. Working in both Cape Town, South Africa, and New York City, over the past decade, she has focused on presenting the work of African artists, African American artists, and artists of the African diaspora, organizing numerous exhibitions and international initiatives. She worked at the Clark Institute for seven years as the Assistant Director for Mellon Initiatives and, more recently, as co-curator at the new Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice Art Gallery. She has also served as a curatorial adviser at the Face Foundation, curator in residence at Faction Art Projects in Harlem, and senior curator at the Goodman Gallery in South Africa. Natasha is one of the cofounders of Assembly Room, a curatorial platform for the advancement of women curators and artists in New York. She holds a master’s in African history from the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa, and studied art history at Binghamton University, New York.
Elena Gross (she/they) is the Director of Exhibitions & Curatorial Affairs at Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and an independent writer and culture critic living in Oakland, CA. She received an MA in Visual & Critical Studies from the California College of the Arts in 2016, and her BA in Art History and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2012. She specializes in representations of identity in fine art, photography, and popular media. Elena was formerly the creator and co-host of the arts & visual culture podcast what are you looking at? published by Art Practical. Her research has been centered around conceptual and material abstractions of the body in the work of Black modern and contemporary artists. She has presented her writing and research at institutions and conferences across the U.S., including Nook Gallery, Southern Exposure, KADIST, Harvard College, YBCA, California College of the Arts, and the GLBT History Museum. In 2018, she collaborated with the artist Leila Weefur on the publication Between Beauty & Horror (Sming Sming Books). The two performed a live adaptation of their work at The Lab, San Francisco. Her most recent writing can be found in the publication This Is Not A Gun (Sming Sming Books / Candor Arts). Elena is the co-editor, along with Julie R. Enszer, of OutWrite: The Speeches that Shaped LGBTQ Culture, forthcoming from Rutgers University Press in March 2022.
Larry Ossei-Mensah uses contemporary art as a vehicle to redefine how we see ourselves and the world around us. The Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic has organized exhibitions and programs at commercial and nonprofit spaces around the globe from New York City to Rome. Ossei-Mensah is also the co-founder of ARTNOIR: a global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class.
Ossei-Mensah is the former Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at MOCAD in Detroit. Ossei-Mensah currently serves as Curator-at-Large at BAM, where he curated the NY Times heralded the exhibition Let Free Ring in January 2021. He recently organized with Magali Arriola and Christina Li, Art Basel’s first every curated online viewing room - OVR: Portals.
This fall, Ossei-Mensah co-curated the 7th Athens Biennial with OMSK Social Club. In 2019, Ossei-Mensah co-curated Coffee, Rhum, Sugar& Gold: A Postcolonial Paradox with Dexter Wimberly. Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is his second exhibition at MOAD.
Annan Affotey was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. After graduating from Ghanatta College of Art and Design winning Best Student of Still Life, Best Imagination and Composition, and Best Abstract Drawing awards, Annan joined the Revolution Art Organization and displayed his work in several group and solo exhibitions in Accra. In 2013, Annan helped found the African Young Artist Organization (AYAO), an organization dedicated to supporting African youth in the arts through programs and exhibitions. Annan lived in Wisconsin from 2014-2019 and currently lives in Oxford, UK.
Ekow Eshun is Chairman of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, overseeing the most prestigious public art programme in the UK, and the former Director of the ICA, London. He is the author of Africa State of Mind, nominated for the Lucie Photo Book Prize, and Black Gold of the Sun, nominated for the Orwell prize. He has contributed to monographs and publications on artists including Mark Bradford, Chris Ofili, Kehinde Wiley, John Akomfrah, Wangechi Mutu and Amoako Boafo, as well as to books including Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography; Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain 1700-1850, Seen: Black Style UK. Eshun’s writing has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent, Granta, Esquire, GQ Style, Aperture, Wired and L’uomo Vogue. He is a Contributing Editor at Wallpaper magazine and is a member of the Advisory Board of Liquid Blackness journal. He is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from London Metropolitan University.
Moyo Okediji is an art historian, artist, and curator. He is currently a professor of Art and Art History at the University of Texas, Austin. He studied fine arts at the University of Ife, before proceeding to the University of Benin, where he did an MFA in African Art Criticism, Poetry, and Painting. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he received a PhD in African Arts and Diaspora Visual Cultures. He has apprenticed with several indigenous African artists working in both sacred and secular mediums including mat weaving, textile designs, terra cotta, shrine painting, and sculpture.
After teaching for several years in Nigeria, Okediji relocated to the United States in 1992. For ten years he was the curator of African and Oceanic arts at the Denver Art Museum. He has taught at various colleges in the United States, including Wellesley College, Gettysburg College, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Colorado at Denver. He has also exhibited at various places including the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, The Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC,. the Corcoran Center, London, and the National Museum Gallery, Lagos Nigeria. He is the author of books and exhibition catalogues including African Renaissance, Old Forms, New Images in Yoruba Art; and The Shattered Gourd: Yoruba Forms in Twentieth Century American Art.
Ayodeji Rotinwa is a Nigerian writer and critic who covers visual art, culture, social justice and sustainable development. He has been published by the Financial Times, Artforum, Roads & Kingdoms, amongst others. He is Editor at Large for The Sole Adventurer.
Born and raised in Morocco, Touria El Glaoui holds an MBA in Strategic Management and International Business from Pace University, New York. She began her career in the banking industry as a wealth management consultant before moving to London in 2001 where she undertook various business development positions in the Telecom/IT industry. She has spent over five years working between London, various African countries and the Middle East within a business development framework. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the Friends of Leighton House, London and a trustee of the Marrakech Biennale.
Touria is the daughter of one of the most revered living Moroccan artists, Hassan El Glaoui. Alongside her career she has organized and co-curated significant exhibitions of her father's work including a major retrospective in Casablanca and Meetings in Marrakech, a joint exhibition with Winston Churchill's paintings hosted at Leighton House in London and most recently, La Mamounia in Marrakech, as part of the 2014 Marrakech Biennale.
In October 2013, she founded 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, held in London and New York on an annual basis. 1:54 has quickly emerged as Europe’s original and leading art fair focusing on contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora
Marcus Gora is co-founder and director of First Floor Gallery Harare, a pioneering international contemporary art gallery with spaces in Harare and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, which since 2009 has been at the forefront of developing local and international audiences and markets for emerging artists from Zimbabwe and beyond. Gora is also manager for Mokoomba, Zimbabwe’s top touring musical group as well as the festival manager for the annual Jacaranda Music Festival (Zimbabwe).
In addition to his formal engagements, over the past 10 years, Gora also consulted as a strategist and adviser on various creative and cultural projects, supporting development and capacity building for emerging talent and creative industry like Ngoma NeHosho (Zimbabwe) and Start with Culture (Germany).
Currently, Marcus sits on the selection committee for Art Joburg formerly FNB Joburg Art Fair and the Jury of the Turn Fund (Germany) and as of 2021 as deputy chairperson of the Board of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.
Monetta White, a native San Franciscan has strong ties to the city both personally and professionally. In 2007 when she and husband Chef David Lawrence opened 1300 on Fillmore, the duo were excited by the opportunity to help revive the neighborhood through good food and music. For the past ten years, White’s business savvy and passion for food and community continues on with her opening 1300 on Fillmore at SFO International Airport. White manages and oversees all business operations and marketing for the restaurant group. White has been recognized for her knowledge and leadership by the City of San Francisco, for which she served as Vice President of the Small Business Commission. She sits on the board of directors for several non-profit and business organizations including SF Travel.
Keenan Webster will open the day with selections of both traditional West African and original scores on the kora. Keenan has been studying music of the African Diaspora for over twenty years. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, his love of music deepened as a teenager in Los Angeles, where he began his music studies with master teachers from Africa and Cuba.
Keenan performs the 21-string kora, a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow hide with strings traditionally made from thin strips of hide.
Demetri Broxton joined MoAD in January 2016 as the Senior Director of Education. Born and raised in Oakland, CA, Broxton has over 20 years of experience working in the fields of education and the arts. At MoAD, he leads the educational programs that enhance the visitor experience at the Museum. His department connects youth, educators, and the public to contemporary art and artists of the African diaspora. This appointment marks Broxton’s second tenure with MoAD. He previously served as Education Program Manager for MoAD from 2007 through 2010.
Outside of his role at MoAD, Broxton is a practicing fine artist represented by Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco. He also serves as a board member of California Association of Museums and Bay Area Emerging Museum Professionals. He is an advisor for the SFSU Museum Studies Department and Black [Spaces] Residency. Demetri graduated from San Francisco State University earning an M.A. in Museum Studies with a dual emphasis on Education and Curatorial Practice. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UC Berkeley with a major in Art Practice and minor in Education.