The EMOWAA (Edo Museum of West African Art) Trust is delighted to announce the appointments of Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu, Nigerian art historian and Professor of African and African Diaspora Art at and Director of the Program of African Studies at Princeton University and Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford University, as Senior Advisor, Modern and Contemporary Art and Nigerian-British curator Aindrea Emelife as the new Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Speaking on the need to support West African contemporary art as well as cultural heritage, EMOWAA Executive Director Phillip Ihenacho said, “One of the key challenges for museums and heritage institutions in Africa is relevancy to contemporary African society. We need to build infrastructure and programming to celebrate the rich traditions of the past, but also connect to the present arts scene and invest in the skills and knowledge that enable opportunities for contemporary creatives and heritage professionals.”
The appointments of Emelife and Professor Okeke-Agulu support EMOWAA’s goal of creating a world-class museum, research, and education complex connecting West Africa’s ancient heritage to its thriving contemporary culture.
As EMOWAA’s Modern and Contemporary team, Professor Okeke-Agulu and Emelife will focus on advancing the field of academic research in contemporary and modern West African Art, developing the collection strategy for EMOWAA, building the curatorial framework for the creative district EMOWAA is developing in the heart of Benin City,and generating new, multi-faceted narratives and interpretations of West African art and history.
Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu is an artist, critic and art historian who specialises in indigenous, modern, and contemporary African and African Diaspora art history and theory. Born in Umuahia, Nigeria, Professor Okeke-Agulu earned an MFA (Painting) from the University of Nigeria and a PhD (Art History) from Emory University. He has spent much of his career working at several institutions around the world and currently serves as the Robert Schirmer Professor of Art and Archaeology and African American Studies as well as the Director, Program in African Studies and Director, Africa World Initiative at Princeton University. He is also the current Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford University 2022/23.
Professor Okeke-Agulu has co-organised a number of exhibitions, such as Samuel Fosso: Affirmative Acts at the Princeton University Art Museum (2022) and (with Okwui Enwezor) the travelling survey El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale at the Haus der Kunst, Munich (2019). His many other exhibitions include Who Knows Tomorrow (Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2010); the Fifth Gwangju Biennale (2004); The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 (Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, 2001); Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1995); and the Nigerian section of the First Johannesburg Biennale (1995). He is on the curatorial team of the Sharjah Biennial (2023).
Speaking on his appointment, Chika Okeke-Agulu said, “A project like EMOWAA is long overdue. It has become imperative that we find a way to study, appreciate and celebrate contemporary and modern art from the African continent, on the African continent. It is exciting to join EMOWAA and play a part advising on how we can develop new institutional infrastructure to support advanced knowledge and appreciation of the role of art and artists in connecting our rich cultural histories to who and where we are today.”
Emelife, prior to joining EMOWAA, studied History of Art to post-graduate level at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. As a curator and art historian, she has led a number of high-profile projects with a focus on modern and contemporary art, dedicating her focus to questions around colonial and decolonial histories in Africa, transnationalism and the politics of representation. Recent exhibitions include Black Venus, a survey of the legacy of the Black woman in visual culture, which opened at Fotografiska NY in 2022 and will tour to MOAD (San Francisco, USA) in early April and Somerset House (London, UK) this July.
Emelife’s first book, A Brief History of Protest Art, was published by Tate in March 2022 and she is currently working on her second book with Thames & Hudson, which debuts in 2024. She has contributed essays to several publications, most recently Revisiting Modern British Art (Lund Humphries, 2022). In 2021, Emelife was appointed to the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Emelife is a Trustee of New Curators.
Aindrea Emelife said, “One of my principal goals as EMOWAA’s newly appointed Curator, Modern and Contemporary is to build on the efforts to tell our stories and the intricate connections and links that exists – starting with Nigerian Modernism and boldly reaching to the many corners of West African Modern and Contemporary Art history, yet to be developed and yet to discover. I am honoured to be part of building the legacy of Modern and Contemporary African Art.”
The EMOWAA Trust, the not-for-profit foundation behind the EMOWAA Pavilion and Museum, was established in 2019 to support the preservation of West African arts, culture, and heritage. The Pavilion is its first building and will house a materials research lab, learning and exchange facilities, and archives.