African Contemporary Art: Negotiating the Terms of Recognition - Interview of Vivian Paulissen with Achille Mbembe

Africa Remix was an international success. The Johannesburg Art Fair is becoming a fixture in the international art circuit. Major academic interventions such as Sarah Nuttall’s Beautiful/Ugly are redefining the boundaries of African aesthetics. William Kentridge, Penny Siopis and countless individual African artists are making a name of their own in the world market. A silent revolution in contemporary art is in the making. Its ramifications extend to other domains such as literature, fashion, music, architecture and design. As jazz and cubism in the 20th century, it is to a large extent engineered by African forms. Yet the terms of recognition of African contemporary art and cultural creativity are still contested. The latest controversy is about the role of Western cultural funding agencies in Africa and whether the support for arts and culture should be justified by the latter’s contribution to “development”. What, then, is the agenda of donors when supporting the arts in Africa? Is there a role for the arts in “poverty reduction” or in “conflict resolution”? Is “cultural cooperation” a two-way process or a surreptitious way by which donors impose their agendas on Africa? What do terms such as “cultural diplomacy” mean? In this interview, Achille Mbembe research professor in history and politics at the university of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa) responds to Vivian Paulissen, an expert and consultant in cultural funding policy based in Amsterdam.


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by Achille Mbembe
Mukanda | 9 June 2010 | African Contemporary Art