This article takes a critical and intimate look at Okwui Enwezor’s work in South Africa during the 1990s and asserts that the international exhibition he curated in Johannesburg in 1997—the Second Johannesburg Biennale, Trade Routes: History and Geography—is an important lens through which to explore Africa’s entangled histories. Trade Routes mattered as much for the discourse it produced as for the artworks it presented. The exhibition checklist features extraordinary works that were made between 1989 and 1997 by artists whose critical acclaim we take for granted today but who were at that time still underappreciated or emerging. Trade Routes not only challenged the status of the existing canon on African art but also proposed a new counter-canon. Additionally, Trade Routes and Enwezor’s concept of the meeting of worlds might have greater analytical potential as a metaphor for the meeting point of two indecipherable South Africas. Under apartheid, Johannesburg was two “countries,” and people lived in two different realities, depending on one’s history, geography, race, ethnicity, class, gender, culture, education, and opportunities. Enwezor constantly confronted the legacy of racism in small and big ways in South Africa. He was at the center of critical debates about race and representation. While there are all kinds of practical guidelines for how to talk about racism within the larger culture, we still do not have one for talking about racial inequality and racism in institutions, exhibition histories, curatorial practice, and the commercial art world. Instead, we have Okwui Enwezor to accompany us on our quest and to remind us to keep consulting both histories and imaginaries, theories and practices, and to continue to interrogate how cycles are reproduced or radically ruptured.
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May 1, 2021
Chika Okeke-Agulu Jane Chin Davidson Alpesh Kantilal Patel
Research Article| May 01 2021
Natasha Becker; In The Wake of Okwui Enwezor. Nka 1 May 2021; 2021 (48): 14–22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-8971257
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