The Dak'Art Biennial in the Making of Contemporary African Art, 1992-Present Open Access

Nzewi, Ugochukwu-Smooth (2013)

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This dissertation examines the shift in contemporary African art in the 1990s. By focusing on the Dak'Art Biennial as an important context of analysis, it argues that the genesis of this shift was the economic and political failures of the postcolonial states in the 1980s, which led artists to reject cultural nationalism and the decolonizing aesthetics of easily identifiable but reinvented African art forms and leitmotifs. It suggests that African artists began to reflect an expanded repository of creative and cultural references, and to work with more diversified media of creative expressions in the 1990s. The study thus explores a range of works exhibited at Dak'Art in the last two decades. A large-scale international exhibition, Dak'Art was established in 1989 by the government of Senegal to promote latest examples of African art. I show how early iterations of Dak'Art in 1992 and 1996, which exhibited mostly paintings and sculptures, reflected the formal outlines of post-independence modernism in Africa. I demonstrate how Dak'Art began to exhibit new trends, such as conceptual art, and art forms, including performance, installation, and time-based art that are international in orientation, from 1998 on. The study also explores Dak'Art's pan-African internationalism, and argues that it is distinct from the approaches advanced in the pan-African events in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. These events, which included the International Congress of African Culture in 1962 and First World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966, promoted global black solidarity and cultural nationalism that were based on the notion of "returning to the source." Instead, Dak'Art is outward looking, and seeks to secure a foothold for African and African diaspora artists in the mainstream artworld. Yet, in spite of Dak'Art's pan-African orientation, works in its exhibitions have not pursued sectional aesthetic ideology. Ultimately, I argue that the absence of a collective aesthetic ideology represents the most significant manifestation of the shift in contemporary African art since the 1990s.

Table of Contents

Chapter One
History and Context: The Making of a Postcolonial Pan-African Biennial...24

I. Senegal's Cultural Policy and the Legacy of Enracinement and Ouverture.
II. New Economic Realities and a Shift in Cultural Policy.
III. A New Global Art Order.
IV. New Biennials in the 1990s
V. The Postcolonial Turn and Dak'Art.
VI. Conclusion.

Chapter Two
Dak'Art and Black Cultural Politics in the 20th Century...67

I. The Intersection of Politics and Culture in the Diaspora.
II. Congress of Black Writers and Artists.
III. Pan-African Congress and Festivals in the 1960s and 1970s.
IV. Conclusion.

Chapter Three
Exploring Dak'Art...116

I. The 1980s in Perspective.
II. Dak'Art 1990 and 1992.
III. Dak'Art 1996 and 1998.
IV. Conclusion.

Chapter Four
Dak'Art and Contemporary African Art since 2000...163

I. Dak'Art since 2000.
II. Reading the Contemporary.
III. Dak'Art OFF.
IV. Conclusion.

Chapter Five...215

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