Mario Pissarra, 30 January 2014
Note: Extracted from editorial for Third Text Africa vol 1 no. 1, 2009
For this inaugural issue of Third Text Africa I have focused on the critiques of neo-primitivism that developed in the wake of Magiciens de la Terre in 1989. This critique is ably encapsulated in the content and tone of Rasheed Araeen’s seminal ”Our Bauhaus, Others’ Mudhouse”. John Picton vividly characterised this curatorial trope as ‘neo-primitivist exotica’. In more recent times Sylvester Ogbechie has characterised it as the ‘Pigozzi paradigm’, after the collector inspired by Magiciens.
While such critiques have had limited impact on the broader public they have been extremely influential within the discourse of contemporary African arts. In engaging with this material today one should not only go back in time to a specific set of circumstances that necessitated the emergence of this critique. One should also consider the consequences of this critique on subsequent practice by artists and curators. Not least, in my view, one should critically question whether this critique has had unwitting consequences, inadvertently serving to further marginalise many of Africa’s artists, particularly those who continue to use media and forms all too easily dismissed as primitivist, regardless of their actual terms of reference.
This is not the place to engage the legacy of the neo-primitivist critique in any detail. That place must and will be found. The point here is simply to assert that this first edition of Third Text Africa does not only feature archival material that is of consequence in interpreting the past. Rather that, twenty years later, the critique of neo-primitivism is alive and kicking, perhaps even in more directions than it originally intended!