critical perspectives on contemporary art and culture Africa
critical perspectives on contemporary art and culture Africa critical perspectives on contemporary art and culture Africa

Third Text Africa, Volume 1.1, ‘Mud Times’

POSTED ON: January 28, 2014 IN



Welcome to the first edition of Third Text Africa, a partnership between ASAI and Third Text. This partnership has been made possible through the vision and initiative of Rasheed Araeen, founding editor of Third Text, and a patron of ASAI, as well as through the generosity of Routledge, publishers of Third Text.

As ASAI we share a common vision with Third Text, that art can be an agency for social change, and that to facilitate a liberatory discourse of art it is necessary to bridge the gulfs in public intellectual discourse that have been artificially constructed between academia (art historians) and the world ‘out there’ comprising artists, art professionals (particularly curators, and writers) and cultural activists. Third Text serves as a beacon of inspiration to ASAI, demonstrating that it is possible to traverse these worlds. Further, Third Text affirms that the spirit of genuine, independent criticism, unfettered by fears of loss of patronage or of breaching unwritten codes of professional etiquette that mitigate against outspokeness can and does exist in art discourse. This spirit is motivated not by personal position but rather by deeper concerns that art does matter, and that it is through free and open discourse that art can attain its potentially emancipatory character. Not least, ASAI shares with Third Text the concern to reach a wide audience, and in particular to address the shortage of materials accessible to many African readers.

Third Text Africa takes the form of a quarterly online journal featuring material previously published in Third Text, grouped around particular themes. In the first phase of its implementation Third Text Africa draws on ‘vintage’ material predating the publication of Third Text by Routledge, a partnership that came into effect in 2002. Regrettably, at this stage Third Text Africa is only accessible to African readers, as it has been presumed that readers on other continents have easier access to Third Text through their institutions, or through personal subscription. While for those of us who champion open access this is not an ideal situation, we have needed to strike a balance between ensuring greater access and securing the rights of publishers, without whom Third Text would not be able to sustain itself as a print publication.

It should also be noted that Third Text Africa forms part of a series of such partnerships initiated by Third Text. A second edition of Third Text Asia, a print publication, is about to be published. Spanish and Portuguese medium publications are also planned.

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!

Mario Pissarra
Editor, Third Text Africa

Publication & Copyright Information

Publication & Copyright Information

Rasheed Araeen’s “Our Bauhaus Others’ Mudhouse” was published in Third Text, no. 6, 1989, pp. 3-14.

Cesare Poppi’s “From the Suburbs of the Global Vilage: Afterthoughts on Magiciens de la Terre” was published in Third Text, no. 14, 1991, pp. 85-96.

John Picton’s “In Vogue, or The Flavour of the Month: The New Way to Wear Black” was published in Third Text, no. 23, 1993, pp. 88-98.

Everlyn Nicodemus’ "Art and Art from Africa: The Two Sides of the Gap” was published in Third Text, no. 33, 1995, pp. 31-40.

Tanya Fernando’s “The Distance from ‘Primitivism’ “ was published in Third Text, no. 49, 1999, pp. 73-82.

Richard Dyer’s “Out of Africa” was published in Third Text, no. 22, 1993, pp. 111-112.

Sean Cubitt’s “'Vital': Three Contemporary African Artists “ was published in Third Text, no. 34, 1996, pp. 86-88.

All previously published texts appear in Third Text Africa with permission of Third Text and Routledge. Copyright resides with Third Text/ Authors. No article may be reproduced without the written permission of the Editor, Third Text.