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 1.4, ‘Re/centering Artists’

POSTED ON: January 28, 2014 IN



This fourth edition of Third Text Africa compiles early texts from Third Text that address the work of specific artists. This act of validating earlier validations of artists introduces a set of its own questions. These questions apply more broadly to the related issues of visibility and validation than they do to the specific texts featured.

To what extent are the artists who are most visible privileged because of the specific interests of dealers, curators and academics? Do they necessarily represent the most interesting artists?

In an era where the value of art is often equated with investment, and where private galleries represent the primary vehicle for ‘representing’ artists, does the visibility that comes with promotion get conflated with critical recognition of artists? Do the commercial interests of dealers get lost in the public perception of them as ‘neutral’ agents, guided primarily by questions of quality and (perhaps) relevance? This is not to deny dealers and galleries their role, but to not lose sight of the capitalist framework that necessitates it.

In an era where curators frequently usurp artists as the main act, how many of them select artists who comfortably fit their curatorial interests? This is not to deny curators agency, since artists need them as much as they do dealers. It is to question to what extent are curatorial themes informed by substantive research into practice? Furthermore, it is to question how many artists have the confidence to critically engage curators, and how many bow to their sometimes flimsy curatorial concepts? Not least it is to question why some lusciously produced catalogues, complete with commissioned essays, fail to engage with the art featured in the relevant exhibition?

In an era where multidisciplinary approaches to intellectual enquiry create new horizons for art history, theory and criticism how many academics prioritise art that supports the hypotheses that they are developing? How many disregard those contradictory impulses embedded in many artists’ works that resist being harnessed to support an argument? This is not to deny academics agency, artists need to be critically challenged as well as ‘documented’, but how many artists remain silent knowing all too well that the ways in which they are being theorised does not tell the whole story?

If power resides in the intersection of critical validating agencies, not least the dealer (market), curator (exhibitions) and academic (publications), it also reflects global imbalances. It should come as no surprise that most artists featured here are based in the West. This does not reduce their value but it does raise the question of when will conditions in the periphery act as an adequate counterweight to this uni-directional gravitational pull? It also raises the question of the in/visibility of artists working on the African continent, and what will need to be done to support their practice in ways that not only play to globally hegemonic interests but also to advance the position of art on the African continent itself?

Ultimately these texts remind us that artists occupy the pivotal terrain in any discourse that seeks to make sense of art. It’s a discourse that is framed by power and powerlessness, by agency and apathy.

When artists become the object and not the subject, are they playing the system or is the system playing them?
Mario Pissarra
Editor, Third Text Africa

Publication & Copyright Information

Publication & Copyright Information

Hiltrud Streicher & Uzo Egonu’s “Reflections of Uzo Egonu”was published in Third Text no’s 8 & 9. pp. 173-182.

Ulli Beier’s “The Right to Claim the World: Conversation with Ibrahim El Salahi” was published in Third Text no. 23, pp. 23-30.

Lauri Firstenberg’s “A Stylist of Subjectivities: Interface in the Photography of Ike Ude” was published in Third Text no.46, pp. 53-60.

Olu Oguibe’s “Love and Desire: The Art of Ghada Amer”was published in Third Text no. 55, pp. 63-74.

Jaki Irvine’s “Zarina Bhimji: I Will Always be Here”was published in Third Text no. 22, pp. 107-110.

Olu Oguibe’s“Holding unto Own Space: Eight African Women Artists” was published in Third Text no. 23: 131-135.

Jacqueline Nolte’s “Jane Alexander: Sculpture and Photomontage” was published in Third Text no. 36, pp. 99-101.

Richard Hylton’s “Yinka Shonibare: Dressing Down” was published in Third Text no. 46, pp. 101-103.

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.