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Avant-Garde Symposium

Above Image is of the installation piece "Nkata" (2015) by Nnenna Okore.

What is the position of today’s African artist? Avant-garde or contemporary? Global or local? Transnational or strictly African? Recovering the past or limning the future? While both scholars and practitioners of African arts reject such binaries by declaring they are “both” or “hybrids,” most assume that non-Western artists increasingly participate in world-wide cultural and intellectual movements via the circulation of ideas, people, and objects. Is this the case for African artists, and under what circumstances can it be the case? Addressing this question through empirical research will help clarify our understanding of artistic inclusion and diversity in the twenty-first century.

Two themes intersect: (1) Avant-Garde Africa and (2) Art World Strategies. First, we begin with a distinction between Contemporary Art and the Avant-Garde. Contemporary art refers to the art itself: produced in the post-modern period, non-representational, conceptual, without an organizing theme or program.  The avant-garde references artists, typically of the modern period, who push boundaries and see themselves as advancing an artistic and/or political agenda. A contemporary artist may be solitary; an avant-garde artist cannot be. We want to see how African artists conceive of themselves and their work, and how others – gallery owners, curators, scholars – position them.

The symposium will be held Spring 2023 online and in person. Check back for registration options,updates,  information on the participants, and other events leading to the symposium.