The Block Museum’s Visual Vanguard series offers conversations with a new generation of innovative arts leaders working internationally and transforming how we experience art today. In April 2017 the Block welcomed Bisi Silva as a guest of this powerful series which has also included Abdellah Karroum of Mathaf: Qatar and Thom Collins of the Barnes Foundation.
Bisi Silva is an independent curator and the founder and artistic director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, Nigeria, an independent arts organization which opened in 2007 to provide a platform for the development, presentation, and discussion of contemporary visual art and culture. In 2012 CCA launched the ASIKO Art School, an intensive training program focused on the critical theory, research methodologies and conceptual strategies that underpin curatorial and artistic practice, intended to address a gap in visual arts higher education for many artists, curators, and cultural practitioners across Africa.
Silva was Artistic Director of the 10th Bamako Encounters, African Biennial of Photography (2015) in Mali, Co-Curator of the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art in Greece (2009), and Co-Curator of the 7th Dak’Art: African Contemporary Art Biennial (2006). She is the founder and curator of Asiko (2010-2016) the pan-African roaming curatorial and pedagogical art school. She co-curated The Progress of Love, a transcontinental collaboration between the Menil Collection (Houston) Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts (Missouri) and CCA Lagos (2012–13) and J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Moments of Beauty at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki (2011). Silva sits on the editorial/advisory boards of N.Paradoxa: International Feminist Art Journal, and ContemporaryAnd. She was a member of the international jury for the Pinchuk Art Centre’s Future Generation Art Prize (2014), as well as the 55th Venice Biennale (2013).
During her visit to Northwestern, Bisi Silva offered a public presentation in which she discussed her work in these institutions and others, and shared future directions for her practice. Silva’s lecture was followed by a conversation with Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Block Museum Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs. The lecture was presented in partnership with the Northwestern Libraries and the Department of Art History with the support of the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, Program of African Studies and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities
Bisi Silva’s visit to Northwestern also included an interdisciplinary seminar with the Program of African Studies focusing on the development of a history of women artists in Nigeria. In the seminar Silva will begin to lay out the research problem and its challenges, including the fragmentary and scattered nature of the archival resources in the country, necessary to recounting and understanding the past. Using Silva’s question as a point of departure, the conversation expanded to address broader issues around constructing historical narratives—inviting perspectives from students and faculty engaged with the archive across time, place, and discipline. The seminar was moderated by Sociology PhD candidate Sakhile Matlhare.
In a second seminar for library and archival specialists Silva shared her specific experiences creating the CCA library, a resource of contemporary art that includes books, journals, and ephemera related to art criticism, curation, display, and history with a focus on Nigeria. Silva discussed her aspirations to shift the focus of CCA towards being an art and research center with the library at its core, an initiative that will include preserving documentation from exhibitions across the country, as a way of filling gaps in exhibition and art histories. This program Making the CCA Library provided an opportunity for professionals share perspectives across disciplines about engaging and developing historical narratives, archives, and libraries. The group also explored practical questions, ranging from establishing and expanding libraries and archives to engaging people with building an archival collection, particularly in contexts where there is not a strong library culture.