PRINT Summer 2019

OKWUI ENWEZOR (1963–2019)

Okwui Enwezor, Kassel, 2002. Photo: Rysard Kasiewicz.

SERIOUS PEOPLE don’t speak in terms of mosts—or so we’re taught. But any serious assessment of Okwui Enwezor must resort to superlatives. The most influential curator of the past quarter-century, Enwezor recognized the violent distortions that colonialism had inflicted on art history and knew that the immense project of reconfiguring a canon demands fearless ambition. He set about elucidating new histories and envisioning a new contemporaneity with a virtuosity that was most wondrous to behold—and to read. His writing is as essential as his exhibitions. 

When the peripatetic, Nigerian-born curator died of cancer on March 15, we could barely begin to comprehend what we had lost. His accomplishments are legion. Many recall his legendary direction of Documenta 11 in 2002 or the unprecedented periodical Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, which a thirty-year-old Enwezor cofounded in 1994 with Chika Okeke-Agulu, Salah M. Hassan, and Olu Oguibe. In 1996, he organized the groundbreaking “In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present” at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and over the years he served as lead curator for the 1997 Johannesburg Biennial (with Octavio Zaya), the 2008 Gwangju Biennale, the 2012 La Triennale in Paris, and the 2015 Venice Biennale. His final exhibition, “El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale,” runs through July 28 at the Haus der Kunst in Munich.

Artforum invited five friends and colleagues—curator Katy Siegel; Tim Griffin, director of the Kitchen in New York; and artists Glenn Ligon, Adrian Piper, and Steve McQueen—to honor Enwezor and to begin another immense project: fathoming the scope of his unfolding legacy.