The Kochi Biennale Foundation fondly remembers Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, poet, and educator, specialising in Global art history.
Born as the youngest son of an affluent family of Igbos in Awkuzu in Nigeria in 1963, Enwezor moved to the Bronx at the age of 18 and in 1987 he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political sciences at the New Jersey City University.
After organising some small museum shows, Enwezor had his breakthrough in 1996 as a curator of In/sight, an exhibit of 30 African photographers at the Guggenheim Museum. In/sight was one of the first shows anywhere to put contemporary art from Africa in the historical and political context of colonial withdrawal and the emergence of independent African states.
Enwezor was the director of the Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany. He also had the roles of adjunct curator of the International Center of Photography in New York City, and Joanne Cassulo Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City. In 2013, Enwezor was appointed curator of the Venice Biennale 2015, making him the first African-born curator in the exhibition’s 120-year history.
Enwezor was the artistic director of the Documenta 11 in Germany (1998–2002), as the first non-European to hold the prestigious post. He also served as artistic director of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1996–97), the Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporaneo de Sevilla, in Seville, Spain (2006), the 7th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (2008), and the Triennale d’Art Contemporain of Paris at the Palais de Tokyo (2012).
He organized The Rise and Fall of Apartheid for the International Center for Photography, New York, in 2012 and “Meeting Points 6”, a multidisciplinary exhibition and programs “which will take place in nine Middle East, North African and European cities, from Ramallah to Tangier to Berlin”, then at the Beirut Art Center in April 2011.
As a writer, critic, and editor, Enwezor has been a regular contributor to numerous exhibition catalogues, anthologies, and journals. He was founding editor and publisher of the critical art journal NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art established in 1994, and currently published by Duke University Press.
Among his books are Contemporary African Art Since 1980 (Bologna: Damiani, 2009) co-authored with Chika Okeke-Agulu, Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), Reading the Contemporary: African Art, from Theory to the Marketplace (MIT Press, Cambridge and INIVA, London) and Mega Exhibitions: Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form (Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich), Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, and The Unhomely: Phantom Scenes in Global Society. He is also the editor of a four-volume publication of Documenta 11 Platforms: Democracy Unrealized; Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation; Creolité and Creolization; Under Siege: Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos (Hatje Cantz, Verlag, Stuttgart).