Over two decades, In more than two decades, Okwui Enwezor was an influential and dominant figure in the field of curatorial work as well as the history of contemporary art. It was a curator as well as an art historian who debated and debated about the different versions of what could be described as global and postcolonial turns in the field of visual art.
In Nigeria, from 1963. Enwezor did not just introduce numerous artists and works to the calcified Western canons. He also set the standard in roles that Europeans had traditionally held.
A cosmopolitan, global view, he was a intellectual creative. His extraordinary conceptual rigour was evident in the exhibitions that were often larger than life. The style of his curatorial work was typically an amalgamation of unanticipated encounters between documentary, art, popular culture, and archives, between various media, and between the past and the present.
In his work, Enwezor surfaced the art historical contexts that underlie the contemporary art. He worked from the bottom of his past to the present. The sphere was always rotated and was easily recognized, but distinct.
Relevance and impact
I had the privilege of working closely in close contact with Enwezor at three times. Each of them pointed to the personality, impact, and significance of the manner in which his work was conducted.
It was first that of the 2. Johannesburg Biennale in 1997. Enwezor was the director of artistic operations, and I was the participant in the production of the publications as well as the conference. Enwezor arrived in South Africa with the intellectual importance that comes from being the one who founded the Nka Journal of Contemporary Africa Art just a couple of years prior. He was finishing what is commonly regarded to be his first major curatorial work, In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present in New York.
Refusing the long-held tradition of organizing biennales in conjunction with nationwide pavilions, the artist collaborated with curators to develop a series of conceptually-focused exhibits under the guise of Trade Routes: Geography and History. He was able to create an unwaveringly global perspective that eventually shook the local art scene from the debilitating consequences of apartheid, particularly an anti-cultural boycott.
What he had to offer was that it was larger than South Africa could handle. In what would become a hallmark of the curatorial work of Enwezor, the limit of space – and the date for opening seemed to be the sole limit to what could be achieved. Budgetary constraints and overspending caused the early cancellation of the Biennale in the early part of 1998. It is enough to say that Johannesburg has not hosted an art fair since.