[artinfo] In conversation with African Maximalism

alexander nikolic an at eroticunion.org
Thu Feb 19 07:26:13 CET 2009

next week one of the first shows about art and public space in 
Nairobi, is going to be opened.
I had a conversation with the curators, which i want to share with you.

More information you'll find also on http://www.african-maximalism.org/

here the conversation:

a.n.: Thanks that you invited me for the show, it?s possible that i
have quite a developed idea, about art and public space in general,
but how and why did you choose such a topic, and what is there
relevant for you, in terms of Nairobi?

AM: In the sphere of local contemporary art practice it seems that
artists are not engaging with public space, hence the title as a
provocation. But if you further interrogate local cultural
production, and understand art in public space as the performance of
cultural expression in public, than Nairobi is a goldmine.

a.n: What?s provocative about the title, and by the way, do you know
the story about the gold of the socialists international? If it would
have been found by the capitalists, it would have
turned in their hands, into coal.

AM: Of course the title suggests that art practice in public space
does not exist, or is an almost utopian fantasy, but actually this is
not the case. It is merely that the local institutions, which
incidentally are almost exclusively controlled by foreign interests,
do not showcase or represent this form of local art production.

a.n: Maybe, we get later back to the foreign interests, but what is  your goal?

AM: Our goal is twofold, to disrupt the current practice of the local
art institutions, and shift their focus to recognise a local cultural
practice, which is simply not featured. However, neither do we seek
simply to celebrate an ?exotic? art practice. By including these
artists within this space, we also intend to challenge them, and to
stimulate within them further questioning of their own practice.

a.n: And the danger that the gold could turn into coal?

AM: Than we crush it into diamonds.

a.n: Ok, can I be a bit polemic about that, and ask you, would you
redistribute that diamonds, to the mothers of the people who went
missing in that public space in the last two years?

AM: We are very aware of working in an environment, where thousands
of young men simply disappear. We don?t think our show can solve that
problem. But what our show can do, is to analyse what is permitted in
public space, and stimulate an interdisciplinary discourse between
artists, activists and theoreticians. So, in answer to your question,
the wealth we distribute is the wealth of understanding.

a.n: But you know, I never met more than 30 people at openings here,
and even although I?m not living here, I already have the impression
that I know most of them.. but maybe I?m wrong.

AM: Well, that is exactly point. The artfield is limited, which is
why we hope that this show can create a space for interdisciplinary
discourse and cross-pollinate between different fields of knowledge.
Regarding the field of Art, the time has long passed when galleries
and exhibitions are about looking at well crafted objects. We
understand our role as catalysts of ideas, connectors of different
thoughts, creators of situations in which viewers themselves create
and imagine alternative possibilities to the present.

a.n: I mean, this is not new, and to me sounds like you are simply
exporting European avant-garde thought from the 1960?s and planting
it in a new field. In fact, is this not simply the latest version of
a long history of cultural imperialism? Where is the African in your 

AM: (Laughter)? Whilst an accusation of Cultural Imperialism is to
some extent valid, ultimately it is short-sighted. It is true that we
use tools and strategies gleaned from Contemporary Art discourse, and
this discourse does originate in the Global North. But, this is just
what they are; tools, which can be abandoned if they don?t work. The
last decade of global culture has not proved the theories of Cultural
Homogenisation to be correct. People are cultural agents and chose
and select from the mainstream of culture. Hiphop may have originated
stateside but to see Kenyan hiphop as simply derivative of that
culture is to misconceive contemporary culture.

a.n: Well, I?m not sure if I buy this? but I will hold further
judgement until I see what you have to offer in the show. Afro Max, 
it's been a pleasure.

AM: Karibu. See you on the 13th.

a.n: Alexander Nikolic

AM: African Maximalism http://www.african-maximalism.org/

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