“Neither being out of time nor belated, contemporary African art strategically inhabits a third epistemological space by being in time,” wrote Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu in their 2009 book Contemporary African Art Since 1980. In mind of that, they suggest considering contemporary African art as “a tapestry of overlapping, contingent, and incommensurable spaces of production whose features change and blend into new aesthetic systems and artistic cultures as they interact with and absorb diverse influences, both in situations of engaged exchange and in critical resistance.”
Africa contains 54 countries and an even greater number of cultures and dialects—a mixture so vast that any effort to fit the continent’s complexity between the covers of a magazine would be more than a little quixotic and fraught. As guest editor of this issue’s feature articles from the continent, my aim was, in the spirit of Enwezor and Okeke-Agulu’s words, to help reveal and advance appreciation of some of Africa’s rich tapestry. From South Africa, I reported on the present situation surrounding repatriation, an issue inextricably tied to the past as well as the future. From New York, Mik Awake traveled to Ethiopia, his ancestral home, to investigate visions for development of different kinds in Addis Ababa and beyond. The Ghanaian writer Billie A. McTernan looked into ways that the contemporary art scene in Accra is blurring the boundaries between public and private space. And Sean O’Toole, based in Cape Town, surveyed how the democratizing power of photography has made it one of Africa’s ascendant art forms.
Those four stories—along with “The ARTnews Accord” with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair director Touria El Glaoui and African art dealer Mariane Ibrahim, a Perspectives column by the Ghanaian arts organizer Nana Oforiatta Ayim, and a survey of ten artists from the continent to watch—make up the issue we have called “Africa Now.” I hope you come away from it all enriched and encouraged to pursue further inquiry. —Robin Scher