Bisi Silva, one of Africa’s most notable contemporary-art curators, has died according to reports in publications including Nigeria’s P.M. News, which on Tuesday attributed her death to cancer. The Nation, a publication based in Lagos, said that Silva was 57.
In 2007 Silva founded the Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos, which is now one of the major contemporary-art hubs in Nigeria. The art space has hosted a variety of important exhibitions, including solo shows for African artists such as El Anatsui, Ngozi Omeje, and Adolphus Opara.
Speaking to Frieze in 2017, Silva said that CCA was founded in part to fill a gap. “When I relocated to Lagos in 2002, I couldn’t find a space that would allow me to develop this expanded notion of curatorial practice,” she said. “Most of the galleries were commercial and, as far as I knew, there were no non-profits. Government institutions were moribund and there was no place for young artists interested in experimenting with media other than painting and sculpture. I realized then that I would have to start an organization that supported new artistic and curatorial possibilities.”
Since founding CCA, Silva has been widely celebrated for helping to historicize contemporary African art. Her institution has amassed a formidable library of documents related to work from Nigeria and beyond, with some 1,000 publications related to African art among its holdings.
In addition to her work for CCA, Silva founded Àsìkò, an education initiative that, in its own words, is “part art workshop, part residency, and part art academy.” The roving school continues to offer programming to African artists and curators at various locations around the continent.
Silva’s curatorial work extended beyond Nigeria. She curated the 2006 edition of the Dak’Art Biennial of Contemporary African Art in Senegal, the 2009 edition of the Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art in Greece, and the 2015 edition of Renctonres de Bamako, the biennial for African photography held in Mali. She was also on the international jury for the 2013 Venice Biennale. Her writings appeared in publications such as Artforum, the Exhibitionist, and Third Text.