And many other last names

S_Z is transnational, cross-generational project that includes conferences, publications, and a curatorial practice. Based in Tokyo, we have been fortunate to engage in collaborations both within and outside of Japan while witnessing the challenge of young and emerging artists from other continents in getting their work shown here. A small number of Tokyo-based curators have attempted to introduce work that is less familiar to a Japanese audience, occasionally working with venues hosting residencies or biennales and triennales (1).  

By comparison to other major cities around the world, the figure remains embarrassingly small. The same can be said for new curators whose work and methods are barely discussed within academia, let alone be invited by galleries or institutions. This year’s edition of the Yokohama Triennale, which we will soon be looking at, raises more questions than it addresses issues.

We reached out to some of those ‘other’ curatorial voices and asked them to share how they proceed once a project is initiated, from concept to artists to scenography, from politics to agenda, from grant to market economies. We asked them to define what it is to curate in the 21st century and how they might exercise transformation.

Some were prompt in replying generously, others ignored us while others did ask if there would be a fee. There wasn’t. We will continue to contact other colleagues, to send out a questionnaire established by Z. And hope to broaden awareness of curatorial profiles and the discovery of artists that accompanies this. We are thinking of students in Asia enrolled in curatorial studies programs, and expect insights found here will be of benefit to them as they point to a fragile moment that makes it currently impossible to travel,  which is very much a syntagm of a post-Obrist era.

1- we will be discussing this more fully as we provide our answers to the survey.


Aude Christel Mgba

What’s your last project and what’s the next one?

The last (personnal) one I was involved in is long term research untitled Embodied Ghost. It is a project that intends to look at the knowledge embedded in material and non material heritage of non wester culture and to translate and transcribe in a way it can help finding answers to questions in our present. 

There is an act of this project which has to take the final form of an exhibition and a publication which brings together visual artists, musicians, writers, art historians. This experience is around one mask from Cameroon, especially from the Duala tribe called Nyatti. We are interested in translating the knowledge that we will find within this object. In July and August 2018, Tally Mbok and Hélène Kelhetter, two visual artists, Dr.Tchandeu Narcisse an art historian and me did an inquiring in Douala and Yaoundé that ends with a residency in the city of Batié in West Cameroon around the question of “african artefacts in the contemporary context”. 

My very next project is an invitation to respond by a proposal to a programme for students of University of ARTEZ in the Netherlands, Studium Generale that curates and organisesgatherings, talks, training courses, podcasts and publications about the state of the arts and its relation to today’s challenges, ranging from immediate societal issues to bold abstract concepts, from climate crisis to identity issues.I am still in a thinking process for the project I will propose. 

How do you describe your current working pattern?

I will describe my working pattern with the words: collective because I like to collaborate; experimental as I am still trying to experience different mediums and ways of working as a space maker; sensitive because I do things that I usually feel and how I feel them. 

Which factor comes first when you conceive a show? Theme, message, artist, venue, audience, funding/sponsor, or …?

It really depends on the situation! For my personal shows, It was mainly the artists and their works that came first.I knew the artists, I loved their works because they were addressing some questions that I was asking to myself and I felt their works were responding to these questions in very beautiful ways.

I also have situations where the invitation came with a theme and I had to choose the artists around that. 

No matter what the motivation is, I always know how to create ways to find myself.

How did you decide to be a curator? How long did it take from having that idea to taking the first professional step?

It is by browsing books such as exhibition catalogs, reading essays, publications that I found a very interesting way of expressing myself as a human being and as a art historian. At that time, I was a master Student in Art History in the University of Yaoundé I. My curriculum there was not offering me the different professional perspectives that were available for an art historian. My curiosity brought me to a space where I did a residency and where I had the chance to come across the art world while browsing some documents found in the amazing library of the Institution where I was doing my residency. 

I liked to write, to talk with artists about their works, I wanted to work with them and I found curating behind the profiles of curators from the continent like Koyo Kouoh, Simon Njami, Bisi Silva, Okwui Enwezor… and I knew I wanted to do what they are doing. 

I did not wait to take the first step! As soon as I went back from that residency I founded the platform Rencontre. This project was a response from what I was lacking in my curriculum, the relation between the professional world and the academic environment.The platform was inviting different professionals of the art world to present and exchange around their career and work around a diverse public. 

When was the first time you curated an exhibition? What was it about? In hindsight, what’s your impression of it? 

My first exhibition was in 2016, a solo exhibition of a Cameroonian artist named Jean Jacques Kanté. It was an exhibition around the question : What can we do together?The exhibition was untitled Crée tes règles et joue ( Create your rules and Play). The exhibition space was an interactive area where the public had the role of playing with pieces of the exhibition. We decided together with the artist to create an atmosphere where the scenography was changeable and where people were in a playful way, an environment where the public was obliged to collaborate to either finish a work in the form of a puzzle whose frame was already hung or to choose to make it an installation of their choice in space.

For my first exhibition, I was very happy, the artist too. We had a huge audience at the opening. It was mind blowing! It was a success I must say. 

What’s the primary motivation now to continue to be a curator?

My primary motivation is to make space for others. I know what it means to be in a place where you exist without having the opportunity to show your work. This is the context of art in my country. My motivation is to be able to build a structure that allows me to do so: give space to others.

Is there a moment of doubt or when you don’t feel as motivated? What would you do?

Yes I have moments of doubts as a dreamer for a better world. I sometimes forget that I live in a world where everything is so different as you imagine in your head. There are a lot of disappointments and I must say this is more about human relationships. People are more interested in themselves than wanting to have conversations with other people or to build together. 

During these moments I try to just distance myself and imagine that I have to think  about it just as a profession.Sometimes it helps sometimes it does not. 

Could you name a few art people (artists, curators) that you appreciate the most? 

Oh I appreciate a lot but names that are coming into my head now are more people who are doing or who did thinks or works that motivates me and that I believe in: 

-List of curators or space makers: Princesse Marilyn Douala Manga Bell, the director and founder or doual’art;  Bisi Silva, she was my main source of inspiration and unfortunately i never got the chance to meet her; Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Koyo Kouoh 

– a list of artist that inspire me: Justine Gaga,Otobong Nkanga, Mary Sibande, Jean Jacques Kanté, Salifou Lindou, Koko Komegne and Wageshi Mutu 

How would you explain the nature of curating?

For me, being a curator means being aware of the world, of all its inequalities, of all its possibilities and all that it offers in terms of knowledge which differs according to the regions. It is also to be aware of the fact that we are only passers-by, artists and their work must remain the center of our thinking. We are mediators, but we must not impose ourselves that much because we must leave space for the public to use its knowledge to have access to the works of artists. To be a curator is therefore to create spaces that can be inhabited for discussion, exchange, sharing, communion. It is also to inhabit the world through our initiatives. I really like the word space, I think it is even the core of the curator’s function. My website is introduced with the phrase “let’s make some space”. I am struggling to call myself a curator as I am afraid of words that do not exist in my mother language. 

Could you tell us about how you arrived at Sonsbeek?

I was invited by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung who had just been appointed as artistic director of the next edition. He decided to invite other curators and I got the chance to be one of them for different reasons. Two of them are the fact that he knew me from before and he had the chance to experience my work as part of a big project of art in the public space. I am talking about SUD2017(Salon Urbain de Douala 2017) which is a triennial that was founded by a center of contemporary art doual’art. I was involved in the project as an assistant curator and Bonaventure was one of the guests for the public program and a contributor for one of the work from a participant artist: Jean David Nkot. So this was our first professional experience together even though very different from this one. And secondly, I was living in the Netherlands at that time.   

Do you believe, in light of the expanding number of curators and the ability to share project information, that there is still reciprocity among colleagues?

A lot of curatorial discussions and projects that are happening are about solidarity, hospitality, community, I believe these are topics that fit to the context of a specific part of the world in crisis. 

I grew up in communities, building my daily life on the basis of solidarity so dealing with collective making is actually a daily life. I feel like I have problems that exist beyond that. How do you exist in a place where everything is a race?  So I guess I would say there is some performativity in the art world that really does not allow space for sincere collaboration, there is more competition as now is more about being revolutionary in the practice. That is my feeling. But I know a number of people especially those among others that I have mentioned before who I think are trying to create space and build things together with other curators. I believe that the way open calls for funding and structures of institutions are favorising this competition style.

Kisito Assangni

What’s your last project and what’s the next one?

It was a touring collaborative video art exhibition “Entre islas” with the Spanish curator Adonay Bermudez. The project emerges as a desire to connect internationally through the video art language the artistic values of several geographical areas. It featured international curators and artists and has been held at Es Baluard Museum of Contemporary Art, Palma; Centre of Contemporary Art, Quito; Museum of Modern Art, Addis Ababa…

The next one will be my new film research project examining the transnational dialogues on negotiating identities and everyday life through performance gestures that wish to cross borders on experience and subjectivity.

How do you describe your current working pattern?  

I don’t have a typical working pattern. I let myself be guided by research questions that haunt me such as How does the global economy affect the production and circulation of art? What is aesthetic autonomy? What is critical art, critical of? etc…

Which factor comes first when you conceive a show? Theme, message, artist, venue, audience, funding/sponsor, or …?

Undubitably, the theme even if I don’t want to impose it on the art. However, what will ultimately become an exhibition depends on a confluence of factors, including the venue’s mission and the intended audience.

How did you decide to be a curator? How long did it take from having that idea to taking the first professional step?

Two seminal events deeply inspired me to think about making exhibitions that are interdisciplinary. 

In terms of critical frameworks, the international group exhibition “GNS: Global Navigation Systems” curated by Nicolas Bourriaud at Palais de Tokyo (Paris) in 2003 blew my mind.

After visiting the spectacular exhibition of Lemaître collection at Maison Rouge Foundation (Paris) in 2005, I definitely decided to become curator. This collection is composed essentially of recent video art by contemporary international artists who question the world we live in, a humanity in transformation, the limits of our sociopolitical systems, and the language of image today versus fictional cinema, documentary video and television.

It didn’t really take so long to embark on this exciting challenge.

When was the first time you curated an exhibition? What was it about? In hindsight, what’s your impression of it? 

My first curatorial show “Elavanyo” dates back to 2006 at Kiaca Gallery in Colombus (USA) in collaboration with The Ohio State University (Department of History of Art). It was a small exhibition of contemporary African art encompassing painting, drawing, and collage. 

It has been a significant experience and I learned that an exhibition is more than the sum of its parts; it is the curator’s “oeuvre”, which illustrates a particular curatorial argument or perspective.

What’s the primary motivation now to continue to be a curator?

I’m extremely interested in learning to illuminate the extra-verbal dimensions of curatorial work and the sociology of affordances. 

Moreover, I want to contribute to art-historical discourse with new thoughts and ideas, participate in the dismantling of prejudice, the discovery of individual and common opportunities previously unnoticed.

Is there a moment of doubt or when you don’t feel as motivated? What would you do?

Manifestly, you don’t feel stimulated if you don’t get the expected funding for your projects or when things don’t work out as planned.

I’m always optimistic by reshaping my thinking into finding a sense of significance in the objectives I strive to obtain. Also taking a breather is both necessary and essential to progress. Resting gives your body the energy to refuel so you can power through your future tasks with strength.

Could you name a few art people that you appreciate the most? 

Curators Dr Jacob Fabricius, Okwui Enwezor. Artists Yinka Shonibare, William Kentridge, Oreet Ashery, Isaac Julien, Kokou Ekouagou…

How would you explain the nature of curating?

The French living philosopher Jacques Rancière said that everyone can be a curator, including himself; it’s the notion of shuffling and rearranging things.

On the contrary, I truthfully think curatorial work requires deep involvement instead of just tacking together. While the word itself derives from the latin curare “to care [for]” which taken literally focuses our attention on the custodianship and preservation of collections, curatorial responsabilities include a broad range of activities.

Curating is a self-reflexive and historically-aware discipline, one that can recover earlier models of cultural production in the service of developing new models. In contemporary art, the curator plays a pivotal role in the production of artistic meaning through exhibition-making.

How did Time is Love come about?

TIME is Love Screening was born in 2008 at Galerie Octobre (Paris) to present critical video art that foments dissension in a way to make visible what the dominant consensus tends to obliterate. The traveling event in itself strives to evaluate the work of artists, as part of total and global phenomenon that is now the contemporary art, inviting the public to join it, to be reflected in it, and with it to think about the time and how it leads to the production of these video works.

Do you believe, in light of the expanding number of curators and the ability to share project information, that there is still reciprocity among colleagues?

Today the phenomenon of reciprocity is still relevant to the altering of social interaction and global curatorial discourse. It is a kind of solution to the predicament of cultural pluralism. Nevertheless, one should be aware that reciprocal practice does not only illustrate a new self-consciousness of international curators, but it is inherent in a new form of legitimizing a contemporary desire to present the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: