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Celebrated Curator Okwui Enwezor, Who Championed Global View of Art, Has Died Aged 55

Enwezor, who embraced a more pluralistic art history beyond the Euro-American canon, had been battling cancer for several years

Okwui Enwezor, 2014. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Stefania D’Alessandro

Okwui Enwezor, 2014. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Stefania D’Alessandro

The celebrated curator and critic Okwui Enwezor has passed away at the age of 55. Enwezor worked through his exhibitions to push for a more pluralistic, global perspective on art beyond the confines of the Euro-American canon, embracing African, Asian and Latin American art histories. He had battled with cancer for several years. Last year, Enwezor stepped down as artistic director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst, citing health concerns.

Several institutions shared news of his death, including the Venice Biennale, which he curated in 2015. Enwezor was the first African-born curator of the biennial. He was also the first non-European to curate the quinquennial documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany, in 2002. The appointment of the Nigerian-born curator in 2011 at Haus der Kunst, an arts institution founded by the Nazis, was seen as deeply symbolic.

In a statement released today, Paolo Baratta, president of the Venice Biennale, paid tribute to how Enwezor’s ‘great openness to artists worldwide, his great sense of responsibility as a curator, and his courage in promoting and defending the rationale of Art, have always been inspirational elements of his work, which he unfailingly conducted on every occasion with great intellectual honesty and a sophisticated talent for analysis and selection.’

Enwezor’s survey exhibition ‘The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994’, which showed across Germany and the US between 2001 and 2002, ‘singlehandedly thrust Africa back into the culture of global contemporary art’, the art historian Kobena Mercer wrote. From the paintings of Ibrahim El-Salahi to Manu Dibango’s LP covers, Enwezor ‘unearthed entire seams of African and Afro-Diaspora art practice that still await their future historians’.

Curator Adriano Pedrosa described Enwezor’s 2016 exhibition at Haus der Kunst, ‘Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965’ (co-curated with Katy Siegel and Ulrich Wilmes), spanning 218 artists from 65 countries, as a pivotal moment in art history. Featuring artists such as Ben Enwonwu, Carmen Herrera, Uche Okeke and Fahrelnissa Zeid, ‘the wide range of artists presented in this astonishing show [was] a provocation – a list of artists that will fuel many young curators and scholars in the coming years.’

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