Home Profile in Excellence Okwui Enwezor Biography and Profile

Okwui Enwezor Biography and Profile

MUNICH, GERMANY - MARCH 06: Okwui Enwezor, director of the 'Haus der Kunst', attends the 'All the World's Futures' International Art Exhibition Press Conference at Haus der Kunst on March 6, 2015 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Joerg Koch/Getty Images)


Okwui Enwezor  (23 October 1963 – 15 March 2019) was a Nigerian curatorart critic, writer, poet, and educator, specializing in art history. He lived in New York City[ and Munich. In 2014, he was ranked 24 in the ArtReview list of the 100 most powerful people of the art world.

Okwui Enwezor Will Curate the 2015 Venice Biennale – ARTnews.comBiography

Okwui Enwezor (pronounced /ɛnˈwzər/ en-WAY-zər) was born Okwuchukwu Emmanuel Enwezor in Calabar on October 23, 1963 as the youngest son of an affluent Igbo family from AwkuzuAnambra State. He is related to Walter Enwezor. Okwui Enwezor moved around several times with his family on account of the civil war before settling in Enugu where he spent most of his formative years. He commenced tertiary education at the University of NigeriaNsukka but, in 1982 at the age of 18, he moved to the Bronx, New York, and transferred to the New Jersey City University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science.[5]

When Enwezor graduated, he moved to downtown New York City and took up poetry. He performed at the Knitting Factory and the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village.[6] Enwezor’s study of poetry led him through language-based art forms such as Conceptual Art to art criticism. Teaming up in 1993 with fellow African critics Chika Okeke-Agulu and Salah Hassan, Enwezor launched the triannual Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art from his Brooklyn apartment; “Nka” is an Igbo word that means art but also connotes to make, to create.[6] He recruited scholars and artists such as Olu Oguibe and Carl Hancock Rux to edit the inaugural issue and write for it.[6]

After putting on a couple of small museum shows, Enwezor had his breakthrough in 1996 as a curator of In/sight, an exhibit of 30 African photographers at the Guggenheim Museum.[8] In/sight was one of the first shows anywhere to put contemporary art from Africa in the historical and political context of colonial withdrawal and the emergence of independent African states.

Enwezor was the director of the Haus der KunstMunich, Germany. He also had the roles of adjunct curator of the International Center of Photography in New York City, and Joanne Cassulo Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American ArtNew York City. In 2013, Enwezor was appointed curator of the 2015 Venice Biennale, making him the first African-born curator in the exhibition’s 120-year history.

Previously, Enwezor was the artistic director of the Documenta 11 in Germany (1998–2002), as the first non-European to hold the job. He also served as artistic director of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1996–97), the Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporaneo de Sevilla, in Seville, Spain (2006), the 7th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (2008), and the Triennale d’Art Contemporain of Paris at the Palais de Tokyo (2012). He also served as co-curator of the Echigo-Tsumari Sculpture Biennale in Japan; Cinco Continente: Biennale of PaintingMexico City; and Stan Douglas: Le DetroitArt Institute of Chicago.

Enwezor was named an adjunct curator at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998. He also curated numerous exhibitions in many other distinguished museums around the world, including Events of the Self: Portraiture and Social IdentityThe Walther Collection, Germany; Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary ArtInternational Center of Photography; The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, Villa StuckMunichMartin-Gropius-BauBerlinMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and P.S.1 and Museum of Modern Art, New YorkCentury CityTate Modern, London; Mirror’s EdgeBildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden, Vancouver Art GalleryVancouver, Tramway, Glasgow, Castello di Rivoli, TorinoIn/Sight: African Photographers, 1940–Present,[18] Guggenheim MuseumGlobal ConceptualismQueens Museum, New York, Walker Art CenterMinneapolisHenry Art GallerySeattle, List Gallery at MIT, Cambridge; David Goldblatt: Fifty One YearsMuseum of Contemporary ArtBarcelona, AXA Gallery, New York, Palais des Beaux ArtBrusselsLenbachhaus, Munich, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, and Witte de WithRotterdam.

He organized The Rise and Fall of Apartheid for the International Center for Photography, New York, in 2012[19] and “Meeting Points 6”, a multidisciplinary exhibition and programs “which took place in nine Middle East, North African and European cities, from Ramallah to Tangier to Berlin”, then at the Beirut Art Center in April 2011. His last exhibition, “El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale,” co-curated with Chika Okeke-Agulu, opened on 8 March 2019 at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, before it opens at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art on 30 September 2019.

Enwezor served on numerous juries, advisory bodies, and curatorial teams including: the advisory team of Carnegie International in 1999; Venice BiennaleHugo Boss Prize, Guggenheim Museum; Foto Press, Barcelona; Carnegie Prize; International Center for Photography Infinity Awards; Visible Award; Young Palestinian Artist Award, Ramallah; and the Cairo, Istanbul, Sharjah, and Shanghai Biennales. In 2004 he headed the jury for the Artes Mundi prize, an award created to stimulate interest in contemporary art in Wales. In 2012, he chaired the jury for Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics. He was also a member of the jury that selected Isa Genzken for the Nasher Prize in 2019.

Rape Allegations

Just as Museum of Modern Art adjunct P.S.1 prepared to open the ambitious The Short Century: Liberation and Independence Movements in Africa, 1945-1994 on February 10, 2002, Enwezor, then curator of the show, was hit with allegations of rape and violence against women. An email purporting to be from a non-existent group called South African Women against Abuse in the Arts circulated to art-world inboxes with a series of ugly accusations against Enwezor, then also curator of Documenta 11, in Kassel, Germany.[25] The authors of the email provided no proof of their allegations, leading some in the world to see the email campaign as an attempt to dent Enwezor’s rising career.


From 2005 to 2009, Enwezor was Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice President at San Francisco Art Institute. He held positions as Visiting Professor in art history at University of PittsburghColumbia University, New York; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and University of UmeaSweden. In the Spring of 2012, he served as the Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor at Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.


As a writer, critic, and editor, Enwezor was a regular contributor to numerous exhibition catalogues, anthologies, and journals. He was the founding editor and publisher of the critical art journal Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art established in 1994, and currently published by Duke University Press.[27]

His writings have appeared in numerous journals, catalogues, books, and magazines including: Third TextDocumentsTexte zur KunstGrand StreetParkettArtforumFriezeArt JournalResearch in African LiteraturesIndex on Censorship, Engage, Glendora, and Atlantica. In 2008, the German magazine 032c published a somewhat controversial interview with Enwezor, conducted by German novelist Joachim Bessing.

Among his books are Contemporary African Art Since 1980 (Bologna: Damiani, 2009) co-authored with Chika Okeke-AguluAntinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), Reading the Contemporary: African Art, from Theory to the Marketplace (MIT Press, Cambridge and INIVA, London) and Mega Exhibitions: Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form (Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich), Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, and The Unhomely: Phantom Scenes in Global Society. He is also the editor of a four-volume publication of Documenta 11 Platforms: Democracy Unrealized; Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and ReconciliationCreolité and CreolizationUnder Siege: Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos (Hatje Cantz, Verlag, Stuttgart).


In 2006, Enwezor received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism from the College Art Association. Enwezor was ranked 42 in ArtReview′s guide to the 100 most powerful figures in contemporary art: Power 100, 2010.

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