"Being an event of love, Art implicitly signifies an act of human and cultural integration. An act whose aim is toward a continually reevaluated civilization created for and shared by all of humanity. Love is more than just empathy, a consequence of subjectivity; it is solidarity in active commitment. Love is a dynamic value. So, artists have an obligation, in this trance of love, to express their real, palpable relations with the life and culture of their people. Relations on all levels, in all forms, with all their meanings, implications, and connotations. The exercise of pure abstraction, the untainted formal game, reduces itself to nothing—to the artifice of “art for art’s sake.” —Abdias Nascimento, “Afro-Brazilian Art: A Liberating Spirit”[i]"
There is, to put it humbly, an endless possibility of worlds invoked and to be explored in the work of Afro-Brazilian artist, scholar and activist Abdias do Nascimento. Indeed any effort to characterize Nascimento’s work might easily lead to a dead end, as the work itself starts where language ends. Abdias do Nascimento’s pluriverse—for that is exactly what it is, a negation of any unilaterality and the embrace of a pluriversal narration of the world from an African vantage point—is as complicated and sophisticated as the multiplicity of epistemic frames and beings that were and are extracted from the African continent and displaced around the world.
A colloquial response to the question “how are you?” in Cameroonian pidgin is “wata go leave stone,” which can literally, but inadequately, be translated as “water flows past the stone and the stone is still there”—as witness to, and survivor of, the flows of water, moving at its own pace. For everything under the sun is in motion. To think of Abdias do Nascimento’s practice is to think of that stone, that on the one hand represents continuity and on the other hand stability.
Why? With the violent displacement of African peoples to the so-called new world, despite the impossibility of taking anything with them in such abrupt and dire circumstances, African peoples took with them epistemes, carried, and passed on ways of being in the world that were crucial for their survival against the barbarisms and the malicious and callous circumstances of enslavement. As in most cultures, there are people that are chosen by the great beyond to become custodians of knowledges. Evidently, Abdias do Nascimento is one such person. Through the usage of a multiplicity of decidedly African graphic expressions, pictorial riddles, visual metaphors, and a plethora of symbols from the African world, Nascimento, in the path of his predecessors and alongside his contemporaries, became guardian of those knowledges and guarantor of their transmission that like seeds were plucked from the African continent and dispersed to and around the rest of the world. These seeds, despite all efforts to deprive them of agency, have germinated into beautiful plants that have attracted the most fascinating birds that in turn have picked the fruits they ate and bore to spread their seedlings around the world. These seeds in their primary agency have blossomed and cross-pollinated with other seeds to bear even more refined plants whose roots have grown deeply into the grounds. The common saying: “They tried to bury us; they forgot we were seeds,” best reveals the point.
Abdias do Nascimento can only be portrayed in superlatives as one of the most astute intellectuals of his time, one of the fiercest advocates of Pan-Africanism in the world, more especially in Brazil, where he was one of the most relentless activists engaged in advocating for the rights and justice of his people and other disenfranchised people. In addition, he was one of the most formidable artists of his time manifesting his thoughts, or bearing the fruits of buried seeds, in the form of theater, poetry, painting, and much more. Abdias epitomizes the notion of continuity encompassed in “wata go lef stone.” With the changes of the tides, varying rises and falls of the waves and the currents changing with seasons, the stone is displaced at times, but it is always there, literally holding its ground and bearing witness to all the ebbs and flows and shifts in currents. Nascimento too is an epitome of these resistances; he withstands all the violent currents, which is the demonstration of the most effective means of resistance. Wear and tear effectively happen due to friction, but with wearing comes polishing, which renders the stone radiant in the utmost sense of the word.
A lot has been written about Nascimento and his artistic practice within the “American” context, but much still needs to be written about Nascimento’s contribution to the history of modernism in arts and culture, or, even more succinctly, the way people like Nascimento worked towards the pluralization of modernisms. Coming to think of it, the history of art of the 19th and 20th centuries—be it impressionism, postimpressionism, dadaism, surrealism, cubism, abstraction, expressionism, abstract expressionism and much more—was crafted around the extractivism of aesthetic forms, visual languages, myths, and anecdotes of the people who were downcast as primitive and labeled as devoid of civilization, history and culture. One can imagine a modernism that was predicated and built on the backs of those it excluded. And while Western artists, curators, art historians and art institutions were building a non-inclusive canon of modernism, others around the world were working out artistic equations of their own contexts and purposes. They painted, sculpted, photographed, made videos, and published extensively about their practices in relation to their histories and irrespective of the parallel canonized narratives. Which is to say that, in the case of someone like Abdias do Nascimento, modernism was not the romanticization of an African mask that he would have seen in a museum in Paris, London or Brussels, or a reference to some myths and fabulations about some people and their cultures in Polynesia or Africa, but it was actually a consequent step in a genealogy that goes back thousands of years and that is situated within African sociocultural, political and historical dispositions. Which furthers the point that if there was ever anything to be considered as an “alternative modernism,” then it was that which was believed to be the canon. To do a close reading of Abdias do Nascimento’s practice as an artist, one needs to delve into and find bearings within his philosophical, religious and political realms. In my opinion, to situate oneself within the aesthetics and politics of Nascimento’s practice, a practice of resistance, and find our feet on the ground, to walk upright and be in the world with dignity, one should acquaint themselves with Nascimento’s proposals on Quilombismo. In his paper “Quilombismo: An Afro-Brazilian Political Alternative,” Nascimento outlines an abecede of Quilombismo, which is summarized here to facilitate the reader’s understanding:
(a) Standing and acting against Authoritarianism; (b) Acknowledging our biological, epistemic and cultural affiliations to the Bantus, some of whom were abducted and enslaved, and became the first quilombists; (c) Care in the process of organizing the struggle by and for ourselves and caution towards alliances with other political forces—so-called revolutionary, reformist, radical, or liberal promisers; (d) The Duty to always broaden the field of struggle towards long-term radical quilombist transformations of socioeconomic and cultural structures, as well as immediate tactical interests; (e) Acknowledging our biological, epistemic, and cultural affiliations to the Ewe, millions of whom were also enslaved. Eject white supremacism, racism, racial discrimination, cultural chauvinism and educational bias from our societies; (f) Forming the ranks of Quilombismo is fundamental, meaning the mobilization and organization of the Black masses; (g) Guaranteeing to the people their place in the hierarchy of power and decision making, while maintaining their cultural integrity; (h) In the aftermath of humiliation inflicted upon Africans, we must maintain intimate contact with all of our Black and African family, and with independent progressive African organizations in the Diaspora as well as the continent, developing weapons of alliance and solidarity in resistance; (i) Infallible as a natural phenomenon will be white power’s persecution of Quilombismo; (j) Jamais (absolutely never) can Afro-Brazilian political organizations allow non-Quilombist whites access to positions of power or authority in order to obstruct our action or influence the theoretical and practical positions taken in the course of our struggle; (k) Kimbundu, the language of the Bantu people; (l) Liberate Brazil from artificial campaigns of industrialization, on the order of “economic miracles,” is one of the goals of Quilombismo; (m) Mancha means stain: A white stain is what the miscegenizing imposition of the white ruling class signifies to us; (n) No more confusion instigated by the conventional Eurocentric opponents of Quilombismo: if in Brazil there was really equality of treatment, of opportunity, of respect, of political and economic power; if the meeting of different peoples and races occurred spontaneously and free of the pressures of the socioeconomic status of whiteness; if there did not exist many other repressive conditioning systems acting on the moral, aesthetic and religious levels, then miscegenation could be a positive process, capable of enriching Brazilian society, culture and humanity; (o) Obstructing the genocidal teachings and practices of white supremacy is a substantive factor of Quilombismo; (p) Power in the quilombist context means: the Black race in Power. African descendants make up the majority of our population. Thus, Black Power will be democratic power. (In this text the concept of race has historic-cultural content. Biologically pure races do not exist and never existed); (q) Quebrar is to break the efficacy of certain slogans that move through the history of our struggle against racism, such as the one that says the only legitimate struggle is the workers’ struggle, of all the proletariat or all the oppressed; (r) Race: We believe that all human beings belong to the same species. For Quilombismo, race signifies a human group that possesses, relatively, the same somatic characteristics, resultant from a complex of bio-historical and environmental factors. Physical appearance, as well as psychological, personality, character and emotive traits, undergo the influence of that complex of factors including society, culture, genetics, geographic environment and history. The mixing of different racial groups or persons of diverse racial identities is in the most legitimate interests of the survival of the human species. Racism: the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over another. Such superiority is conceived in biological terms, but also in the psychosocial and cultural dimension. This aspect is generally neglected or omitted from traditional definitions focusing on skin criteria. The theoretical scientific elaborations of white European culture justifying the chattel slavery, dehumanization and inferiorization of the African people constitute a level of racist viciousness never known in human history before. Racism is the first social contradiction in the path of Black people in modern industrial multi-ethnic society. To it, are added others, such as the contradictions of class and sex; (s) Swahili, a language of Bantu origin, influenced by other languages, especially Arabic; (t) Todo (each and every) Black or mulatto (Afro-Brazilian) who accepts “racial democracy” as a reality, and miscegenation in the form it takes today as a positive phenomenon, is a traitor to himself and considers himself inferior; (u) Unanimity is impossible in the social and political field. We must not waste our time and energy with criticisms that will come from outside the Quilombist movement; (v) Venia (permission) is what we do not need to ask from the ruling classes in order to reconquer the fruits of our labor and that of our African ancestors in Brazil. Nor can we accept certain definitions, “scientific” or not, that try to define African communalism and Ujamaa as simply archaic and obsolete forms of economic and social organization; (x) Xingar (to curse) is not enough. We must mobilize and organize the Black people, and wage an energetic struggle, without pause and without rest, against the destitution imposed upon us; (y) Yorubas (Nago) are also in our Brazilian Africanity; (z) Zumbi: founder of Quilombismo. Zumbi: zenith of this historical hour, zenith of this Black Afro-Brazilian people.[ii]
It is fundamental, in my opinion, to encounter, read, listen to and be with Nascimento’s artistic practice from this space of radical Black and African thoughts of resistance.
It is also from this space that this exhibition of Nascimento’s paintings took its cue to then manifest in five trajectories that have been the veins of his practice over the span of more than five decades: Activism, Passage, Sexuality, Symbolism/Semiology and Theogony.
It would not be a hyperbole to state that activism was the constant in the equation that produced Abdias Nascimento’s life. If activism is the possibility of using indirect or direct actions to advocate for and push towards social, political, economic changes within a society or in the world at large, then we can observe how Nascimento’s being and work respired activism. The painting Afro Standard (1993) is an often-invoked piece by Nascimento, which, despite its abstract manifestation, deeply embodies the activist spirit. In a context in which the deceits of whiteness and white supremacy are purported to be the standard, a simple acknowledgement and expression of an Afro Standard is a form of defiance. This intransigence towards a historical and epistemic disenfranchisement is most poignantly represented by the Wedjat/Udjat eye. This eye of Horus, which stands for an ancient and ever-contemporary civilization from the African continent and Egypt in particular, despises the viciousness of the suppressors and invokes healing and protective spirits. Resistance with care seems to be the epitome of the piece, but also of Quilombismo. It is said that Set destroyed Horus’ eye in the conflict between the two, but with the help of other deities like Thoth, the eye was healed and restored. But while there is work to be done towards restoration and rehabilitation, one must not let one’s guards down. Towering the painting is the double-headed axe that stands for Oshe Shango in Yoruba cosmogony. This divine weapon of the god of thunder, Shango, who is also the patron saint of twins and giver of children, reappears in Nascimento’s oeuvre consistently. In this context, while thunder is needed for the fight, there is also need for a plenitude in the generations ahead to continue the resistance. In the painting Afro Strandard (1993), one can also see the lightning and thunderbolts with which Shango destroyed his empire Oyo. The Oshe Shango represents Shango’s unpredictable, yet devastating power. In Greek mythology, the double-sided axe represents “labrys,” a symbol used also for the advocation of LGBTQA+ activism across the world.
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO Afro Standard. Acrylic on canvas, 80 x 50 cm. Rio de Janeiro, 1993 © IPEAFRO
While in exile from Brazil in the USA in the late sixties, Nascimento was in close proximity and bore witness to the struggles of Black emancipation in the USA. In 1966, the twenty-four-year-old Huey Percy Newton, together with other activists, had founded the Black Panther Party, whose ten-point manifesto he had penned with Bobby Seale. The Black Panthers soon became a thorn in the eyes of White power. In 1967, Oakland Patrolman John Frey was killed, and Patrolman Herbert Heanes was wounded after stopping Huey P. Newton and Gene McKinney. A severely injured Newton was arrested and convicted for murder, assault, and kidnapping. From 1967 till his release in 1970, the “Free Huey”/ “Freedom for Huey” slogan was the loudest cry on the streets and within households. Rallies were held across the US, and in 1969 one of these large rallies was held in San Francisco, California, for May Day. In that same year while in New York, Nascimento painted Freedom for Huey: Blue Omolu n. 3.
Nascimento painted Huey P. Newton as the Orixá Omolu—one of the most feared and respected Orixás in Candomblé spirituality. Not only because Omolu is the eldest son of the mother of all the Orixás, Nana, but also because Omolu is the Orixá of smallpox and other vile diseases. Omolu is considered in Yoruba cosmogony as master of the land, thus his pseudonym “Babalu Aye” (Father, Lord of the Earth). In Nascimento’s painting, Omolu is carrying a mirror on which is collaged a photograph of Huey P. Newton, he who was considered the chosen one to free the oppressed Blacks from their bondage.
In that same year, 1969, Nascimento tackled, found a way to immortalize, another messiah in the Black struggle in the USA— Malcolm X. Nascimento employed the power of Shango again to represent Malcolm X who had been murdered in 1965, at the age of only 39. In the painting Shango Crucified or The Martyrdom of Malcom X, the double axe of Shango is the cross on which the Black messiah, Malcolm X, is crucified. The thunderbolts of Shango crisscross the canvas, and the black fists of varying shades are still raised up high. The chosen one has fallen, but the battle must continue. The resilience in the look of the crucified Malcolm X is palpable. Unlike the other famous sacrificed prophet, Jesus Christ, Malcolm X, even in death, does not allow for his head to drop. His broad shoulders can still carry the weight of his head, and even post crucifixion, his penis maintains its erection as resistance and defiance.[iii]
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO Freedom for Huey: Blue Omolu n. 3. Collage, 75 x 60 cm. New York, 1969 © IPEAFRO
Passages in Nascimento’s work come in varying containers and contents. The Middle Passage is a recurrent theme, as much as passages to exile, passages of return to the African continent, spiritual passages, passages to the greater beyond after life, passage into being through birth and much more passages of times and spaces.
Passages transform. One cannot effectively turn back the hand of the clock. Additionally, return never happens on a linear plane. However, in a cyclical plane, the boat eventually washes back upon the shores from which it departed. Looking at Nascimento’s painting The Lone Boat (1970), one is caught between despair and hope.
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO The Lone Boat. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 75 cm. Middletown, 1970 © IPEAFRO
Despair can be felt as the boat might be stranded, but hope can also be experienced because the boat is ever guided by the spirits of the red sun and Yemanja. At the same time, the earth seems to be pregnant with the destinies of the many solitary boats bearing people in solitude.
In another work from 1970, titled Silver Dream, the notion of passage is almost metaphysical and surrealist. Everything is blossoming and the birds and butterflies are migrating in multiple directions. The worlds are parted by a silver lining in which the trees are not reflected—for there is no sign of refraction—but trees are seen literally growing outwards and inwards.
Birds disappear and reappear from that chasm, which might be that space Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau write about in “The intractable beauty of the world”:
What goes up from the chasm/abyss
It is a rumor of several centuries. And this is the song of the plains of the ocean.
The sonorous shells rub against the skulls, bones and green cannonballs at the bottom of the Atlantic.
In this abyss there are cemeteries of slave ships, many of their sailors. The rapaciousness, the violated borders, the flags, raised and fallen, of the Western world.
But these deported Africans have broken down the barriers to the world. They too have opened up, with bloody splashes, the spaces of the Americas.
What remains of these formerly transborded, this silt from the abyss, is all the old worlds that have been crushed to give rise to a real new region. A world had flattened Africa. These Africas have impregnated the worlds from afar. This manifests and makes us understand le Tout-Monde (the Whole world), given in all, valid for all, multiple in its totality, which is based on this rumor of the abyss.[iv]
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO, The Ladder of Death: Adinkra Asante. Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 25 cm Rio de Janeiro, 1992
In the painting The Ladder of Death: Adinkra Asante (1992), Nascimento thematizes the transition to the greater beyond. Using circles, triangles, rectangles, half moon, sun and other abstract forms, Nascimento conjures the passage to that land we must all visit. At the core of the painting is the Adinkra symbol Owuo Atwedee, which means “ladder of death” and is associated with the proverb, “Owuo atwedee baakofoo mforo” (Death’s ladder is not climbed by just one person). This painting of the final passage therefore acknowledges the universality and indisputability of death as an essential part of life.
Sexuality is sacred, or at least possesses a sacred dimension in the work of Abdias do Nascimento. There is a concern in a wide range of his work regarding the expressions and experiences of sexuality in relation to philosophical, social, spiritual, erotic, biological considerations and otherwise. In the painting Theme for Lea Garcia: Osumare (1969), Nascimento immortalizes an ode to his first wife, Léa Garcia, a Brazilian movie star with whom he was married between 1951-58. In the painting, Garcia is the Orixá Osumare, the spirit of the rainbow, and she literally carries the rainbow. The painting is a manifestation of what Osumare represents, namely the connection between the earth in green and the sky in blue, traversed by the rainbow—that is to say, the upper and lower cosmos.
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO Theme for Lea Garcia: Osumare Acrylic on linen, 153 x 107 cm, New York, 1969 © IPEAFRO
The androgynous Osumare symbolizes strength in steadfastness, movement, and wealth. Osumare also represents the evaporation of water, which is important in the cycle that sustains life on earth. Without rain, preceded by water transpiring to the clouds, life would wane and perish. Garcia’s arms above her head transform into snakes, Osumare’s messengers.
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO Pink Mulatto Woman: A Study for Oshun. Acrylic on canvas, 102 x 153 cm. Middletown, 1970 © IPEAFRO
In 1970, do Nascimento painted Pink Mulatto Woman: A Study for Oshun, a fair-skinned woman-like figure lying in what might be the garden of Eden. Her spread-out leg terminates with a butterfly instead of a foot, while she stares at the observer qua voyeur. Charmed by her eroticism, you are reminded by the title to pull back, this is Orixá Oshun, known to be the Orixá of purity, of fertility, of sensuality, of love and of water. The sternness in the face of the mulatto woman might be an account for Oshun’s jealousy and spitefulness.
An important and integral part of Nascimento’s work as an artist is the deliberation of signs, the recuperation, repurposing and restitution of symbols, particularly of African heritage, and the dissemination thereof. Thus one can say that semiology and semiotics—the study of signs—are a fundamental part of his visual language and aesthetics.
The abduction of African peoples over the course of 400 years to the so-called new world was met with resistance, but what they could take with them had to be de facto intangible. They carried their embodied and cognitive signs and symbols, as well as other gestures. To cultivate these symbols, they incorporated them in practices of the quotidian—in the music, architecture, language, dance, religion, and even in their political structures, just like their forefathers/-mothers did previously on the other side of the Atlantic. Nascimento’s paintings can be understood as systems of graphical and lexical signs. By employing Kemetic, Yoruba, Adinkra and other symbols, he sets off a pendulum that swings between encoding and decoding cultural, political, and social meanings that fuse in the artworks. The canvas is the container to modes of thinking, complex philosophical theses and sophisticated tales that are expressed as paintings. Nascimento’s paintings are thus often self-contained (graphic) symbolic languages with a composed grammar and syntax. From a linguistic point of view, the claim made here is that in the crux of the practice of Nascimento lies an effort to craft physical existences that are carriers of meaning, signifiers, to cultivate mental concepts of meaning prevalent to members of his social and cultural communities, the signified, as well as manifest a signifying construct that is the associative total of both the signifiers and the signified, signs.
One of many cases of Nascimento’s symbolism and semi- ology can be seen in the piece Sankofa n. 2: Recovery (Asante Adinkra) from 1992. Towering the upper center of the painting is the Adinkra symbol Nsoromma, which in Akan means “star.” The Nsoromma is the signifier for the “child of the heavens” and is a symbol of belief in a supreme being. At the center of the painting is an even more abstracted version of the Adinkra symbol Ohene Adwa, which literally means “the king’s stool,” as “Adwa” in Akan translates to “stool” and “being together”. Encapsulated in the king’s stool, as well as flanking that throne, is the symbol of the Sankofa. The Sankofa, which is a mythical bird, effortlessly twisting its neck to look backwards, is one of the most invoked Adinkra symbols. It means “go back and get it.” It speaks of the importance of memories, of histories, of heritage, of the necessity to see the present through the past. Through the Sankofa, an appreciation of the past and a reverence for the ancestors and of all who came before us, and their cultures is manifested. Stitching the different symbols or parts of speech together, this painting could be recounting the guidance of the great star and the highest, how Nascimento’s people will one day return to the place from which they were once abducted, with the final ambition to sit upon the throne in togetherness.
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO Sankofa n. 2: Recovery (Asante Adinkra). Acylic on canvas, 40 x 55 cm. Rio de Janeiro, 1992 © IPEAFRO
The Greek notion theogonia (Theogony), which means “generations of the gods,” comes from Hesiod’s epic poem of 1,022 hexameter lines, wherein the birth of the gods that make up the Greek pantheon is outlined (c. 700 BC). As Wole Soyinka points out in the chapter “Morality and aesthetics in the ritual archetype” of his 1976 book Myth, Literature, and the African World,[v] Yoruba gods like Eshu, Ogun, Obatala, or Shango show a deep relation with the Greek gods and their relevance. This is in no way to seek legitimation from Greek gods, but to express how the becoming of gods and their roles within societies might relate across cultures and geographies.
In the work of Nascimento, there is a pervasive presence of Orixás, and the emissaries of Olodumare (supreme being). In Yoruba spirituality, including Santeria and Candomblé, the Orixás rule over humans and nature. In Yoruba theogony, the Pantheon is composed of Orixás such as Aganju, Obalu Aye, Erinle, Eshu/ Elegba, Yemaya, Nana Buluku, Obà, Obatala, Oxossi/Ochosi/ Osoosi, Osumare, Ogun/Ogoun/Ogunda, Oko, Olofi, Olokun, Olorun, Orunmila, Oshun, Osun, Oya, Ozain, Shango, and more than 400 figures, some of which are constantly invited to inhabit do Nascimento’s paintings.
In the painting Pade for Eshu, from 1988, for example, Nascimento sheds a spotlight on Eshu aka Elegba, the trickster god, god of the crossroads, of travelers and messengers, the protective and benevolent spirit of Ifa, the chief god, as a messenger between heaven and earth. In his poem “Pade for Freedom Fighter Eshu,” Abdias do Nascimento writes: Invoking these laws / I implore you Eshu / to plant in my mouth / your verbal axé / restoring to me the language / that was mine / and was stolen from me / blow Eshu your breath / to the bottom of my throat / down where the voice bud / sprouts so the / bud may blossom / blooming into the flower of / my ancient speech / returned to me by your power / mount me on the axé of words / pregnant with your dynamic grounding / and I shall ride Orun’s / supernatural infinity.
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO Pade for Eshu. Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 100 cm. Rio de Janeiro, 1988
Another work by Nascimento worth mentioning within this section—the epitome of his reflections on spirituality and symbolism—is the 1972 painting titled Afro-Brazilian Theogony n. 2: Iansan, Obatala, Oshun, Oshossi, Yemanja, Ogun, Ossaim, Shango, Eshu. A roll call of Orixás that claim their spaces in a work that not only stands as a flag for Yoruba spirituality, but also as a demonstration of art as an event of love.
ABDIAS DO NASCIMENTO Afro-Brazilian Theogony n. 2: Iansan, Obatala, Oshun, Oshossi, Yemanja, Ogun, Ossaim, Shango, Eshu Acrylic on canvas, 102 x 152 cm, Buffalo, 1972 © IPEAFRO
About the Author
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung PhD (born in Yaoundé, Cameroon) is a curator, author, and biotechnologist. He is founder and artistic director of SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin, and he is artistic director of sonsbeek20→24, a quadrennial contemporary art exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands. He is the artistic director of the 13th Bamako Encounters 2022, a biennale for African photography in Mali. Ndikung was the curator-at-large for Adam Szymczyk’s Documenta 14 in Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany in 2017; a guest curator of the Dak’Art biennale in Dakar, Senegal in 2018; as well as artistic director of the 12th Bamako Encounters in 2019. Together with the Miracle Workers Collective, he curated the Finland Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019. He was a recipient of the first OCAD University International Curators Residency fellowship in Toronto in 2020. He is currently a professor in the Spatial Strategies MA program at the Weissensee Academy of Art in Berlin. From 2023, he will take on the role of Director at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin.
[i] Abdias Nascimento, “Afro-Brazilian Art, A Liberating Spirit,” (University of Ife: Obafemi Awolowo, September 1976). First version published in Black Art: An international Quaterly (New York, Fall 1976). Present version written especially for ChʼIndaba (formerly Transition) special issue on the 2nd World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (FESTAC ʼ77) and published in the authorʼs books ‟Racial Democracy” in Brazil: Myth or Reality (Ibagan, Nigeria: Sketch Publishing, 1977) and O Genocidio do Negro Brasileiro (Paz e Terra, 1978/Perspectiva, 2016). Translations to English: Elisa Larkin Nascimento.
[ii] Abdias Nascimento, “Quilombismo: An Afro-Brazilian Political Alternative.” in Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2: Afro-Brazilian Experience and Proposals for Social Change (Dec. 1980), pp. 141-178.
[iv] See Shade Mary-Ann Olaoye’s double page poem, written in response to Abdias Nascimento’s painting Shango Crucified or the Martyrdom of Malcolm X (1969) featured in this book.
[v] Patrick Chamoiseau; Edouard Glissant, Manifestes (Paris : La Découverte, 2021). Extract taken from “L’intraitable beauté du monde” and translated by the author from the original poem : “Ce qui remonte du Gouffre. C’est une rumeur de plusieurs siècles. Et c’est le chant des plaines de l’Océan. Les coquillages sonores se frottent aux crânes, aux os et au boulets verdis, au fond de l’Atlantique. Il y a dans ces abysses des cimetières de bateaux négriers, beaucoup de leurs marins. Les rapacités, les frontières violées, les drapeaux, relevés et tombés du monde occidental. (…) Mais ces Africains déportés ont défait les cloisonnements du monde. Eux aussi ont ouvert, à coups d’éclaboussures sanglantes, les espaces des Amériques. (…) Ce qui reste de ces anciens transbordés, ce limon des abysses, c’est tous les mondes anciens qui ont été broyés jusqu’à donner vrai lieu à une région nouvelle. Un monde avait laminé l’Afrique. Ces Afriques ont engrossé des mondes au loin. Cela manifeste et nous fait comprendre le Tout-monde, donné en tous, valable pour tous, multiple dans sa totalité, qui se fonde sur cette rumeur des abysses.”
[vi] Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature, and the African World (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976).