International Conference on African Cultures

Space and Infrastructure for Art and Culture in Africa

11-13 September 2017 / National Gallery of Zimbabwe

Words: Mpho Matsipa

Image: Tanya Gershon. Floor of Studio X. Art installation by Nolan Dennis and Fuzzy Slipperz. For the Taking It to the Street exhibition at Studio X, Johannesburg, March 2014.


For the first time since 1962, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe hosted the International Conference on African Cultures, Mapping the Future, from 11 – 13 September 2017. Held at the Zimbabwe National Gallery in Harare, the first edition hosted leading art historians and figures in international art institutions to a seminal conference on African cultures – the first international forum on African art in the region. Mapping the Future, the second edition of the conference, drew 200 artists, curators, gallerists, and academics from across the world to share ideas on a range of topics: Art History; Curating Contemporary African art, Space and Infrastructure for art in Africa, and Heritage and Conservation.

Creative Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Bisi Silva, reflected on her curatorial practice in Asiko as a wide range of groundbreaking practices that produced new networks of association, new infrastructured of publication, and distribution and knowledge production that spanned beyond Africa and the diaspora, while being firmly rooted in Lagos.

Curator and urban theorist Professor Paul Goodwin, (University of the Arts London Chair of Contemporary Art and Urbanism and Director of TrAIN (Transnational Art, Identity and Nation Research Center), in conversation with artist/curator Dana Whabira and Professor George Shire, speaking through Fred Morton and Stefano Harney’s notion of the ‘under commons’, explored ways in which the theory and practice of Black radical traditions provide a means through which to creatively engage with Black life, and marginalised populations and urban spaces.

While the presentations and concerns were varied, it became increasingly clear that, while grappling with the geopolitics of art production and consumption, African and Africanist curators were not only interrogating representations of Africa and Africans, but also that many art practitioner and producers were leading conversations in decolonising cultural institutions and even re-thinking the role of the curator in an African context. Notable too, were historians who grappled with the difficulty of the colonial archive as a site of epistemic erasure for African cultures. Scholars such as Gemma Rodrigues and Mhoze Chikowero proposed alternative approaches to not only reading the archive, but also to the nature of ‘archive’ itself as a concept that could have any relevance for contemporary readings of African art, society, and thus for mapping the future.