Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu Wins the CAA Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism

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From right: Victor Ekpuk, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Salah Hassan, and Tania Bruguera at the CAA Awards

Chika Okeke-Agulu, associate professor of Art and Archaeology and African American studies, has been awarded the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism from the College Art Association (CAA) for his book Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in 20th-Century Nigeria (Duke University Press, 2015). The award, given for significant published art criticism that has appeared in publication in a one-year period, is named in honor of art critic and scholar Mather, who came to Princeton in 1910 from Johns Hopkins University as the first Marquand Professor of Art and Archaeology, and became the director of the Princeton University Art Museum in 1922. Okeke-Agulu accepted the award at the CAA annual convention on Feb. 3 in Washington, D.C.

Read an excerpt from the introduction of Postcolonial Modernism:

 Let me cite three examples of how a particular perspective on the colonial history of Africa has undermined the reception and appreciation of modern African art of the type covered in this study. In their classic 1964 book on African sculpture, two eminent ethnologists, the Briton William Fagg and the American Margaret Plass, summarily dismissed the work of African modernists thus: “we are not concerned here with ‘contemporary’ African art, which for all its merits is an extension of European art by a kind of involuntary cultural colo-nialism.” More than three decades later, a European museum curator confidently justified the marginalization of contemporary African art in international art exhibitions by noting that “it seems like third-rate artwork to us because the art presented here emulates the Western tradition—this is a criterion for selection—and because it is always lagging behind, regardless of how commendable the effort might be basically.” And finally, only a few years ago the British scholar Rasheed Araeen declared the naturalistic, colonial-era portrait paintings of Aina Onabolu to be a form of “mimicry under the tutelage of colonial paternalism.”Central to these three assessments of modern African art are two important, unflattering assumptions about this work: first, the idea that it is a weak copy, a product of involuntary mimicry of European art; and second, its apparent belatedness, that is to say, its perpetual condition of being out of time, quintessentially anachronistic, and completely evacuated of any radical potential.

The Frank Mather Award for Art Criticism has been awarded each year since 1963. Professor Okeke-Agulu is the second black art historian to receive the award. Okwui Enzenor won the prize in 2006 (see: full list of past Mather recipients).

View the full list of 2016 CAA award recipients: 2016 Awards for Distinction

Visit Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu’s blog, Ọfọdunka, for more information about his work.