As a part of the honours in curatorship programme, the Centre for Curating the Archive (CCA) presents The 1980s: Art Under the Shadows of Structural Adjustment by artist, curator and art historian Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi.

The 1980s was a period of transition in the fields of culture and the arts as many African countries grappled with the vicious cycles of nation building; moving from the promises of political independence to the nightmarish realism of the postcolonial. From east, southern, west, north, and central Africa, the 1980s presented an increasingly dystopian vision defined by among others: social uprisings, violent protests, civil conflicts, coups d’état, military and civilian dictatorships, austerity measures, famine, and the last bastion of colonialism and minority rule in Southern Africa. It was also the final decade of global political jousting understood as the Cold War.  Many African countries, though claiming non-alignment, were playgrounds for the Western and Eastern blocs to try out social and political experiments with catastrophic economic consequences. The shift from the Keynesian model of economic development to the neoliberal order in many countries at the dictate of western-based multilateral institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, understood as Structural Adjustment Programs, perhaps, more than any other factor of change, restructured the relationship between the state and citizens and vice versa in countries including Nigeria, the former Zaire, Zambia, and Egypt. The climate of uncertainty produced a new kind of cultural mobilization in which artists began to address the socio-economic and political realities as they unfolded. My lecture explores the conditions of art modernity in Africa in a decade of terse political climate, but even more significant, economic upheaval.


Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi is the curator of African art at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine and applied arts from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria; a postgraduate diploma in museum and heritage studies from the University of Western Cape, South Africa; and a Ph.D. in art history from Emory University. Nzewi has participated in international artists’ residency and workshop programs and more than 35 art exhibitions in Africa, Europe and the United States. He has curated exhibitions in Africa and the United States, including the Afrika Heritage Biennial in Nigeria in 2007; “Transitions: Contemporary South African Works on Paper” at Atlanta’s High Museum in 2009; Dak’Art Biennial in 2014, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at Richard Taittinger Gallery in New York in 2015.