Wednesday, May 21st, 2003

This one’s definitely worth peeping…


A group exhibition on view at the New Museum of Contemporary Art

July 11-September 28, 2003

New York, NY (May 20, 2003) ˆ The New Museum of Contemporary Art announces Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a group exhibition exploring the cultural impact of the famous Nigerian musician and activist who died in 1997. Thirty-four artists will examine and respond to this cultural icon through approximately forty works of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, mixed media and sound installation, video, film, computer animation, and music. Guest curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, Black President will be on view from July 11-September 28, 2003.

Musician and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti created Afrobeat, the infectious fusion of American funk and jazz with traditional Yoruba and highlife music. Through politically-charged lyrics, electrifying stage performances, and his counter-culture lifestyle, Fela preached against social injustice and corruption. Troubled by the political and economic corruption of Nigeria and the repressive governments of sub-Saharan Africa, Fela built a commune called the Kalakuta Republic, which he declared immune from Nigerian law, and created his own political party. At the height of his popularity in the mid-1970s, Fela took to calling himself the „Black President.‰ Since his death in 1997 from an AIDS-related illness, Fela‚s status as a pan-African icon has continued to grow.

Black President is a critical multimedia exploration of the influence and artistic legacy of Fela. Artists included in this exhibition are from countries as diverse as Burundi, Cameroon, Chile, Côte d’Ivoire, England, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United States. Some, like album cover artist, Ghariokwu Lemi, and photographer, Femi Osunla, were part of Fela‚s artistic retinue in Lagos. Other younger participating artists were not yet born. Their work speaks to the many sides of Fela˜musical pioneer, political dissident, utopian visionary, consummate showman, husband to 28 women, and legendary lover.

Artists included in the exhibition are: Radcliffe Bailey, Bili Bidjocka, Sanford Biggers, Sokari Douglas Camp, Nanga Oly Christophe, Brett Cook-Dizney, Victor Ekpuk, Tim Evans & Jason Smith, Kendell Geers, Barkley Hendricks, Satch Hoyt, Alfredo Jaar, Marcia Kure, Moshekwa Langa, Ghariokwu Lemi, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, Adia Millet, Wangechi Mutu, Aimé Ntakiyica, Odili Donald Odita, Olu Oguibe, Moyo Ogundipe, Moyo Okediji, Senam Okudzeto, Ouattara, Yinka Shonibare, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Iké Udé, Obiora Udechukwu, Roberto Visani, Kara Walker & Klaus Bürgel, and Fred Wilson.

Several artists are contributing new works specifically for this exhibition. The following are some examples of these new works:

In The Afronomical Ways, Sanford Biggers (b. 1961 Los Angeles; Lives New York) creates a new zodiac system that reads as an afro-tantric sexual guide, complete with twelve sexual positions. Installed in the staircase leading from the mezzanine level to the second floor of the New Museum, The Afronomical Ways introduces Fela as a man of both sexual and spiritual prowess.

In a collaborative work, Golddigger, Klaus Bürgel (b. Radofzell, Germany; Lives Portland, ME) has transformed drawings by Kara Walker (b. 1969 Stockton, California; Lives New York) of bondage and slavery motifs, such as handcuffs, collars, and traps, into three-dimensional gold and jewel-encrusted objects. Tiny and precious, they strike a strange mixture of traditional West African lost wax casting, Akan gold weights, and today‚s objects of bling bling urban abundance.

Satch Hoyt (b. 1957 London; Lives New York) invites the viewer to step into a time capsule in his installation, The Shrine (The 27 Brides of the Black President), named after Fela‚s nightclub in Lagos. The exterior of the capsule is covered in red fabric that evokes the richness of Fela‚s costumes. Inside the capsule, Fela‚s music mixes with the ambient noises of African cities and women‚s voices, and with the smell of marijuana.

Marcia Kure‚s (b. 1970, Nigeria; Lives Atlanta, GA) History of Africa by Fela features fifty-nine panels, one for each year of Fela‚s life, including his final abbreviated year. Each panel is delicately painted with pigment from the kola nut, a substance used in Africa as both a dye and a friendship offering. Featuring distorted humanoid / animal figures, Kure‚s paintings suggest that Fela‚s history, as much as the history of Africa itself, is a confluence of the mythological and the real.

Adia Millet (b. 1975 Los Angeles; Lives New York) relates Fela‚s urban Afrobeat music to the urban hip-hop culture of New York through the visual medium of graffiti. In Swegbe and Pako, Millet translates the typically male-dominated graffiti genre into the stereotypically feminized domestic art of cross-stitching.

Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972 Nairobi, Kenya; Lives New York) provides a feminist critique of Fela‚s problematic relationships with women while at the same time acknowledging a respect and admiration for his courageous politics. Mutu combines the critical and the humorous in her painting, Yo Mama, which portrays a woman stabbing a serpent with her spiked heels.

Roberto Visani (b. 1970, Faenza, Italy; Lives New York) sculpts guns out of discarded materials˜crutches, scrap metal, crack vials, and brass instruments˜collected from New York‚s predominantly black neighborhoods of Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant, and of the cities and towns in Ghana where Fela performed. For Visani, the gun carries associations as a tool of colonial domination, a weapon of contemporary urban destruction, and a unit of exchange for African slaves.

Fred Wilson (b. 1954 New York; Lives New York) strives to expose underlying cultural assumptions about race and ethnicity in his work. Because Why O? is a new piece that combines traditional Nigerian pottery with a sound installation of Fela‚s music.

In addition to interpretive works, Black President will provide a cultural and historical context for Fela‚s life and legacy through the display of original album cover art, listening stations, documentary film and video, photography, and other Fela-related artifacts. A special music room will provide a thorough examination of Fela’s Afrobeat sound. The program will bring to light Afrobeat’s earliest influences, its context within the global community of the ’70s and ’80s, focusing on the African Diaspora and other affected funk, rock and jazz musicians, as well as its legacy in modern music. In addition to Fela, featured artists will include E.T. Mensah, John Coltrane, Hugh Masekela, Roy Ayers, Tony Allen, King Sunny Ade, Tom Tom Club, Femi Kuti, Masters at Work, Common and others.

About Fela Kuti

Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Nigeria in 1938, Fela studied classical music at the Trinity College of Music in London. There, in the early 1960s, he founded his first band, Koola Lobitos. While on a tour of the United States in 1969, Fela was introduced to the Black Power movement and to the teachings of such influential thinkers as Malcolm X and Angela Davis. Inspired by this trip, Fela created Afrobeat, combining a hard-edge and unyielding political content with a masterful orchestration of African percussive systems and his signature saxophone sound. When he returned to his homeland he opened a nightclub, the Shrine, and changed the name of his band to Africa 70 (and later to Egypt 80).

Fela lived and produced his music under persistent state persecution. His criticism of state corruption and repression led to several raids on his commune˜the Kalakuta Republic˜and to numerous detentions and jail terms. In 1977, soldiers set fire to Kalakuta and viciously attacked the occupants. Kuti suffered a fractured skull, arm, and leg, while his 77-year-old mother was thrown out of a window. She died a little over a year later.

Following this incident, Fela went into exile in Ghana, but was deported back to Lagos the following year. On arrival, to mark the anniversary of the previous year’s pillage of Kalakuta and to reaffirm his embrace of Yoruba culture, Fela married 27 women simultaneously in a traditional ceremony.

In 1975, Fela replaced the Ransome in his name with Anikulapo, meaning „he who carries death in his pouch‰ (or „he who defies death‰). In August 1997, Fela died of heart failure due to AIDS-related complications at the age of 58. During his lifetime, he recorded over 70 albums.


Black President is accompanied by a fully-illustrated 186-page exhibition catalogue with scholarship about the life and legacy of Fela. Contributions to the catalogue are by Biyi Bandele (Nigerian/British playwright); Jeff Chang (writer and music critic); Yomi Durotoye (Professor of Political Science and African Studies, Wake Forrest University); Vivien Goldman (writer, music and cultural critic); Olu Oguibe (artist, art historian, and independent curator); Moyo Okediji (artist and Professor of African and African-American Studies, University of Colorado); Trevor Schoonmaker (guest curator); Sharan Strange (poet); and Michael Veal (Fela‚s biographer and Assistant Professor, Music Department and African-American Studies, Yale University).

The catalogue has received support from the Norton Family Foundation. The catalogue is also made possible by the Penny McCall Publication Fund at the New Museum. Donors to the Penny McCall Publication Fund are James C. A. and Stephania McClennen, Jennifer McSweeney, Arthur and Carol Goldberg, Dorothy O. Mills, and the Mills Family Fund.


Support for Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti has been provided by Etant Donnés: The French-American Fund for Contemporary Art, the The Greenwall Foundation, the Toby Devan Lewis Fund for Exhibitions of Emerging Artists and members of the New Group. The catalogue for the exhibition is supported in part by the Norton Family Foundation.

Support for the exhibition is also provided by Altoids, The Curiously Strong Mints.

Public Programs

Thursday, July 17, 2003 6:30-8PM Conversation with the Artists

Conversation between guest curator Trevor Schoonmaker and artists Satch Hoyt, Olu Oguibe and Senam Okudzeto (Second Floor Gallery)

Thursday September 4, 2003 6:30-8PM Critical Voices Series

Personal perspectives on Fela by panelists Vivien Goldman (music writer), Barkley Hendricks (artist), Wunmi Olaiya (singer/dancer), and Michael Veal (Fela biographer).

About the Fela Project

The Fela Project, founded in 1999 by Trevor Schoonmaker, is a multimedia project exploring Fela‚s life and legacy. Central to the project is Black President. Other activities of the Fela Project include a web site, concerts, documentary film, performances, and publications. A book of essays about Fela entitled Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in June 2003. For more information, visit and

About the New Museum of Contemporary Art

The New Museum of Contemporary Art, founded in 1977 and located in the heart of Soho, is the premier destination for contemporary art in New York City. With an annual schedule of dynamic exhibitions, the Museum presents the most innovative and experimental work from around the world. Debate and discussion about contemporary culture are encouraged through a broad range of educational programs, publications, performances, and new media initiatives. The New Museum recently announced plans to build a new, 60,000 square foot facility at 235 Bowery. Visit for more about the New Museum.

# # #

New Museum of Contemporary Art

General Information

Location 583 Broadway, New York, NY 10012

(between Houston and Prince Streets in SoHo)

Web Site

Telephone 212-219-1222

Fax 212-431-5328


Museum Hours Tuesday ˆ Sunday: noon ˆ 6:00PM

Thursday: noon ˆ 8:00PM*

Closed Monday

Store Hours Monday ˆ Sunday: noon ˆ 6:30PM

Thursday: noon ˆ 8:00PM

Admission $6.00 general; $3.00 students/seniors

Free for members; visitors 18 and under free

*Thursday 6:00-8:00PM $3.00

Zenith Media Lounge free

Directions Subway: 6 to Spring Street or Bleecker Street

N/R to Prince Street

C/E to Spring Street

F/S to Broadway Lafayette

Bus: #1/#5/#6/#21 to Houston Street or Broadway

The New Museum has received major stabilization support for 2003 operations and programs from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Booth Ferris Foundation.

The New Museum of Contemporary Art receives general operating support from the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, JPMorganChase, the Helena Rubinstein Foundation, and the members of the New Museum.

For more information please contact the Public Relations Office at 212-219-1222 ext. 394 or email or visit the press office online at Information about the New Museum‚s exhibitions and public programs is also available online at

posted by @ 9:03 am | 0 Comments

Saturday, May 17th, 2003

It’s been a long time. I shouldna left you. Two words: Funny Cide.

posted by @ 2:25 pm | 0 Comments

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