Geographies of Contemporary African Art
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This thesis explores how the art world negotiates what contemporary African art means, in the context of the international contemporary art system and in relation to the histories of Western perspectives on Africa. Using conceptual and methodological approaches drawn from cultural geography, it examines the field of contemporary African art, foregrounding the terms of negotiation framing contested geographical imaginations and ideas of Africa. The research considers curatorial practices, exhibitions, art institutions, networks and the wider art infrastructure as an arena in which geographical concepts and categories are formulated, debated and contested in relation to contemporary African art. It draws on interviews with artists, curators, gallerists, collectors and scholars, as well as ethnographic fieldwork conducted in institutions and at art events, to unpick the idea of ‘contemporary African art’ as a working category and conceptual frame. It reveals tensions running through the field hinging on questions of categorisation, scale and location, the geographical dimensions and implications of which are currently under-explored. The conclusions argue for the importance of geographical awareness in debates around contemporary art from Africa and its shifting position internationally, particularly in the context of globalising trends in the art world and beyond, which engender complex geographies of mobility, identity, belonging and opportunity. The thesis also highlights the relevance of debates around contemporary African art for geographers, proposing new directions in research on art within cultural geography.
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