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Stacey Kennedy

Languages and Literature, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

Women's agency in the African Contemporary Art World; exploring Afropolitan art networks.

There is an historical critical silence around women and gender in the art world. My research addresses this silence. Scholarship to highlight the role of women often focuses upon art networks in the West. I explore female agency and networking within the ‘African contemporary visual art world’; an exciting subgenre of the wider contemporary visual art world. I gather rich empirical data through a series of in depth interviews with women who work as curators, art fair directors, gallery owners or managers, art practitioners, art historians, collectors and scholars.

In tracing how women operate within local, national and transnational art networks my research will shed light on the role of female transnational networks in cultural production and female agency in relationships between Africa and the West and between African countries on the continent.

Field research focuses upon West and North Africa and includes visits to art organisations in key sites. Research trips will include Dakar, Lagos, London, Marrakech and New York. I work in an interdisciplinary way, amalgamating anthropology and art history methodology and research practice.

CLICK TO SEE AHRC OUTLINE OF MY RESEARCH


Research Area

  • Languages and Literature

Publications

Talking #Africadia and Afropolitanism: An Interview with Artist Siwa Mgoboza 07/02/2019

Africa in Words 2019

CLICK TO READ INTERVIEW 


Conferences

4/4/19

LUCAS 'Creative Africas, Contemporary Africas' Leeds University, UK

 Africa Rising, African Nostalgia: two narratives around African contemporary art at Bonhams Auction House in London

 The last two decades have seen a surge of interest in ‘African contemporary art’, popularly cited as an emerging and ascendant market (Enwezor and Okeke-Agulu 2009).  This ‘surge’ correlated with a period of economic growth on the continent, when the mainstream press, economists and academics formulated an ‘Africa Rising’ narrative (The Economist (3/12/2016).This paper is based upon my innovative art-anthropological study of art at auction, adding to purely economic readings of an ‘Africa Rising’ narrative by considering how ‘Africa’ is represented in the visual art world. Using ethnographic research data gathered over three years at one of the most important sites of operation of the international market for African art, Bonhams auction house in London, the findings illuminate an investigation around ‘Brand Africa’. I view economic transactions as social events and Bonhams as a place of cultural production, questioning how Bonhams package African art for consumption, what ideas about ‘Africa’ Bonhams are selling and ultimately how Bonhams use ‘Brand Africa’ to market and sell African contemporary art. This paper will investigate two opposing narratives around the representation of ‘Africa’ which emerge from my research.

 

22/5/2019

Global Urbanism workshop, University of Birmingham, UK

 Art infrastructure in African urban spaces

 

13/6/2019

New Voices in Postcolonial Studies: Interdisciplinary Imaginations, Critical Confrontations, Leeds University, UK

 Women’s agency in the African Contemporary Art World: exploring Afropolitan art networks

 There is an historical critical silence around women and gender in the art world, where scholarship to correct this focuses primarily upon art networks in the West. To address this silence I explore female agency and networking within the ‘African contemporary visual art world’; an exciting subgenre of the wider contemporary visual art world. In this rapidly emerging and expanding field, African (and Diaspora) women are highly visible in decision making and influencing roles: in greater numbers than in the contemporary art world more broadly where gender disparity persists (Reilly and Lippard, 2018). In this paper I suggest that these art world spaces are inherently ‘Afropolitan’. ‘Afropolitanism’ is a form of cosmopolitanism relating to ideas of connection and belonging to Africa (Mbembe and Balakrishnan, 2016) which has been conceptually led by women of colour (Abebe, 2015). I suggest that Afropolitan networks of individuals congeal the global ‘spaces’ of the African contemporary art world and, in tracing how women operate within local, national and transnational art networks, shed light on the role of women in diaspora and female transnational networks in cultural production.


Public Engagement & Impact

Field Visits:

February 2019 Marrakech and Casablanca, Morrocco

May 2019 New York, USA

August 2019 Florence and Venice, Italy

October 2019 Lagos, Nigeria


Other Research Interests

I am currently working on a research placement to investigate five individual women who donated art works and artefacts to the Danford Collection: a unique archive of material culture held by Research and Cultural Collections and the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Birmingham. This research involves archival research into files held by the Cadbury Research Library, database and physical object engagement with the collection, and interviewing from primary sources. This exciting research will shed light on the material culture of West Africa, in particular Nigeria; the structure of the African art world in the recent past; women’s agency within that art world and the reasons why women collect and donate art.