Introductory Note by Ekpo Eyo
When I hear that African art ceased with the production of ancient works, many of which are now housed in museums and private collections, I question the validity of this pronouncement. Most ancient works were made to serve political and religious purposes; in spite of the fact that their contents and the-context for which they were created are no longer relevant, contemporary art in Africa is burgeoning.
As I was brought up believing in the sanctity of traditional African art, and served as custodian of traditional African masterpieces for more than two decades, it may appear surprising that I should identify myself with the contemporary art movement in Africa. Although I was involved with ancient artworks it was impossible to ignore the creations of emerging artists. The works of artists without formal art training attracted my attention first because I believed they were purer in form and content in relation to the works with which I was familiar. With time, however, I could not ignore the creations of artists who received art training in art schools in which the teaching methods and aesthetic criteria were based on European models. My initial difficulty in accepting their works lay in the fact that I was always looking for the "Africanness" in their works, and when I failed to find it, I distanced myself from them. But the varied types of contemporary art thrive with incredible success in all parts of Africa. This development is not unexpected in a society that is open to influences and striving to maintain and realize its own identity. The resulting pluralism of styles has enriched the many countries of this continent.
Looking at the activities of African artists as chronicled by Jean Kennedy we see that African art has enjoyed a renaissance; an art of bold, new forms, full of diversity and vitality. That this is not widely known in the West may be partly due to the erroneous belief that African creativity ended with the advent of colonialism. However, the major reason may be that until now, little effort has been made to bring this glorious present to the wider world. This is why Jean Kennedy's work is such a welcome event.
Jean Kennedy has spent much of her life in the service of contemporary African art. She has undertaken special studies and promoted with great success many contemporary artists. I am pleased that she has written this book, which will bring to the fore the creative talents of contemporary Africans and act as a catalyst in generating more interest in the world of contemporary African art.
Professor, African Art
Department of Art History and Archaeology
University of Maryland at College Park and formerly Director General for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria