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Art community mourns as Bisi Silva goes home

By Japhet Alakam

While, Nigerians were busy with the last minute preparations for the rescheduled presidential and national assembly elections last week, the entire art community, the visual art and the curatorial field in Nigeria suffered a huge blow with the news of death of Bisi Silva, the artistic director of the radical Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA) and a juror of the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Bisi Silva
Bisi Silva

Silva, according to a family source, died in Lagos, afternoon of February, 12, 2019 after about four years battle with cancer.

According to a release by Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, the CCA’s associate curator,”With a deep sense of loss, we regret to announce the passing of our Founder and Artistic Director of Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Olabisi Silva who passed away on Tuesday 12 February 2019.”

Silva marked 25 years working in the arts in 2017. She founded the CCA in 2007—an independent organization providing a platform for the development, presentation and discussion of contemporary visual art and culture. The Center also emphasized and cultivated collaboration among artists, curators, writers theorists with national and international organizations—promoting the development of professional curatorship in Nigeria and in West Africa.

For many who came in contact with her, Contemporary art and curatorial discipline are the two visual culture vocabularies that Bisi Silva (May 29, 1962- February 12, 2019) will be remembered for in Nigeria. Also, in art lexicon, Silva’s works in curatorial field have been well recorded in her nearly two-and-a-half decade practice.

For decades, the Lagos culture scene had blossomed on a highly conservative texture of art appreciation until Silva started puncturing that ego from November 2007, when she set up Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos. Interestingly, the coming of CCA Lagos, in Yaba, outskirt of the Nigerian art hub Islands, fuelled the debate over contemporary art in Nigeria.

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According to the family, the programme of her burial has been fixed for Thursday, February 21.

In the programme of burial released by the Silva family, on Wednesday, 20 February, 2019 at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, 9 McEwen Street, Off Herbert Macaulay Way, Lagos at 3 to 4pm,

The statement from the family revealed that Professor Henry Drewal will hold a conversation on Yoruba Art History, in Bisi’s honour, with Fernanda Villaroel, one of his doctoral students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

On Thursday, 21 February, there will be a church service at Trinity House, Water Corporation Road, Off Ligali Ayorinde, Victoria Island, Lagos, after which she will be buried.

There will also be tributes to her by family members, colleagues and friends in the afternoon of that day at Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos.

Ever since the news broke, it has been an avalanche of tributes as many who knew her or passed through her has been pouring in tributes to the Iron lady of Art, who transformed art in an intellectual way.

In her tribute entitled. In Memoriam: Peju Layiwola, Associate Professor and a friend the deceased wrote. Bisi Silva (1962-2019) It is difficult to speak about Bisi in the past tense! Bisi Silva was born in Lagos in 1962 and died on the 12th of February, 2019. She was the founder and artistic director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Lagos established in 2007. In the 11 years of its existence, her Centre became ‘the’ Centre of art in Nigeria. Bisi centred the discourse on contemporary African art on the continent and brought several international scholars, artists and curators to Nigeria. Her Centre became a gateway for establishing connections between local artists and international audiences. It brought joy, laughter and professional fulfilment to many. Bisi lived a short but purposeful life. She brought to the art scene a high-level of professionalism and impacted both young and old artists through her unique exhibitions and artists talks/programmes. She was a scholar and curator extraordinaire and internationally recognised for her immense contribution to art scholarship.

She developed the art of photography, video art and other aspects of new media which were largely underserved in Nigeria at the time. She transformed the careers of a good number of artists and curators from all over the world. She will be fondly remembered for the Asiko curatorial school. At home, Bisi made it possible for young art graduates to think of establishing careers as curators. She supported several art programmes in different parts of Nigeria and endowed prizes for the best entries in the arts at national competitions. She made donations to many art programmes and projects. Bisi curated several local and international exhibitions and `biennales too numerous to mention here. Bisi was simple, kind hearted and generous. She was beautiful, well spoken, talented, focused, bold and fearless. She spoke strongly against mediocrity and disrespect for women and expressed her views freely. She was a lover of books.

She developed the most comprehensive library of art books in the country. The Centre and library located in Yaba, Lagos was at close proximity to the major art schools in Lagos which made it accessible to many college students. Indeed, the Centre benefited from this pool of students who served in different capacities in administering it. Despite her busy schedule, she found time to give lectures in schools, carry out portfolio reviews and visit exhibition and talks. Here was a scholar who gave her all to the development of art in Nigeria. What a life full of achievements! She will be missed by the global community of artists. Asiko, the name of her curatorial project means time. Her time is up, but her legacy continues! Olabisi Silva, Odigba, Sun re o. Rest in peace.

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