Art History

Chika Okeke-Agulu: A true ‘son of the earth’ in the spotlight | Pro Club Bd

A few days ago, Tobi Amusan broke the world record in the women’s 100 meter hurdles. As I read the news, I was thrilled that someone had once again raised the green and white flag. Although the country is in an ever-deteriorating state and is rapidly being pushed into the abyss of failure, it is always gratifying to see that there are Nigerians who have chosen to always make the country proud. There’s always that joy and sense of pride when we see people from our country, continent, family or ethnic group win.

I felt the same excitement when I heard about the consecutive waves that Prof. Chika Okeke-Agulu has made, making Nigeria proud. Indeed, he is our Scholar of the Year. Make no mistake, Prof. Okeke-Agulu is no newcomer to the world of wave making. He is a distinguished professor of Africa-related art who has made invaluable contributions across multiple academic disciplines and has received numerous awards, fellowships and appointments. He is an academic whose life is the perfect display of excellence. I was motivated to write this piece because Prof. Okeke-Agulu was recently appointed one of the new 52 Fellows of the prestigious British Academy. He has also been appointed Slade Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Oxford for 2022 and 2023.

The achievements of Prof. Okeke-Agulu bring me great joy, but they are not surprising as the scholar has always been outstanding since his student days at the University of Nigeria. He graduated from Nsukka, one of the top fine arts schools in the country, with a first class honors degree in sculpture and art history, then earned an MFA in painting from his Nigerian alma mater and an MA in art history from the University of South Florida . He became an Emory University scholar and received his Ph.D. in art history.

Although his passion is largely linked to the visual arts, Prof. Okeke-Agulu and I share a common love and interest in history, media contributions, and multidisciplinary endeavors. A successful media and journalist, he once worked as a writer and columnist for the Huffington Post. He is also a widely published academic and author and has authored several books and contributed to leading art publications. His writings and publications border not only on artistic contributions but also on art criticism, and anyone who has read Okeke-Agulu will appreciate how well he analyzes works.

In addition, he has been a collector, curator or co-curator for several art exhibitions and events in Nigeria and several other countries, including the Uche Okeke 60th Birthday Retrospective Exhibition, the El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale in Munich and Doha for several years. He has also served as a curatorial advisor and advisor to some of the world’s top museums, including the Newark Museum of Art (where he advised on the expansion of the African collection) and the Tang Museum of Art (where he served as environmental and object advisor in of recent African art).

The award-winning professor of African and diaspora African art is also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Hyundai Tate Research Centre, Tate Modern, London, The Africa Institute, Sharjah, and Bët-bi/Le Korsa Museum Project, Senegal , the Mpala Research Center, Nanyuki, Kenya, the board of directors of Princeton in Africa and the editorial board of the Journal of Visual Culture. Prof. Okeke-Agulus’ works have included solo and group exhibitions totaling up to fifty in several countries inside and outside Africa. He consistently puts Nigeria on the map of global recognition for good, and this is easily evidenced by his achievements throughout his career, from his time as a lecturer at Yaba College of Technology to his current position as distinguished professor at Princeton University .

Prof. Okeke-Agulu’s credits include several academic appointments and fellowships. In 2007 he was Robert Clark Sterling Visiting Professor of Art History at Williams College and director of the African Studies program at the Department of African American Studies and Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton University. He was also a Clark Fellow at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in 2008. In 2020 he was Kirk Varnedoes Visiting Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

It is important to note that the British Academy selects only the best of the best for its scholarship and the Slade Professorship, Oxford University’s oldest professorship in art and art history, has appointed Prof Okeke-Agulu to succeed several respected and influential ones Names he probably looked up to and idolized in his formative years as an artist and art critic. Today he holds the same position in which he would deliver a series of lectures in 2023. This is a highly coveted position, given only to the most outstanding and deserving. Prof. Okeke-Agulu has a proven track record, and these appointments are recognition of this scholar’s artistic ingenuity.

Prof. Chika Okeke-Agulus services to Princeton University are invaluable. He has held several positions at the university and is an active advocate of the Princeton in Africa initiative and its mission and vision. He served on the Faculty Advisory Board for Appointments and Promotions and is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. These are just two of the various administrative and consulting positions he has held in addition to his active participation as a teaching professor at Princeton University.

In March 2022, Prof. Okeke-Agulu was the keynote speaker at the Africa Institute’s Global Ghana: Sites of Departure/Sites of Return, where he gave a brilliant and fascinating talk on “El Anastusis Metamorphic and Shape-Changing Objects”, which was also a way to Gaining insight into his book about his new El Anastusi, El Anastusi: The Reinvention of Sculpture, a book he co-authored with Okwui Enwezor. Anyone who had the opportunity to listen to the lecture could immediately see the dedication these two researchers and authors put into telling the story of El Anastusi. Or what else could have led to collaborations and research spanning 30 years? The keynote address was a chance to hear Prof. Chika Okeke-Agulu speak about how he has explored artistic understanding of El Anastusi’s shifting sculptures using ontological and epistemological approaches. He further explored the challenges these approaches and El Anastusi’s work pose to the status quo in art historical research.

There are many things to worry about when it comes to Nigeria but now is not the time to criticize the evils and unscrupulous happenings in the country. Rather, it’s a day to shine a spotlight on a good son of the earth, to put it the African way. It’s a day to celebrate Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu and to congratulate him on his recent exploits. There is no doubt that he will excel in the new capacities handed to him. Its many ongoing initiatives will transform higher education, creative work and entrepreneurship in Africa.

Congratulations again, excellent scholar!

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