Okwui Enwezor, fondly known as “Okwui” in elite art circles all over the world, died of cancer in Munich, Germany, on Thursday, March 15. The 55-year old artist hailed from Awkuzu in Oyi Local Government area of Anambra State, Nigeria. With his writings and exhibitions, he made a decisive contribution to the foundation of the global discourse on art.
Coming out of retirement as Artistic Director of Haus der Kunst, perhaps as his final of many gifts to the world, Okwui Enwezor would co-curate, alongside the art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu, El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale, an extensive traveling exhibition of the work of Africa’s greatest living artist. The exhibition opened on the March 8, 2019.
We sorrowfully mourn his passing and appreciatively celebrate the life of a great man.
“These past weeks have been exhilarating and devastating, as I have grappled with my dear friend and colleague Okwui’s illness and passing, while simultaneously opening my solo exhibition at Haus der Kunst. The exhibition, which he co-curated, is the culmination of a decades-long relationship. Okwui and I first met at the beginning of our international careers in the ’90s. He included an article about me, fittingly written by Chika Okeke-Agulu in the first edition of NKA, the journal he founded [with Okeke-Agulu and Salah M. Hassan] which would go on to become a defining resource for African and diasporic art.
I am humbled that even during Okwui’s last days he was determined to engage with and showcase my work. He remained the fiercely passionate curator he always was throughout the entire process of putting together this monumental exhibition, meticulously crafting the checklist and issuing confident directives during installation, even when he couldn’t physically be at the museum. His voice and presence imbues every aspect of the show. Even though he couldn’t join us at the opening, I think he was happy to have had so many visit him when they came to Munich.
When I won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale that Okwui organized, I knew he was giving me as much of a challenge as an honor, a challenge to keep pushing into new territory, to never be complacent, a trait I also admired in him. As I continue to make new work, I will keep that challenge, that support, that friendship, very close”.