Africa is not a country! Coffee time with Camilla Boemio

‘Agenda Setting’ (neon series) Africa is not a country! Filippo Peretti © 2016 courtesy Ola-Dele Kuku Projects and LMS Gallery Brussels
I first met Camilla Boemio back in 2013 at the Maldives Pavilion during the 55th Venice Biennale; she was Associate Curator.
I had the privilege to get an insight into the exhibition and artists’ work. I was completely fascinated by the Pavilion from different perspectives: the concept, the quality of artwork, the venue, the exhibition set up and the team’s openness especially towards visitors. Ms Boemio walked with me through the venue and I had the chance to be introduced to some of the artists. In that occasion I developed a big respect to the professional but also friendly way she takes her job.
It was with no surprise that I welcomed the news she was appointed Curator of the Nigerian Pavilion for this year Architecture Biennale in Venice, it seems to me just a quite obvious result of her professional career. This Pavilion, titled "Diminished Capacity", marks the very first presence of Nigeria at La Biennale di Venezia; Ms Boemio presented a site-specific exhibition by architect and artist Ola-Dele Kuku. Spazio Punch, a captivating industrial building, is hosting the exhibition.
Originally from Nigeria, Ola-Dele Kuku conducted his studies at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-ARC) in Los Angeles and in Vico Morcote, Ticino, Switzerland.
Since the inception of his career, his private practice brings together architecture’s elements and concepts with a special interest in philosophy, theory, and composition. 
Quite recently I had a nice coffee time with Camilla Boemio. A great opportunity to exchange inspirations, visions, and talk about her most recent experience at Venice Biennale.
'Diminished Capacity' Barbara Rossi © 2016 courtesy Ola-Dele Kuku Projects
AM: I was very pleased to hear the presence of Nigeria at this year Architecture Biennale. This pavilion definitely breaks boundaries between architecture and art. Can you tell me how you met the architect/artist Ola-Dele Kuku and how this project came about?
CB: Beginning with Catherine David’s and Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta (in 1997 and 2002 respectively), the world of mega-exhibitions has announced a shift toward rethinking the limits of Euro-American internationalism, and granting greater sensitivity to global practices in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South and East Asia, Africa, and Latin America. So it's a prior evolution for continents outside of Europe to be well represented at Venice Biennale.
The world is transformed through architecture, but also art should find more complex social contexts where inviting the public to explore unexpected places, discovering new routes in the city and its surroundings where art starts an unpublished public view.
Global world is in a trans-formation and the cultural world is creating several unedited connections. Increasingly, intellectual projects are parts of a bigger ecological, economic and technological system in which collaborations are a source of innovation.
It was born out of artistic interest and the ‘urge’ to speak about social architecture, to talk about difference in cultural and even aesthetic canons, why these differences are there and how we approach them. It’s quite easy to ‘dismiss’ a certain approach as naive, immature or wanting to play hardball with geopolitical issues, without really understanding what’s going on in that nation and why certain tendencies have developed and are there. Being that 'Reporting from the Front' either a political / activist approach incidentally, both very present in the Nigerian architecture scene and in my research; I was the perfect curator for this collaboration with architect and artist Ola-Dele Kuku.
In the last years I have curated several public art projects and I investigated architecture topics within museums and art galleries. My curatorial practice, broadened between art and architecture, is combining different approaches from developing structures to support either the work of others, forms of political imaginary, existing and fictional realities, to wider inquiries such as forms of commonality and discursive sites. The result of my research shows projects that merge together exhibitions, politics, fiction, display, public space, writing, and whatever else feels urgent at the time.
Being very attentive to most of these complex issues, I then developed several exhibitions, as "Cities", part of the preview of Festa dell’Architettura in Rome with the lectio magistralis of Paolo Soleri at Auditorium Parco della Musica, also showed at Torrance Art Museum in the South Bay of Los Angeles in 2011; as "Sensational Architecture" group show with two site-specific video installations of Mark Lewis and Spencer Tunick at Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, in 2012. I have also curated many others shows with: Michael Wolf, Gabriele Basilico, Catherine Opie, William E. Jones, Olaf Otto Becker and others; in which I have analyzed transformation of cities and landscapes topics.
'Diminished Capacity' Nigerian Pavilion photo – Barbara Rossi © 2016 courtesy Ola-Dele Kuku Projects
AM: As you wrote in the Curator’s note: “Conflict is one of the recurrent themes in the work of Ola-Dele Kuku. The architect–artist sees that as one of the driving mechanisms in our world, and as a tool to set change in motion”. In your opinion, in which way conflicts, external but also internal ones, pervade the work of Kuku?
CB: My curatorial approach seeks to examine how Ola Dele Kuku have not only focused on Nigerian history, but also simultaneously investigated the mobility’s conditions in relation to the actuality with innovative installation chosen to re-write the diminished capacity of a territory.
Conflict is one of the recurrent themes in the work of Ola-Dele Kuku. The architect-artist sees conflict as one of the driving mechanisms in our world, and as a tool to set change in motion. Conflict has played a crucial role since the dawn of creation. The diminished capacity is a part of the mechanism of a state of conflict. The existing hierarchy is at its zenith and is therefore about to fall. And although social media sometimes give the impression that our world is just a village, we are still increasingly concerned with what is happening outside our own front door. How our world will evolve is not still unclear, but there is no doubt that conflict stimulates change. It stands the existing order on its head and inspires innovation.
Throughout his practice, Ola-Dele Kuku (architect and artist) has consistently reshaped representation in a timely challenge. In this pavilion he is working with drawing, installation, and objects; he has revisited, in an unconventional approach, the mainstays of architectural representational methods - plan, elevation and, section - to inject unsettling slippages into their rigorous formalism.
The exhibition creates a stratification of tensions between methods, concepts and the materials used. It's an unexpected and site-specific use of the space Punch with contemporary art in which the curatorial concept is taking shape from an installation’s sentence: “Africa is not a country!”; in that conflict wants to prospect new methodologies.
"Diminished Capacity" Nigerian Pavilion photo – Barbara Rossi © 2016 courtesy Ola-Dele Kuku Projects
AM: How did you choose the title “Diminished Capacity” and why?
CB: When I have started to work at the curatorial concept, I have chosen several topics that I could annex in the title in a non-specific way; the idea was to develop a line between West Africa, Nigeria and global actuality, speaking for example about migrations, the mass-media use, the economical power of a nation in a diminished condition and people in a socio-political checkerboard.
‘Diminished Capacity’ was conceived as a reflection of the contemporary global phenomenon of ‘Socio-Cultural Conflicts’, with a specific focus on the role of ‘Information / Communication’ and the ‘Mass Media’.
The contemporary sociology of mass media communication reveals a consistent presentation of agendas rather than reports which are illustrated by selected interest in particularities, focus and oversight; as Ola-Dele Kuku observed.
A stronger source of inspiration for me - not forgetting the long intellectual switching with Ola-Dele Kuku - it was the masterwork "The Migration Series" by renowned African American 20th century artist Jacob Lawrence. A powerful visual epic, "The Migration Series" (1940–41) documents the historic movement of millions of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North more than a century ago.
The "Migration Series" has remained a cornerstone of the historical art and stimulating dialogue and reflection on global challenges in the 21st century. Jacob Lawrence's masterpiece was created over 70 years ago; it continues to resound powerfully with the global plight of migrants today.
The universal themes of struggle and freedom continue to strike a chord not only in our Nigerian Pavilion experience but also in the international experience of migration around the world.
The stronger idea of the title marked not so much a "geographical place" but an "emotional idea." It's an open-ended question to be explored and expanded. The exhibition encompasses a broad spectrum of media and approaches, demonstrating that "Diminished Capacity" is more of a shared sensibility than a consistent culture.
photo – Barbara Rossi © 2016 courtesy Ola-Dele Kuku projects
AM: From what I see, the space is just perfect: the artwork really relates to it and vice versa. I would you like to ask you to guide us throughout the exhibition as we were there with you.
CB: Ola Dele Kuku produces works in a variety of media, alternating between forms like the neon, and the rough interaction of materials, and research-based projects that delineate the broader art historical and cultural contexts in which ideas circulate. His concerns offer a bracing contrast from much contemporary artistic discourse, and yet they are urgently contemporary: he consistently revisits representations of issues, religious iconography, and the enduring beauty of folk art forms. Kuku's exhibitions are populated with images and objects of different sizes and materials; it’s his way to allow each work to resonate on numerous critical register.
The "Diminished Capacity" features a group of recent works that reveal the broad scope of Kuku's practice.
The impression one gets entering the space is to be in an immersive-inspired space where different shapes and materials of the objects-installations, the video projections, the drawings create an emotional state in a non-space context. In fact, not only formal but also the political and socio-economical abstractions that are partially responsible for a world in crisis are at issue here, but one wonders whether those discussions would be more influential if surrounded by works sharing discourse rather than appearance.
The ‘Agenda Setting’ (neon series) ‘Africa is not a country!’ and ‘Collective Representation’ – Article 1 (blue) are really powerful; both works manifest the "imaginative perspective" and "visionary knowledge" anticipated of all artworks by the curatorial statement, and the same can be said of the video work and the big wood objects in the central area of the space.
Such contrasts of color, form, and concept play an important role in Kuku's exhibitions, as they do fundamental perceptual oppositions like warm and cool, rough and smooth, and light and dark.
The video piece is among one of the strongest work — because video has become an "expediency" of many artists whose practice cannot be reduced to, or categorized by, its formal aspects.
'Diminished Capacity' Nigerian Pavilion photo – Barbara Rossi © 2016 courtesy Ola-Dele Kuku Projects
AM: What did you learn from this experience and which are your next steps?
CB: I'm developing several projects. In September I will participate to 'The Social', at 4th International Association for Visual Culture Biennial Conference to be held at Boston University.
My writing has appeared in various magazines, publications and catalogues; and I’m currently working on several books. It's very important for me to create a really intense and honest team, I realized that I get on well with people with whom there is no interruption between working hours and breaks practices.
'Diminished Capacity' Nigerian Pavilion team - from left: Ola-Dele Kuku, Fabrizio Monaldi, Camilla Boemio, Fabrizio Orsini
AM: Do you drink coffee? If yes, how do you like it?
CB: I love and drink a lot of American coffee. I really like sipping on my cup of coffee while I am working. I enjoy it black, no sugar.
Camilla Boemio, Fabrizio Orsini, Ola-Dele Kuku, Simone Spiga, Giorgio Staffolani, and Ali Mudassar, Zeb Amir, Syed Mazarulhassan, Zaman Hamid, Parvez Tariq of ACSIM - Associazione Centro Servizi Immigrati Marche
Beyond Luxury – Global Dialogue, May 26th,
Private Garden, Danish Pavilion,
Camilla Boemio in the middle

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