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Obituary: Olabisi Silva


Olabisi Silva was a member of British AICA during the years she lived in London. She lived in London for more than 30 years, returning to Lagos in the last decade.

She passed away in Lagos, Nigeria on 12 Feb 2019 after a long struggle with cancer.

She was a strong, resilient, enterprising person with an extensive knowledge of contemporary art in Africa, as the result of many travels and much research. She was a close personal friend and always a great person to discuss ideas and projects with, constantly encouraging ambition and planning.

She trained at the RCA and was one of the early graduates of the MA in Curation, studying with Teresa Gleadowe.

A frequent participant in international conferences and symposia, Silva has published in journals and art magazines including Artforum, Third Text, The Exhibitionist, and Art South Africa. Bisi Silva sat on the editorial/advisory boards of Art South Africa and ContemporaryAnd, but had also affiliations with NKA: Journal of African Art in the 1990s-2000s and n.paradoxa from 1998-2017.

We had met and organised together the ‘Art Criticism and Africa’ conference in 1996 for AICA. This resulted in a book, I edited, Art Criticism and Africa (Saffron Books, 1997) which included contributions from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Egypt.

She was a longstanding supporter of n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal and a member of my editorial board from the start.

She guest edited the remarkable edition of volume 31 on ‘Africa and its Diasporas’ with me in January 2013. This explored women’s art criticism and artists from Africa, Carribean, Brazil, USA. It is a remarkable volume of the journal.

Bisi spent many years supporting artists, including women artists, in Nigeria and was planning to develop a project on 4 women artists in Nigeria. She started or was involved in many contemporary art activities in Lagos, including as artistic Director of Art x Lagos.

From CCA Lagos, she published a series of books on contemporary African photography, including a major monograph on J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, (CCA Lagos, 2014) celebrated widely for his amazing series of photographs of women’s hair styles.

She was planning a history of the first 10 years of CCA Lagos.

Silva was a member of ICI, and took part in the international jury for the Pinchuk Art Centre’s Future Generation Art Prize (2014), as well as the 55th Venice Biennale (2013).

She was co-curator of ‘The Progress of Love’, a transcontinental collaboration across three venues in US and Nigeria (Oct. 2012 – Jan. 2013). Silva was co-curator of J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Moments of Beauty’, Kiasma, Helsinki (April – Nov. 2011). She was also co-curator for the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, Greece, ‘Praxis: Art in Times of Uncertainty’ in September 2009. In 2006, Silva was one of the curators for the Dakar Biennale in Senegal. In collaboration with the Portuguese art critic Isabel Carlos, she selected artists for the third Artes Mundi prize in Wales. She also curated “Contact Zone: Contemporary Art from West and North Africa” (October 2007) and an exhibition titled “Telling… Contemporary Finnish photography”, in the Seventh Biennial of African Photography in Bamako (November 2007).

By Katy Deepwell