More than just a Curator, Bisi Silva (1962 -2019) lives on!

Our beloved Bisi Silva, Artistic Director, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, has moved on to greater glory!

A greatness that emerged from a fully conscious decision to take on the challenges of relocating to Lagos (Nigeria). Bisi never relented in repositioning and advancing the vibrant art and cultural heritage of both the great nation of Nigeria and the continent of Africa through her unwavering commitment and incredible professionalism.

 

Bisi Silva. Photograph: Natalie SlowBisi Silva. Photograph: Natalie Slow

 

Yes, she chose to take headlong and ride that near impossible wind of steering change and integrity. She, intuitively, attracted the global contemporary art buzz to us and made us attractive to the ever-vibrant art world.

She sacrificed so much from the start to the flaming change and impact that she set forth!

Bisi came into the Nigerian contemporary artscape with her heart wide open. She risked all to foster inclusivity and diversity. CCA, Lagos became a space that inspired energetic conversations, projects/programmes and debates. Bisi steered all this relentlessly. She was gorgeously unassuming and powerful!

In 2007 when I walked into the Centre for Contemporary Art, Yaba, Lagos, to begin a collaboratory voluntary career with her, she was already cultivating a robust plan to inform and introduce the public to her dynamic vision of contemporary art, focusing first and foremost on those in our immediate community of Yaba, and well as the broader Lagosian public.

She also wanted anyone that chose to join her in this “labour of love” (her term for our artistic and curatorial toil) to come with the same open heart and imparting mien.

By early 2016, when I had my last ‘face to face’ conversation with her, before I departed Lagos, so much had gone through successfully. Irrespective of the tears and many depressive moments, we had chuckled at more intense outcomes, but she was never caught resting on her laurels. She was already thinking of the next phase – the future of CCA, Lagos, realigning the institution’s mission on a vision that enabled a gradual transformation of the Centre’s curatorial, academic, artistic, and civic services and activities to be more fluid, expansively engaging and focused. She wanted to publish more, expand the library (physically and virtually), instigate more hybrid ‘glocal’ exchanges and collaborations.

 

Photograph: Eustáquio NevesPhotograph: Eustáquio Neves

 

Like she always stated, “the more the merrier. ” So, this phase would entail tapping into the multiplicity of contacts, artists/curators and networks available to the Centre to shape the future of contemporary art in Nigeria and Africa.

It’s pertinent to note here that Africa to Bisi was not an irrational or unreachable landmass. Bisi’s support and influence on the younger generation of artists and curators as well as her established respect and professional relationship with the wider communities in the arts and of course politics on the continent and beyond made it less tasking to reach out easily across the continent and draw in respective opinions, results, and input.

The Ásíkó Art school, a roving art/curatorial education programme that was passionate to her was a part of that channel of effectively establishing and sustaining enriching critical presences in Africa. I won’t fail to mention the numerous exhibition projects, residencies, curatorial projects that constantly kept us engaged with every relevant person, entity, and institution on the continent, and projected CCA, Lagos to the rest of the world.

Her unconditional commitment to the arts/artists made the world orbit effortlessly at 9 McEwen Street, Sabo, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria! It was from this metrocentric platform that many more artists and cultural personalities connected back to us, with us, and around us.

Bisi was more than a curator. Her passion to inform all, young and old, was incomparable. She enjoyed the robust conversations that everyone brought to the table on persistent issues around contemporary art and growth. This passion led to multiple mentorship projects, informal curatorial schools (Oyindamola Fakeye, Hansi Momodu-Gordon, and my humble self were her earliest protégés), Ásíkó, MOOC (with Goethe-Institut), artists residency programmes, countless portfolio reviews and artists’ studio visits… She was ever excited about improving the level of artistic knowledge and understanding, especially among younger artists and curators.

A classic scenario is where the entire Yaba community became aware of our activities at CCA, Lagos and started getting involved, accommodating, and encouraging of every artistic intervention and event within and around us.

With Bisi, CCA, Lagos earned the respect and trust of the entire Yaba, Akoka environ. It was no longer about CCA, Lagos being only vibrant globally, the Centre established and imparted on other local spaces in Zaria, Nsukka, Ife, Enugu, Abuja… Bisi encouraged us to never take our focus off our local communities, she encouraged wider collaborations and all forms of community-based interactions that enhance the quality of artistic reasoning, appreciation, and outcome. Oh! Bisi navigated these near impossible goals and delivered very well!

Thinking through these and many more, my heart pounds and drowning tears run down my cheeks. They’re not only tears of a massive loss of an extraordinary mentor, friend, and boss-sister. I’m awed by the amazingness of this elegant, fearless, Amazonian warrior-sister, who came to battle armed with a charming smile and knowledge fused with arms and ammunition. Her intellectual war chest was filled with an exquisite collection of tomes and resources from every slant of our world. Her commands were poetic, intuitive narratives drawn from direct experiences and encounters. Bisi, an astounding lady that ‘laughed in the face of danger’. (She was human and impassioned with her work, and this could, at times, bring her to tears, but always in her office and out of sight from the public.) She fought for all. She fought to the end!

A few weeks before her passing, I had my last conversation with her via WhatsApp; her voice and tone still rang out with a sharp and unencumbered pitch. I commended and encouraged her…

Bisi – Thank you for giving us all such brilliant voices. As you transition to glory, rest assured that your voice will continue to continue to resonate, growing louder, and commanding even broader audiences. You will continue to live on in us, in our arts, in our hearts and thoughts. Be assured that many more will learn of your will, your dedication, your radiance, and we will carry the knowledge of your example well into the future with all the merrier days that are sure to arrive. Thank you beloved Bisi for a well-lived life, and particularly for everything you did for me. You were relentless, charming, and kind! You sacrificed so much for us all.

Thank you, great teacher, sister, and mentor. May God’s perpetual light shine eternally upon your gentle soul.

May you rest in perfect peace Iyaloja of CCA, Lagos!

Jude Anogwih is a visual artist/artist-curator living in Lagos and the United States.