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From Professor Obiora Udechukwu, April 5, 2011:

Ulli Beier passed on yesterday in his house in Sydney, Australia.  His first son, Sebastian, sent me an email yesterday, and I spoke with him last night.

Some of you will remember that Ulli spent several days on campus in 1999 — gave the CLR James Lecture, visited several classes.  And some years ago, the Brush Gallery showed his photographs of Mbari Houses.  As we say in Nigeria, a mighty tree has fallen.

You may want to read the announcement in a Nigerian daily (see link below) — not many people know that Ulli taught Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka (both also visited SLU in 2000).

Ulli Beier, founder of Osogbo arts school dies at 89 (Sun News Online)

While doing research today, I came across a thoughtfully written blog called Emotan by Tola Adenle.  She wrote about Ulli Beier and the Beier collection of Yoruba textiles and photographs at Amherst College.  Amherst organized the exhibition “Cloth Only Wears to Shreds,” which was presented at the Brush Art Gallery in 2005, alongside work by Chika Okeke-Agulu and Marcia Kure.

Image credit: Tola Adenle.


Olivia Birdsall ’11 and Tanda Dhlakama ’11 had the opportunity to go to Toronto at the beginning of October 2010 to attend the opening of El Anatsui’s retrospective When I Last Wrote to You about Africa. The exhibition remains on view at the Royal Ontario Museum until January 2, 2011, and will travel to NYC to be presented as one of the inaugural exhibitions for the new Museum for African Art in April.

From the ROM, “In the 1970s, Anatsui began to manipulate broken ceramic fragments. With their allusions to ancient Nok terracotta sculptures, West African myths about the earth, and cultural references to the use of clay, the ceramic works piece together shattered ideas and histories. His wooden sculptures from this period created by chopping, carving, burning and etching, allude to signs and symbols from various cultures and languages from across the globe.

The 1990s marked a crucial shift from working with hand tools to carving with a power saw, which enabled the artist to cut through blocks of wood, leaving a jagged surface. In some compositions these dramatic incisions stand for the scars left by the European colonial encounter with Africa.

The colours and patterns in Anatsui’s gestural acrylic paintings and ink drawings, made at various points during his career and shown here outside of Nigeria for the first time, resonate with his work in other materials. These vibrant and beautiful works subtly unify the retrospective, referencing Anatsui’s larger themes and revealing much about the artist’s process over nearly 40 years.”

Tanda is shown here with, left to right, El Anatsui, Chika Okeke-Agulu, and the well-known international curator, Okwui Enwezor.

One of the goals of the AKALA project is to figure out ways to make digital image collections useful for teaching and research.  Collections like these really come alive by providing contextual information about works of art and the artists who created them.  One of the challenges in providing this material, however, is the fact that we don’t know who our audience is made up of.  For now, we will be working with the assumption that this digital image collection will be made available to college- and university-level faculty and students.

A term that comes up in this regard is “rich metadata,” i.e., information beyond “artist,” “title,” “medium,” etc.  Rich metadata is descriptive, interpretive information about digital images.  It’s the material that provides a means of access to understanding works of art. Our curator of visual resources, Jessica Bailey, wrote this about Uzo Egonu after having cataloged his 52 prints.

Uzo Egonu’s work is powerful and easy to admire but also challenging to place within the usual contexts of art criticism: the social, historical, geographic and cultural. His art is both accessible and representative, although it was created while he was often detached either literally or figuratively from the peoples, places and events he depicted.  This unique combination of qualities, and how to explain their co-existence, should make Egonu an especially attractive subject for teachers and scholars.

Egonu spent most of his life as an outsider, both culturally (living and working in England, far from his native Nigeria) and as an artist, experimenting with contemporary styles but never solely defined by them and hardly recognized within the ranks of Modernism or Post-Modernism. In particular, his oeuvre raises questions about the intrinsic and the influential (i.e., the nature versus the “nurturing” of an artist) and embodies a distinct sensitivity for the human experience of separation and isolation as well as connection. Egonu’s work is an excellent source for exploring a wide range of topics and concepts including Igbo culture, the Nigerian Civil War, Postcolonialism, gender roles, metaphor, and Western reception, interpretation and consumption of African art in the twentieth century.

egone and rich metadata

“Strangers in their Own Land” by Uzo Egonu

Tanda Dhlakama, SLU ’11, will be conducting research this month to compile an artist’s biography page for Professor Udechukwu that will be included here on the AKALA Web site.  As a fine arts major, Tanda was a student in Obiora’s Art and Politics in Nigeria course, where she became familiar with some of the artists in our digital image collection project and their work.  Two years ago, Tanda wrote several text panels for artwork on display at SLU’s Owen D. Young Library.  Originally from Zimbabwe, Tanda spent last fall studying art in Florence, Italy.  She also does gallery installations and museum standard matting and framing.


We are fortunate to bring Jessica Bailey to the AKALA project.  As Assistant Curator of Visual Resources at Johns Hopkins University, Jessica oversees the daily workflow of the department’s collection and coordinates image digitization, editing, and archiving.  She also provides original cataloging for a wide range of art and art-related objects, as well as reference and technical support for faculty and students.  She is familiar with both of the Gallery’s digital presentation formats, ContentDM and ARTstor, as well as metadata standards and vocabularies that we’ve adopted for our other digital collection projects.

Jessica holds a M.S. in Library and Information Science from Simmons College and a B.A. in English from Penn State, where she worked with one of the artists in the AKALA project, Chika Okeke-Agulu.  She cataloged hundreds of examples of art from Yoruba, Nok, Igbo, and other West African cultures for Dr. Okeke-Agulu’s personal teaching collection and for the Penn State Department of Art History’s digital image collection.


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