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The World Bank’s Art Curator Discusses a Major New Exhibit – Africa Now!

WASHINGTON, December 4, 2008  -- World Bank Art Curator Marina Galvani came to the Bank’s Art Program via a circuitous route; a trained economist and art historian, she initially joined the Bank as an economist. She soon gravitated toward the Art Program and has since become something of a force in the art world, especially in poor countries.

Galvani is the driving force behind a major new African art exhibition and symposium — “Africa Now!” — scheduled to launch at World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. on December 9.

“Artists are a part of the society that they represent,” says Galvani. “Often they are an important element for change and improvement. On December 9, we will have some of those artists from African countries on hand to talk about their role in contemporary Africa.”

In the following interview, Galvani discusses her work, art, and the forthcoming exhibition.

Please describe the World Bank’s art program.

MG: The Bank’s Art Program works mostly with artists in countries where the Bank is engaged, with a preference for emerging artists. The Bank can be a wonderful arts ambassador for poor countries that are nonetheless rich in artistic creativity and ingenuity.

The mission of the Art Program is to contribute to the Bank’s mission to fight poverty. We contribute in three specific ways. First, we improve communication among artists and we assist them in gaining access to the international art market. Many of the artists we are talking about have not been exhibited outside their country; we provide them that outlet. Second, we try to improve the relationship between Bank staff and artists. We organize education programs and we provide brochures and information to staff interested in acquiring works of art by putting them in contact with the artists. Third, we help the image of the Bank by showing that the institution is not all about numbers.

Why have you chosen African art for this particular exhibit?

MG: On average, we organize ten exhibitions per year, roughly three times what similar organizations typically do. Along the way, an idea was born to have regional focuses that are linked by common themes. We did adequate research, acquired artwork, selected artists, and produced catalogues. We started with Africa. One reason that Africa was our first choice was because the Bank was poor in its collection of contemporary African art. The core of our Africa collection was traditional.

I then realized that we needed to stage a sizable event for artists from Africa, who may not have much access or are not easily found. Most of our previous exhibitions of African art had focused on Diaspora artists, but we shifted the focus to relatively new artists still living in Africa, which presented a double challenge, and I made it my goal to go in search of contemporary African art. It was difficult because we did not have information for many of the artists. Even local museums did not have enough material and information. We eventually found an interesting group of artists, some of whom we have invited to the “Africa Now” exhibition and symposium.

Tell us about the upcoming “Africa Now!” exhibition.

MG: “Africa Now!” is the crowning event of two years of preparation and work. We shall present the work of around 160 artists. Some of the pieces are truly excellent. Some are of less exciting quality. Nonetheless, we think they deserve the limelight because of the artists’ social engagement or because they have a specific message to deliver even if the format is not as mature. Part of the exhibition will include functional, graphic, and fashion designs from various countries across Africa.

World Bank staff and the public will have the opportunity to hear and talk to artists, designers and film makers from Eritrea, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Tanzania, Angola, Kenya, Cameroon, Senegal, as well as experts from Spain, Denmark and the United States. The audience will be invited to join in a debate with them on the role of artists in forging their communities.

Additional events around the exhibition will include a session on December 11 at noon, which also is open to the general public. The event will be held at the Katzen Arts Center at American University, where four of the keynote artists will talk in more detail about their work.

Finally we have produced a catalogue that covers artists who have never been published before.

Who have you partnered with to bring the “Africa Now!” exhibit to life?

MG: The Bank has collaborated with twenty organizations in Africa, the United States, and Europe to organize this series of events, including the Washington D.C.-based National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian, where most of the background research was conducted. Most importantly, we partnered with the Biennale of African Contemporary Art Dak’Art in Senegal.

Justus Kyalo, Kenya.
“You must have a car.”
Oil on canvas.