OSEI BONSU

Based between London and Paris, Osei Bonsu is an author and curator whose passion lies in amplifying the works of artists from the African diaspora and the representation of African art in museums across the world, as well as mentored emerging talent through his digital platform, Creative Africa Network. In his role as Curator, International Art at Tate Modern, he is responsible for organising exhibitions, developing the museum’s collection, and expanding representation through work that centres on race, migration and identity in contemporary society. His book African Art Now was published by Tate Publishing and Ilex in 2022. El Anatsui’s Turbine hall commission runs until 14 April 2024.

Can you share some insights into the early career steps and how that got you to where you are today?

My early career was driven by a passion for working with artists and the first instinct I had was to go into a museum profession. With that in mind, I moved to London specifically to study at Central St. Martins, where I completed a BA in criticism, culture and curation and MA in art history at UCL. During this time, I realised I was interested in exploring the relationship that existed between art, culture and society at-large. After university, I was determined to build a career that would be shaped by an international dialogue with art and artists.

I grew up with mixed parentage. As someone with Ghanaian and British heritage, I was very curious about why living artists from Africa and its global diaspora were not represented  more in museums and art galleries. So, I started writing for magazines like ArtReview and Frieze and developing my career internationally, I became driven by the possibility of bringing broader representation to contemporary African art. That’s what lead to my work for Tate Modern.

Could you tell us more about your work at Tate Modern and, in particular, the concept behind the El Anatsui’s current Turbine Hall installation, ‘Behind the Red Moon’?

In 2023, I was privileged to work on two large-scale projects at Tate Modern. The first was a survey of contemporary African photography titled “A World in Common,” which brought together 36 artists who were using photography and lens-based media to reimagine the way that Africa is perceived through their art. What was exciting about that particular exhibition was that it was the first time many of those artists had been shown at Tate Modern. However, it was also the first time that Tate hosted an exhibition dedicated to the breadth and scope of contemporary African photography.

The second was a large-scale project by the Ghanaian-born Nigerian-based artist El Anatsui for our annual Turbine Hall Commission – a commission that has allowed many artists to reinvent Tate Modern’s most famous space since the gallery opened in 2000. Time and again, this monumental space allows artists to do some of their most daring and ambitious work – and it’s no different with El Anatsui’s current installation.

“Behind the Red Moon” is made up of three hanging sculptures across the Turbine Hall. You see these shimmering metal hangings, which from a distance look like large-scale sculptural installations, but as you go closer to them, they reveal themselves as being made of very humble bottle-top material. It’s an opportunity for audiences from different backgrounds with all sorts of experiences to think about how personal and historical journeys of migration and the movement of good and people. The work, which encourages people to engage with their immediate environment. El Anatsui is an artist who has been interested in working with reusable material from the start of his career, not purely because of its relationship to the topic of recycling and sustainability, but because he believes that human creativity is driven by one’s immediate environment. He doesn’t make work as a way to call attention to the crisis, it’s merely making use of world we all inhabit.

Looking ahead, what opportunities and challenges do you anticipate for London’s future cultural scene, and how might these factors impact your curatorial decisions?

London is inevitably becoming more driven by global audiences. I believe those audiences want to connect to cultural experiences that feel meaningful, authentic and rooted in a sense of research and consideration for other cultural perspectives.

In terms of my own future, I’m excited by the role that Tate Modern continues to play as a leading force within the landscape of global contemporary art, but that role is very much informed by the dialogues that we’re having with our audiences. The pandemic has shifted the way we think about that very idea of our audience; where it used to be more about measuring audience engagement through footfall, now it’s about thinking about other ways in which people engage with art.

Finally, it’s important that we now start to think about a more de-centred art world in which the emphasis is not just on traditional hubs like London, Paris and New York, but also on other cities like Accra, Lagos and Cape Town. All of these places have played a role in forming what we know today as a global cosmopolitan community. London can only thrive if it’s connected to those cities that are creating new creative opportunities and experiences.

Osei Bonsu was photographed at Tate Modern in London wearing our SS24 collection.

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