Zina Saro-Wiwa’s “Did You Know We Taught Them How To Dance?” opens at Krannert Museum 17th November 2016

Zina Saro-Wiwa exhibit at Krannert Museum from ZSW Studio on Vimeo.

Curator: Amy L. Powell
Co-organized by Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston

This exhibition is the first solo museum presentation of works by British- Nigerian video artist and filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa, featuring video installations, photographs, and a sound installation produced in the Niger Delta region of southeastern Nigeria from 2013 to 2015. Drawing upon folklore, masquerade traditions, religious practices, food, and Nigerian popular aesthetics, Saro-Wiwa’s work shuttles between documentary and performance, testing art’s capacity to transform and to envision new concepts of environment and environmentalism.

Engaging Niger Delta residents both as subjects and collaborators, Saro-Wiwa cultivates strategies of psychic survival and performance, underscoring the complex and expressive ways in which people live in an area historically fraught with the politics of energy, labor, and land. Known for decades for corruption and environmental degradation, the Niger Delta is also a verdant place, an abundant food producer as well as provider of crude oil and natural gas to the entire globe. The United States has until recent years been the largest importer of Nigeria’s oil, while Europe and India are now the top destinations. Returning to this contested region—the place of her birth—Saro-Wiwa insinuates herself as a transformative force ingesting and disgorging the stuff of tradition and of psycho-social dynamics to produce new origin narratives. Her new work makes visible the cultural, spiritual, and emotional powers propelling the Niger Delta and its connections as a global energy capital.

Zina Saro-Wiwa: Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance? is accompanied by a catalogue that features recipe-stories by Saro-Wiwa alongside essays by curator Amy L. Powell, environmental cultural studies scholar Stephanie LeMenager, and writer Taiye Selasi, with a conversation between the artist and art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu. Niger Delta historian Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa contributes a guest foreword.

Zina Saro Wiwa: Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance? is co-organized by Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston and Krannert Art Museum. The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by the generous support of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. For this presentation, sponsorship was provided in part by the Krannert Art Museum Council. This exhibition is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.