The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulap-Kuti
December 17, 2004 through March 06, 2005
Curated by Trevor Schoonmaker
Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti explores the life and legacy of Fela, the late Nigerian Afrobeat musician and fearless champion of the oppressed. Thirty-four international artists and fifteen documentary photographers have produced work that speaks to the world in which Fela lived and to the many sides of his complex personality—political dissident, nativist spiritualist, unabashed sex symbol, husband to twenty-eight women, utopian visionary, and musical pioneer.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938-1997) was arguably Africa’s most influential musician of the last fifty years. He invented the musical genre called Afrobeat and waged war against corruption and injustice with his politically charged lyrics and confrontational lifestyle. Fela developed a militant following, particularly among the alienated and poor of Lagos, Nigeria, where he lived, and at the height of his popularity in the mid-1970s, he took to calling himself the “Black President,” a moniker worthy of his pan-African appeal and political ambitions. Fela experienced violent face-offs with the government on several occasions, yet despite such attacks he remained undeterred in his music and message, recording more than seventy albums and delivering several electrifying performances a week at his famous nightclub, the Afrika Shrine.
Fela has achieved a revered status that situates him alongside such cultural icons as Bob Marley, Malcolm X, and Che Guevara. When Fela passed away at the age of fifty-eight, following a prolonged battle with AIDS, more than a million people attended his processional funeral through the streets of Lagos. Fela’s legacy is sobering and inspirational, and his life and struggles are as relevant as ever.
The artists contributing to this exhibition represent a broad range of ages and artistic backgrounds, and come from countries as diverse as Burundi, Cameroon, Chile, Côte d'Ivoire, England, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United States. The artists do not all agree about Fela’s legacy, philosophies, or actions, but they all have felt his influence. Their work reflects, directly or indirectly, the many issues surrounding his life.