Simon Njami, the curator of the exhibition THE DIVINE COMEDY at SCAD Museum.
Do you think the common perception of Africa is correct, or do people need to be better educated?
Big shows regarding Africa are always held, for technical and economical reasons, in the West. And the West has always thought that they had an encyclopedic knowledge of the world. Hence a lot of misunderstanding about what is Africa, and what could be art made by Africans. But in Africa as well there are a lot of misunderstandings. Particularly because the notion of contemporary art is still vague for a lot of people.
I have not been curating African art, but rather work from African artists. Everybody around the world has an idea of Africa, be it taken from the news, from fantasies or from journeys. It is always interesting to observe how works are given a new meaning. Be it right or wrong, it does not matter.
In what way does “The Divine Comedy” contribute to the understanding and promotion of African culture?
It is not about art, or Africa. It is about meanings. Some of the artists in the show are Muslims, some are Christians some don’t believe in any the traditional God and they all live in the third millennium, when Dante’s Poem was written in the 14th century. I wanted Dante’s work to be deconstructed from new perspectives. The challenge, if there was one, was to make people, the audience, understand that Dante, like any artist, belongs to everyone. And it is my conviction that our reflection is always richer when we are confronted to something that doesn’t seem to belong to us. That’s how Western modern art was created, when Picasso encountered the African masks.