“Art can be a powerful tool to help us think about our times”

The celebrated curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung discusses art’s power to change perspectives and provoke new ways of thinking.

11 Sep 2018

Curator Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung is seeking to redefine the art world. Speaking on the occasion of The UBS Arts Forum in Wolfsberg this July, he described his desire to build institutions that defy genres and geographies – highlighting art’s extraordinary power to change perspectives and challenge the status quo.

Ndikung is the founder of Berlin’s eight-year-old SAVVY Contemporary, an arts space that has grown to become a thriving hub for discussion and curatorial experimentation. Its varied programme is underpinned by a single goal: to deconstruct the notions of ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ that have become common in artistic discourse – in short, to reshape art history.

For Ndikung, such an approach should be commonplace across arts institutions. “Sooner or later, institutions that aren’t ‘diverse’ will make themselves redundant if they do not show the complexity of society.” Institutions, he adds, have important questions to ask: “What is their duty? What are they supposed to do?”

If institutions have a role in shaping art history, what, then, is the role of the artist? Ndikung cites James Baldwin’s 1962 essay The Creative Process – a ‘beautiful paper’ which argues that the artist has a responsibility to ask the right questions and has lost none of its topicality. “Artists aren’t necessarily there to give answers, but play a role in socio-political answers by ‘tickling’, or making us think,” he continues.

Ndikung shares that desire to shift perspectives: “L’art pour l’art will never be my thing”. He speaks highly of a recent exhibition of work by Thai artist Arin Rungjang at Portikus Frankfurt, which employed ‘expressive’ film and music to highlight lesser-known narratives in South-East Asian history.

Ndikung’s biggest challenge is taking thought-provoking art “beyond the confines of convenient, comfortable spaces”. He cites projects that take artists into industries from banking to science; “We need to come together, to have conversations and think about the same problems. I think that would be fruitful."

Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung spoke at the UBS Arts Forum in July 2018. He is the founder of SAVVY Contemporary, a performance space and gallery based in Berlin, and curator of the Pavilion of Finland at the 58th Venice Biennale.

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