It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Olabisi Silva, known affectionately by most as ‘Bisi’.
Founder and Artistic Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Lagos, Nigeria, Silva dedicated her life to the development of art on the continent, and worked within her own terms, art’s terms, and Africa’s terms when it came to sustaining this growth.
After graduating with a degree in Foreign Languages from a University in Paris, Silva went on to receive her MA in Visual Arts from the Royal College of Art in London. Following this, Silva returned to Nigeria to found the CCA and the Asiko International Art School, both in Lagos and both important spaces for cultural research and scholarship on the continent. It is this that Silva is, arguably, most famous for.
Silva also curated a number of prolific exhibitions across Africa and the globe, including Democrazy in 2007 and 2008; Jide Alakija: Owabe, Aso-Ebi and the Politics of Dress in 2011; Playing with Chance: El Anatsui in 2014; Kelani Abass if I can save time in 2016 and 2017; as well as numerous group exhibitions including Like a Virgin – which featured the work of Lucy Azubuike and Zanele Muholi.
In 2006, Silva served as a curator for the Dak’Art Biennale; and in 2009 she was a co-curator for the Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art in Greece. Silva also co-curated The Progress of Love – a transcontinental travelling exhibition made possible through a collaboration between the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas; the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri; and the CCA in Lagos, Nigeria. In 2015, Silva served as the Artistic Director for the 10th Bamako Encounters in Bamako, Mali, and most recently, was the Artistic Director for Art X LAGOS in 2018.
Here at Iziko Museums of South Africa, we will most fondly remember Silva for the work she did on El Anatsui’s exhibition, Meyina, which was up on display at the Iziko South African National Gallery early in 2018.
Silva has not only left a legacy of the CCA and Asiko International Art School, but she has also left a legacy from her unwavering contribution to contemporary art from Africa – through curated exhibitions, art fairs, biennales, travelling shows and publications – determining her vast passion for both the continent and the arts.