This weekend Ulli Beier died.
Reading through obituaries this morning and flicking through biographies I feel the loss not only of a pioneer of the art histories of non-Western cultures but a whole generation of intellectuals. Still, I wonder whether there still are those who like Ulli Beier who came to Nigeria in 1950 and deeply involved himself in the country’s then burgeoning creative scene, whether in this I could follow his example or whether I even should. He was instrumental in the foundation of the Mbari Artists and Writers Club in Ibadan and later the Mbari Mbayo in Osogbo as well as the magazine Black Orpheus. The Osogbo art workshops of 1964 (did I get that date right?) produced artists and artistic traditions that, again through his tireless promotion organising exhibitions, gained international reputation. And, as a German I have to mention his role in the foundation of the Iwalewa House at the University of Bayreuth that remains an important space for the promotion of non-Western arts in Germany (and for a moment almost tempted me to Bayreuth for my PhD). Maybe I am just idealising a past that, with hindsight, appears ripe with opportunities and creativity and overlooking its challenges and problems, especially when viewed through the current anxieties of my upcoming viva and applying for post-doctoral positions. Maybe. And, surely there are those I today admire for their work in Nigeria and across the continent. But, judging by the obituaries in Nigerian publications this was a man who – like is former wife Susanne Wenger who died two years ago - is still remembered for this contribution to contemporary Nigerian arts in the 1950s and 1960s and, judging by the obituaries (already here, here and here), is fondly remembered for his contribution beyond the small professional and academic world of contemporary Nigerian arts.
Respect. And, RIP.
P.S. Chika Okeke has published a lovely poem on his blog.