In Memoriam: Bisi Silva (1962-2019)

Picture by by Ayo Adewunmi

It is difficult to speak about Bisi in the past tense! Bisi Silva was born in Lagos in 1962 and died on the 12 of February, 2019. She was the founder and artistic director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Lagos established in 2007. In the 11 years of its existence, her Centre became ‘the’ Centre of art in Nigeria. Bisi centred the discourse on contemporary African art on the continent and brought several international scholars, artists and curators to Nigeria. Her Centre became a gateway for establishing connections between local artists and international audiences. It brought joy, laughter and professional fulfilment to many. Bisi lived a short but purposeful life. She brought to the art scene a high-level of professionalism and impacted both young and old artists through her unique exhibitions and artists talks/programmes. She was a scholar and curator extraordinaire and internationally recognised for her immense contribution to art scholarship. She developed the art of photography, video art and other aspects of new media which were largely underserved in Nigeria at the time.

She transformed the careers of a good number of artists and curators from all over the world.  She will be fondly remembered for the Asiko curatorial school. At home, Bisi made it possible for young art graduates to think of establishing careers as curators. She supported several art programmes in different parts of Nigeria and endowed prizes for the best entries in the arts at national competitions. She made donations to many art programmes and projects. Bisi curated several local and international exhibitions and biennales, too numerous to mention here.

Bisi was simple, kind hearted and generous.  She was beautiful, well spoken, talented, focused, bold and fearless.  She spoke strongly against mediocrity and disrespect for women and expressed her views freely.
She was a lover of books. She developed the most comprehensive library of art books in the country. The Centre and library located in Yaba, Lagos was in close proximity to the major art schools in Lagos which made it accessible to many college students. Indeed, the Centre benefited from this pool of students who served in different capacities in administering it. Despite her busy schedule, she found time to give lectures in schools, carry out portfolio reviews and visit exhibition and talks. Here was a scholar who gave her all to the development of art in Nigeria.

What a life full of achievements! She will be missed by the global community of artists. Asiko, the name of her curatorial project means time. Her time is up, but her legacy continues!

Olabisi Silva, Odigba, Sun re o. Rest in peace.

By Peju Layiwola, ACASA Board President Elect / VP