Written by us, Not about us: Reclaiming Art Histories & Developing Critical Discourse in Northern Ireland and Nigeria

Critical Writing Residency

December 2021 - May 2023

'Written by us, Not about us: Reclaiming Art Histories & Developing Critical Discourse in Northern Ireland and Nigeria' addresses a particular challenge in relation to the lack of critical discourse surrounding the arts, particularly the visual arts, in Northern Ireland and Nigeria. While both countries have a strong literary tradition, this has not translated to an equally strong practice of criticism, analysis or discourse in relation to the visual arts. As a result, there is inadequate record of our art histories and little international recognition given to contemporary art practice in each country.
What does exist has too often been written about, not by us, and in most cases the vibrant and urgent work emerging from these non-arts-epicentre countries often goes unseen. This has amplified the sense of a ‘voicelessness’ often experienced by the people of colonised nations; a sense that their perspective, knowledge and cultural offering is not of significance.
This project aims to rectify that by bringing together the two dominant artist support organisations of each country to deliver a collaborative programme of mentoring, commissioning and advocacy work.
Embedding artist support and institutional learning at its core over the course of a year, Northern Irish Art Network (NIAN) and African Artists' Foundation (AAF) will work together to identify four emerging arts writers/critics from each country (eight in total); commission new writing; create platforms for the publication of work; and lobby the national and international arts press to better represent the art scenes of Nigeria and Northern Ireland.

Primary activities/outputs include:

  • Newly commissioned work by the eight writers/thinkers/bloggers/podcasters, produced with guidance and support from NIAN, AAF and selected mentors
  • Connecting writers from each country to editors of major arts publications (eg. Art Monthly, Art Forum) and initiate working relationships between writers and publishers
  • An online platform for critical writing from NI and Nigeria
  • A collaborative podcast episode as part of AFF’s ‘Speaking Truth’ series
  • A publication/suite of writings to be published collectively in English, Hausa/Yoruba and Irish Gaelic
  • Physical publication launch event at Ulster Museum, Belfast and AFF, Lagos
  • Public online event/symposium on Northern Irish and Nigeria Art Histories, in collaboration with TATE
  • Knowledge exchange between NIAN and AFF, supported by monthly online meetings and physical visits to each other's organisations/country (Covid-dependent).

    Our overall aims of this collaborative project are to:

  • Strengthen critical discourse around the visual arts in both countries
  • Build the skills base of the eight arts writers/critics/bloggers/podcasters
  • Explore together the multiple platforms/means of fostering critical discourse (eg. publication, blogging, podcasts)
  • Encourage scholarship on NI and Nigerian artists through connections with Tate and NI/Nigerian Universities
  • Facilitate conversations about the colonial contexts of each nation and the impact this has had on the recording of art histories
  • Illuminate the hidden art histories of Nigeria and Northern Ireland, and establish ongoing critical discourse around contemporary art practice in both countries, so that our present won’t be lost in the way our history has been
  • Give international prominence to Nigerian and Northern Irish artists through events, publications, press
  • Lay the groundwork for future learning and collaboration between NIAN and AFF, with possibility of initiating an artist residency exchange in 2023/24.


The Northern Irish Art Network (NIAN) currently hold the  Critical Writing residency  in PS².
This research group, co-led by Anna Liesching and Clare Gormley aims to identify, share and connect multiple strands of research on contemporary and historical Northern Irish art. Their goal is to develop the profile of Northern Irish art practice and scholarship in addition to creating opportunities for curators, artists and researchers.

African Artists' Foundation (AAF)
AAF is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion and development of contemporary African art. The underlying tenets of AAF are capacity building, peer support and advocacy. Established in 2007 in Lagos, it serves a significant role in art and academic communities through organising art exhibitions, festivals, competitions, residencies, and workshops with the aim of unearthing and developing talent, creating societal awareness, and providing a platform to express creativity. By providing assistance to professional and emerging artists in Africa and support to international exhibitions and community outreach programmes, African Artists’ Foundation views the contribution to a strong cultural landscape in Africa as a transformative element in driving social change.

'Written by us, Not about us: Reclaiming Art Histories & Developing Critical Discourse in Northern Ireland and Nigeria' is funded by the British Council’s International Collaboration Grants, which are designed to support UK and overseas organisations to collaborate on international arts projects.