Zina Saro-Wiwa: Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance?

Zina Saro-Wiwa: Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance?

Opens November 17, 2016
On View through March 25, 2017

Curator: Amy L. Powell
Co-organized by Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston

This exhibition is the first solo museum presentation of works by British- Nigerian video artist and filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa, featuring video installations, photographs, and a sound installation produced in the Niger Delta region of southeastern Nigeria from 2013 to 2015. Drawing upon folklore, masquerade traditions, religious practices, food, and Nigerian popular aesthetics, Saro-Wiwa’s work shuttles between documentary and performance, testing art’s capacity to transform and to envision new concepts of environment and environmentalism.

Engaging Niger Delta residents both as subjects and collaborators, Saro-Wiwa cultivates strategies of psychic survival and performance, underscoring the complex and expressive ways in which people live in an area historically fraught with the politics of energy, labor, and land. Known for decades for corruption and environmental degradation, the Niger Delta is also a verdant place, an abundant food producer as well as provider of crude oil and natural gas to the entire globe. The United States has until recent years been the largest importer of Nigeria’s oil, while Europe and India are now the top destinations. Returning to this contested region—the place of her birth—Saro-Wiwa insinuates herself as a transformative force ingesting and disgorging the stuff of tradition and of psycho-social dynamics to produce new origin narratives. Her new work makes visible the cultural, spiritual, and emotional powers propelling the Niger Delta and its connections as a global energy capital.

Zina Saro-Wiwa: Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance? is accompanied by a catalogue that features recipe-stories by Saro-Wiwa alongside essays by curator Amy L. Powell, environmental cultural studies scholar Stephanie LeMenager, and writer Taiye Selasi, with a conversation between the artist and art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu. Niger Delta historian Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa contributes a guest foreword.

Zina Saro Wiwa: Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance? is co-organized by Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston and Krannert Art Museum. The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by the generous support of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. For this presentation, sponsorship was provided in part by the Krannert Art Museum Council. This exhibition is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency


Ricker Library of Art and Architecture has created a library guide for this exhibition, containing information on the artist's life and work. It contains bibliography, images, and online resources.
Exhibition Library Guide

Select programming for this exhibition:

Opening Night | November 17, 2016

Celebrate with us and get a first look at KAM's newly renovated main floor galleries. The evening will feature live music, refreshments, and the opening of new art exhibitions.

Private Preview & Reception for Museum Members | 5–6 pm Reception catered by Michaels' Catering

To attend, please RSVP to Chris Schaede by Friday, November 4 via email or by calling 217-244-0516.

Public Opening Reception | 6–7 pm
With opening welcome by Acting Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts and Museum Director Kathleen Harleman at 6 pm.

Public opening reception hosted by the Krannert Art Museum Council.

Artist Talk | February 23, 2017 · 5:30 pm

Featuring Zina Saro-Wiwa, video artist and film maker, as she speaks about her artistic practice and the exhibition Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance?
Location: KAM Lower Level, Auditorium (room 62)

Sponsored in part by the Frances P. Rohlen Visiting Artist Fund/College of Fine and Applied Arts, the School of Art and Design Visitors Committee, and Krannert Art Museum

Gallery Conversation | Thursday, March 9 · 5:30 pm

Please join us for a gallery conversation with Teresa Barnes, associate professor of History, the Center for African Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and LAS Global Studies; Colleen Murphy, associate professor of Law and professor of Philosophy and Political Science; Ken Salo, lecturer in Urban and Regional Planning; moderated by Amy L. Powell, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Location: KAM Main Level, East Gallery | Map

  Subscribe Calendar Donate Contact


Zina Saro-Wiwa
Karikpo Pipleline (detail)
Five-channel video, color
27 minutes
Courtesy of the artist
© Zina Saro-Wiwa