Professor Okoye's current research includes a project on art and slavery, and another on vernacularism and diplomacy in an increasingly transnational world. The first one, well underway, is exploring the history of art, architecture, landscape, and knowledge production in the 18th- and early 19th-century Niger Delta (southern Nigeria) in their relation to both captivity and to slavery. Intrigued by the possibility that we may imagine art itself, later including both film and photography, as a will to capture and fix, he pits African images and spatial indexes against European and American representations.
The second and newer project is concerned with struggles over access and resources, and with how the displacements of this struggle onto art and its organizing cultures produce new content, subject matter, and procedures in art and architecture. He is for instance exploring the meaning of the contradictory yet competitive visual, spatial, and performative messaging relayed both in the modern African state by foreign missions, and by the reverse diasporic transnational 'embassies' established abroad by African immigrants. He views the latter through the lens of their subtly nostalgic reconstitutions of 'tradition,' and the former via vernacularist foreign architecture of new embassy buildings and their cultural activities. Of particular interest, here, has been how these occur from within or in response to the scene of an insistent contemporary representation that has included staged political performance, media, nomadic curatorial practice, and new forms of urbanism. This project's initial arena is the contest in late 18th- and early 19th-century Asante (in present day Ghana), between the Dutch and the English, or in turn the English and the Ottomans, as much as it is the less well-known Kongo embassy in Brazil and Asante embassy to Britain. All seem to trace precursor rivalries to 21st-century phenomena he now observes on the continent. In for instance Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Ethiopia, and Sudan, one finds American, French, Belgian, British, and German embassy buildings, not to mention their interiors that double as curatorial art spaces addressed to local elites, used in visually loaded and coded contests for local influence. Such rivalry among Europeans in transactions with Africans now increasingly play in relation to fully undeterred Japanese and Chinese ambassadorial architecture and their own performances of welcome. Citizens of these African places, in turn, skirt the rigors of paradoxically antiglobalist immigration regimes, to produce transient 'embassies,' headed the other way, and in which reinventions of contemporary art and culture, sometimes in dialogue with cultural transactions with what was foreign in their places of origin, gets re-presented and displayed as much for the host community (in the United States this of course includes African Americans and adds a fascinating twist) as for the benefit of transnationality as a new form of community. Such displays are, moreover, sometimes liturgical (yam festivals and masquerade in swanky Chicago halls) and sometimes not. They include the practices of professional contemporary artists with a shot at Biennale culture, as they do those circulating alternative spaces with not a clue of such things. Sometimes, as he discovered in Thessaloniki in 2009, both forms of the contemporary can occupy the same city, unaware of each other's existence. Professor Okoye hopes, as his preliminary investigation suggests, to uncover these less visible but more complex forms of diasporic and transnational art, not just in the spaces of New York, Dallas, London, or Paris, but less familiarly in Cairo and Cape Town, Dubai and Mumbai, Tokyo and Seoul.
At stake in both research projects are, thus, the making, ownership, control, migration, and difficulties of art and culture with a certain but often anxious connection to Africa, as well as of the travel of its peoples, resources, and knowledge, including their presence in and availability (or not) to industrial and postindustrial globalist desire.