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2023 Leo Award: Uzodinma Iweala and The Africa Center

Uzodinma Iweala, 2023. (Photo: Elias Williams)

On Jun 21, 2023

New York, NY, USA

Uzodinma Iweala, 2023. (Photo: Elias Williams)

Uzodinma Iweala and the team at The Africa Center will be presented with the Leo Award at ICI's upcoming Fall Benefit and Auction, taking place on Thursday, October 26, 2023. As the leading arts organization committed to advancing curators in contemporary art, ICI presents its Leo Award (named after the legendary art dealer and early ICI supporter Leo Castelli) in recognition of those who have shown extraordinary support to curators and artists and created new infrastructures that serve a broader art world.

Under Iweala’s leadership, The Africa Center has established itself as a New York City institution that is transforming the world’s understanding of Africa and its Diaspora as well as the role played by people of African descent globally. Iweala and his team have been instrumental in fostering dialogue, breaking down barriers, and amplifying diverse voices from the African continent. They have transformed The Africa Center into a vibrant celebration of the richness and dynamism of African cultures, and created a new civic model for cultural institutions. Their programming promotes cross-cultural understanding and collaboration, and has included perspectives from the political, economic, literary, and culinary worlds as well as the artistic field.

Since taking on the role of CEO in 2018, Iweala has worked with his team to establish a home for African art, creating a space that didn’t previously exist in New York. The Center has produced several public art installations on the plaza of their Harlem building—including the Black Lives Matter tribute on Museum Mile from 2020 to 2023—acting as a focal point for communities to come together through art. In 2022, The Africa Center presented the ICI exhibition States of Becoming, which examines the dynamic forces of relocation, resettling, assimilation, and identity construction within the African Diaspora over the past thirty years. This historic presentation of 17 artists from 13 countries ushered in a new chapter for the Center, and demonstrated its mission to focus on community and meaningful exchange.

“All of us at ICI are delighted to honor Uzo and his team with ICI’s 2023 Leo Award,” said Renaud Proch, ICI’s Executive & Artistic Director. “They have been inspirational collaborators. We are grateful for our meaningful partnership with The Africa Center, which will continue to play an important part in shaping our programs for years to come. Uzo’s vision and the values manifested in the Center­—collaboration, empowerment, global solidarity, generative thinking—resonate in so many ways with ICI's own mission.”

"I am honored to accept this award on behalf of The Africa Center team. Nurturing and cultivating artistic and curatorial talents from Africa and its Diaspora has long been central to ICI’s mission and work,” Iweala said. "Having been the inaugural home for States of Becoming, The Africa Center takes immense pride in our partnership. We eagerly anticipate engaging and amplifying more creative voices from the African continent who are part of The Africa Center and ICI communities. Thank you to Renaud and the ICI team for bestowing us with this honor."

Since it was established in 1975, ICI has provided a unique support structure for contemporary art and for curators around the world, including over ten years of engagement across the African continent. Through programs such as the Curatorial Intensive, Curatorial Research Fellowships, and traveling exhibitions, ICI has forged networks for the sharing of knowledge between the U.S. and Africa, and both within the continent and among its Diaspora. These efforts were strengthened and amplified in 2021 through the Marian Goodman Gallery Initiative in honor of the late Okwui Enwezor. Over the next three years, ICI and The Africa Center will join forces and draw from their respective networks of curators, cultural producers, and thought leaders to produce an annual series of talks and programs highlighting some of the latest developments in African art.

The Leo Award will be presented during ICI’s Fall Benefit and Auction, a highly-anticipated event that brings together individuals who support ICI's mission. All proceeds from the Benefit directly support ICI’s vital programs, which contribute to the growth and diversity of curatorial practice and help build stronger art communities across the globe.

About Uzodinma Iweala:

Uzodinma Iweala is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and medical doctor. As the CEO of The Africa Center, he is dedicated to promoting a new narrative about Africa and its diaspora. Previously, Iweala was the CEO, editor-in-chief, and co-founder of Ventures Africa magazine, a publication that covers the evolving business, policy, culture, and innovation spaces in Africa. His books include the novel Beasts of No Nation (2005), which was released in 2005 to critical acclaim and adapted into a major motion picture; Our Kind of People (2012), a nonfiction account of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria; and Speak No Evil (2018), a novel about a queer first-generation Nigerian-American teen living in Washington, D.C. Iweala was also the founding CEO of the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria. He sits on the Boards of the Sundance Institute, The International Rescue Committee, and the African Development Bank’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a Fellow of The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University;  he lives in Brooklyn, New York.

About The Africa Center:

The Africa Center is a multidisciplinary institution that is shaping a vision for the future of Africa and transforming the world’s understanding of the continent and its Diaspora. Serving as a platform for the exchange of ideas around culture, business, and policy as related to the continent, The Africa Center advances thought and action around Africa’s global influence and impact on our collective futures.

About the Leo Award

Established in 1990, the Leo Award (named after the late, legendary art dealer and ICI supporter Leo Castelli) was created to recognize outstanding achievements in advancing the field of contemporary art and the contributions of pioneering individuals who foster new opportunities and supportive environments for artists and curators. Past recipients of the Leo Award include Candice Hopkins and the American Indian Community House, Steve McQueen, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, Marian Goodman, Michael Govan, Miuccia Prada, Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

To purchase tickets to the Fall Benefit and Auction or learn more about the event, please contact Kayla Fanelli at

For press inquiries, please contact Taylor Black at