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Art X Lagos is a catalyst for West African art

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By Oneme Amawhe

This weekend, at  the Civic Center in Victoria Island, Lagos, Art X , the rapidly emerging annual  art fair  concentrating on the West African region  will be once again packed full with some of the best contemporary art in West Africa as : 14  selected galleries drawn from Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, and the United Kingdom  will be presenting at the second  edition of the Art X Lagos . The first edition of Art X Lagos took place in 2016, attracting 5,000 visitors and the work of 65 artists.

Tokini Peterside, Founder & Director, ART X Lagos

As an initiative to foster a vibrant visibility of African artists, Art X founding principle is hinged on an interest to reinforce visual arts as an important component of Africa’s creative industry. Structured around a dynamic curatorial programme with an open call for participation to artists and galleries, Art X Lagos model is greatly in favor of an alternative, museum-styled exhibition experience, inviting artists and galleries to propose work that provokes alternate artistic interpretations.

Through a broad, dynamic program of exhibitions, talks and interactive projects, and carefully selected panel of curators, Art X Lagos presents a unique snapshot of West Africa’s most exciting contemporary artists, routing for an immersive, multi-sensory experience from a diverse range of contemporary artists, whilst positioning Lagos as an emergent cultural capital on the continent.

In 2015, When Tokini Peterside conceived the idea of Art X Lagos, her aim was to evolve an art brand that would drive a commitment to building ties among artists, collectors, curators, public institutions and galleries in an intimate and friendly environment, not only enticing collectors already acquainted with or new to West African art, but also surprising those already familiar with the region.

Let’s start from the beginning: How did you go about creating a fair more or less from the scratch?

ART X Lagos was launched in November 2016 after months of preparation and research. The idea of an art fair that would serve as a catalyst for the West African art scene wasconceived during my work as a strategy consultant for luxury and culture brands. But it wasn’t until my experience of the 2015 Venice Biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor, that I became convinced to turn my ideas into reality.

After the Biennale I returned to Paris, France, where I was studying for an MBA at INSEAD and proceeded to develop the idea with my classmates. The concept was to create a Pan-African platform where an audience could experience the diversity of innovative talents in the region, as well as put the city of Lagos on the global culture map as a vibrant art destination

ART X Lagos is in its second year running, what are the important issues facing you?

The main challenge we are facing is the same as with most start-up organizations, which is simply that our ambitions and goals significantly outweigh our resources. We consistently have to come up with innovative ways to deliver a world class experience that will impact the arts and wider community, and live up to international expectations, on a moderate budget.

Since founding ART X Lagos what advances and developments have you seen in the region, and how is the local art scene developing?

We have witnessed a lot of change in the Lagos art scene since launching ART X Lagos. First, our goal to grow the base of local collectors appears to be materializing much faster than we expected, with many individuals who were first-time buyers at ART X Lagos, progressing gradually on their way towards becoming committed collectors.

We also noticed that the exposure to an international audience, which ART X Lagos provided to local Nigerian artists, led to several of them being approached by international art galleries for representation and also resulted in acquisitions by renowned museum collections such as the Zeitz MOCAA, thus beginning the internalization of the careers of certain Nigerian artists.

Another goal achieved was our motivation to democratize the art world, by welcoming thousands of guests from all sections of society to ART X Lagos. This has led to the lowering of the average age of visitors at local art exhibitions and events, with greater numbers of young people being encouraged to participate in these experiences.

How many galleries are participating this year? And what is the percentage of international exhibitors?

There will be 14 galleries exhibiting as well as three independent artists. Out of the 14 galleries, 9 will be international exhibitors drawn from African countries and the Diaspora, such as South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali and the United Kingdom, reflecting our identity as a truly pan-African platform. Nigeria will be proudly represented by the following galleries – Bloom Art by UgomaAdegoke, SMO Contemporary by Sandra Obiago, Art House The Space by KavitaChellaram, Signature Beyond by RahmanAkar and Retro Africa by Dolly Balogun.

Who would you say are the most significant artists showing in the forthcoming fair?

We are delighted to have work by YinkaShonibare MBE showing at the forthcoming ART X Lagos fair, alongside established Nigerian artists such as KainebiOsahenye and MurainaOyelami. We will also be showing the works of emerging Nigerian artists such as ModupeolaFadugba and KadaraEnyeasi alongside some of Africa’s most exciting artists such as ZaneleMuholi (South Africa), Joel MpahDooh (Cameroon) and AmadouSanogo (Mali) to name a few.

What makes ART X Lagos special to the region and how do local artists respond?

ART X Lagos is special to the region because, outside of the two art fairs organized in South Africa, we are the only other international contemporary art fair in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that for artists and galleries who seek to connect with collectors elsewhere on the continent, we present a unique opportunity.

As  a fairly young fair, what are your long term aspirations and goals for Art X?

Our long term goal is to be not just the only art fair in West Africa, but also to be a leader on the African art fair circuit.

How has  the increasing numbers of art fairs that have appeared globally in recent years, affected the West African art market, which has  also seen a fundamental change in the way that artworks are purchased?

In the last five years, two Africa-focused art fairs have sprung up outside the continent – 1-54 and AKAA – and they have taken the works of African artists to London, Paris and New York. In addition, the South Africa-based fairs have consolidated their local market. These developments have exposed West African artists to a broader audience, and have contributed to the growth of the sector in the region.

Who do art fairs, such as yours, benefit and who are they detrimental for?

Art fairs such as ours benefit artists and the galleries that represent them. We provide an outstanding visibility platform through which their work can be discovered, and new relationships with collectors and institutions can be formed.


Could you tell us a little more about the selection process? What are the criteria for getting a booth at Material?

Our art fair is via invitation. We extend invitations to the leading galleries in Nigeria, across Africa and the Diaspora, to join us each year.

There’s a huge amount of buzz around Lagos in the art world these days, in part because of projects like ART X. What do you think of the current state of the city’s art scene, and where do you think it’s going?

The Lagos art scene is thriving, thanks to unrelenting work by several important players over many years. Before ART X Lagos came on the scene, longstanding institutions such as Terra Kulture, Nike Art Gallery,Art House Contemporary and African Artists’ Foundation had been working tirelessly to support artists and position the arts sector as a critical component within the creative industry. Their work inspired many others such as myself to get involved. As other players continue to join the fold, this can only lead ultimately to the establishment of Lagos as a global cultural capital.

What is the main goal of Art X Lagos?

To magnify the patronage of African artists across the continent, and to inspire the future generations of African artists.

When the dust settles after the fair, what’s next for you?

Building on the success of our art fair, and evolving the ART X brand.

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